Ash and Stardust, a monthly column by artist and writer DHIYANAH HASSAN, explores the intersections of tarot with healing and creativity. These are personal essays and articles sharing experiences of growth as someone who has recently found a deep connection to tarot. You can read the rest of the pieces here.
Slow your breathing, get upside down. Go ahead. Find a comfortable seat, couch, or bed to lie on where you can dangle your head, shoulders, and half your torso upside down. Your arms over your head spilling to the floor. If this feel awkward, stay with that feeling.
Stay with it for a couple of minutes, the bowl of your skull filling up with blood. Then slowly, taking care of your back, rise. Close your eyes. Keep breathing. Feel the juices in your body waterfalling back into alignment.
You learn this in yoga, to let the blood flow in the opposite direction for release. Getting into positions that make you feel trapped in your own body, trembling from uncertainty – where the only instruction is to slow down, breathe. You learn to involve yourself with the situation rather than with the idea of escape. Make friends with the conundrum and that will give you the tools you need to return to yourself.
I do this – sit upside-down and breathe – to relieve headaches or migraines. It doesn’t always get rid of the pain but it helps me manage it better. This is how I view reversed readings in tarot spread.
I started including reversals super early. It was exciting at first but very quickly I’d start to get small panic attacks whenever a reversed card showed up. I studied guidebooks with so much intensity I ended up flailing with anxiety-riddled thoughts. Back then, I didn’t know anyone else who used reversed readings – the general consensus was that reversed cards were either too distracting or confusing.
Still, I kept returning to it like a puzzle that needed deciphering – yes, I am that stubborn. To be fair, I was also following my gut feeling. And what it told me was that reversed cards aren’t about opposites. They are, however, distracting. It took me a while to understand how to use their visual disruptions to dive deeper into the signs and symbols.
I’ve gotten to that stage where I’m comfortable with reversed cards appearing whenever they need to, interpreting them depending on the context of each spread. My personal rule is if the artwork on the back of the cards is symmetrical enough to be reversal-friendly then I always include reversals for that deck. I also suggest them for most client readings and consultations, as long as it’s okay with the querent. I find that including reversed readings as an option maximizes a deck’s overall narrative. When they do appear in a spread, they’re useful for formulating questions or suggestions that get to the heart of the matter.
Here are some ways I use reversed readings – if any of these resonate or pique your curiosity, try them out! Note, though, that there’s no requirement for you to learn about reversed cards to read tarot – trust your gut feeling. Since we’re about to meet the second blue moon of the year, I’ll be using The Moon from the Linestrider and The Wild Unknown decks for examples.
SHUFFLING: How I shuffle to include reversed readings is by cutting the deck into two or three piles and reversing one of the piles in between shuffling.
THE BLOCK, THE RELEASE
In a recent consultation, I told a client, “If you’ve been feeling blocked in any way, the reversed card will usually tell you where your blocks are.”
One of the Major Arcanas, reading The Moon in its upright position can be taxing enough. The Moon invites you to allow the light of your subconscious mind to lead you to exploration and discovery. Where might the illusions be? What might you be projecting out there into the dark? Where, in yourself, have you been experiencing separation or duality? Have you come to terms with the wildness in you?
The Moon’s energy is ethereal and mysterious. I noticed this card would often appear in the midst of a creative breakthrough or blockage. Some breakthroughs involve overcoming blocks. And these blocks exist as a result of us trying too hard to control how we accept a situation. This card urges you to get in touch with your instincts. It calls for introspection, for you to hike through your internal landscapes and observe what you find in there.
When a card appears in reversed, it appears with the messages and energies of its upright aspect intact. I choose to view it this way, with the cards telling me where my blocks are and what I can do about them. For example, if the reversed moon is suggesting my creative blocks have something to do with me avoiding subconscious messages, then I might take some time out for automatic writing or dream journaling to reconnect to the parts of myself I’ve been neglecting.
The Moon from the The Wild Unknown shows us two trees standing next to each other, silhouetted in the dark of the night, a crescent moon high up in the sky. Reversed, the white trees become borders framing the silhouette of a singular black tree with a crescent moon at its base. I tend to read crescent moons in tarot as the new moon, a symbol for new beginnings. Here the moon at the base of a shadow-tree tells me there are new ways of looking at old things. There are ways of finding the lie in illusions and the truth in fantasies.
