Reading Reversals in the Aleister Crowley Tarot

Reading tarot reversals in general is subject to much debate. Many people use them, others do not, and you will find passionate reasons as to why they should or should not be used from practitioners on both sides of the argument. As with anything, it comes down to what makes sense to you and how you want to do your readings. I however, do not read reversed cards any differently than I would if they were placed normally.

Since I have dedicated my study to the Aleister Crowley tarot system, it should be noted that there is no precedent in any of Aleister Crowley’s writing on the tarot to indicate that the cards’ symbolism or meaning is altered by being placed upside down in the spread. Also, the tarot system most closely related to Thoth-the tarot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn-has no precedent for reading reversed cards any differently. This is the primary reason for my aversion to reading reversals with the Thoth tarot deck.

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Advocates for reading reversals suggest that interpreting the cards in reverse allows you to get more information out of the cards. They say that if we do not consider the cards’ orientation, we may be only getting half the story. To me, this argument stems from a lack of understanding of the cards. Each individual tarot card can be interpreted differently depending on its relationship with other cards in the spread, as well as its specific position within the spread. This makes the different interpretations of the 80 cards in conjunction with their possible permutations within a given spread endless. The fact that the cards were intended to be interpreted this way is most likely the reason why authoritative books on the Thoth tarot do not provide a concise summary of the meaning for each card-like you would find in your average book on tarot.

From my perspective there is no need to complicate things by trying to attribute different meanings to each individual card simply based on its orientation in the spread. Learning the complex symbolism within the Thoth tarot deck is a scholarly endeavor in and of itself. Once you become more familiar with the Thelemic system of correspondence, there will never be an ambiguous reading. I would suggest concentrating your efforts on becoming more familiar with the cards and how the various symbols would affect the overall interpretation of the reading, when combined or set at odds with one another. Only use simple descriptions of the tarot cards’ meaning as a quick start guide or reference point to begin your divination practice. In the end, if you feel using reversals will help your reading abilities; by all means do what thou wilt, but for your own benefit, do not let it be a substitute for learning the in-depth symbolism of the cards.

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by Jason Pitts