Sometimes you just have to let the blood flow in the opposite direction.
SHADOW WORK MEDIATION
The Linestrider’s Moon is a direct reimagining of The Moon from the Raider-Waite Smith deck. It holds more traditional symbols – a moon in the sky with two tower-like structures to the side, a dog and wolf in the foreground along with a crayfish emerging from water. In the Linestrider’s card, slivers of the moon fall like a steady stream of petals. The canines aren’t actively interacting with each other though there may be some acknowledgement – perhaps defensiveness – between them. In reversed, the image’s gravity flips entirely on its head but the symbolisms remain intact, the stream of petals rise upwards as if the pieces of light are wafting into the air. There is a suggestion of separation. The wolf is the image of our wild, ancient self while the dog represents our tame, ‘civilized’ aspect. The crayfish crawling up to the ground represents the subconscious mind rising to the surface.
I wrote about shadow work in my previous essay, how we’ve been conditioned to label certain aspects of ourselves as unwanted, push them deep into the corners where we try very hard not to look or shed light upon them. These are the parts of ourselves where fear, insecurities, and self-doubt are often exiled to.
The Moon asks you to review where you’ve created separations within yourself. In reversed, the card might be calling you to spend more time with your shadow. When you envision a wolf inside you, is it something you want to get to know or is it something you automatically want to kill, to defend yourself against? What can you do for you to equally identify with the parts of your that are both the hound and the wolf?
I especially like using this lens for reading reversed court cards (the Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings of the Minor Arcana suits). One way I read court cards is by seeing them as the different representations, frequencies, or nuances of a person’s personality or identity. When a reversed aspect appears, suggesting the not-so-attractive qualities of a personality trait, it might be urging you to take care or spend some time with those specific sides of yourself. I recently drew the Queen of Cups in a spread in the position of ‘something to receive.’ I had been noticing some emotional insecurities brought on by work-related frustrations. This reversed queen made me aware that I haven’t been making space for myself in the same way I made space for others to express their difficult emotions – I’m now putting in the effort to find non-destructive methods of expressing my frustrations.
In its reversed aspect, a card is disorienting to the eyes. The reversed moon cautions that too much time in the dream world may lead to madness – a feeling of lost and aimlessness, of ungroundedness. Like suddenly not knowing which way is up, or if moons really grow out of trees.
A reversed card may appear when you’ve been holding on tightly to your expectations about something when what you really need to do is surrender, go with the flow.
In contrast with ‘The Block, The Release’ where once a block has been identified, you can use the same card’s (upright) energies to guide you into release, for this lens you’re using the card’s energies as a guide to know what or when to let go. For example, if I’ve been drawing the reversed moon a lot in one week, it could be because I’ve started to expect a creative breakthrough to happen and I’m stressing out about it so much that I’m no longer enjoying the work I’m doing. What I might do, then, is to take a break – from the work, from trying hard at reconnecting with intuition – basically, to practice the opposite of control. If my mind starts going all reversed moon on me, I accept that that’s not helpful for me right now and go do something else. I can return to the work when I’m feeling more centered.
The option of reversed readings isn’t going to resonate with everyone and that’s okay. As a querent, if reversals are not something you’re comfortable with, you should let your tarot reader know. As a tarot reader working with clients, let them know beforehand that you use reversed readings – if you’re not comfortable doing a reading without it as an option, that’s totally legit and should be articulated too.
It can be tricky figuring out which ways of reading reversed cards work best for a specific spread. A couple of ways to go about this is to set your intention before you do a spread (eg. “I’m going to read any reversed cards that come up as where my blocks are”), or see which lens resonates with the context of the spread after the cards are laid out (eg. “Okay, so this feels like something I need to let go of”).
If overthinking is easy for you, you might get all tangled up trying to decipher the messages of a specific card when it appears in reversed. This is when things get complicated or distracting. Just like how it might be awkward to lie upside down or twist your body into a shape you’re not really sure of, it can be a good thing to work through the challenge – only if you find it necessary to. Slow down, breathe. Find what works for you.
Dhiyanah Hassan is an artist and writer whose works investigate the importance of personal narratives, particularly in the context of healing. She lives in Malaysia and is the Art Editor of Burning House Press. Find out more about her and her works on Instagram, Twitter, and her website.