The Compete Book of Tarot Reversals by Mary K. Greer
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you want to purchase The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, click here.

When I am due to receive review copies of books or decks, I wait patiently (or not-so-  patiently) for them to arrive at my door. I don't buy them in advance, as a general rule. So, when I went to teach my tarot class and several copies of The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals were displayed prominently in the store, I sternly reminded myself that a copy of the book was winging its way to me, even as I snatched one off the table and began to excitedly peruse it.

It didn't take me long to find insights and observations that delighted me to the point where I was reading them aloud--with commentary--for those unfortunate enough to also be in the area. "Listen to this, she compares the Queen of Pentacles to Martha Stewart. Isn't that great?" or "Mary says here, 'The Queen of Wands reversed can be a charming, dangerous schemer like Anne Boleyn whereas her daughter, Elizabeth I, characterizes the upright card.' Even though I see Elizabeth more as a Queen of Swords, I love the analogy." 

I know I don't have to tell you that the book went home with me that night--and my students bought up the remaining copies in the store. And it's probably gratuitous to add that the book contains a slew of insights, observations, and examples that are bound to add to anyone's mental tarot card library. But it's probably relevant to say that the great gift of this book for me is that it does just what I describe with the Queen of Wands reversed example described above--it makes me think in new ways about the cards, and as I mentally grapple, I gain clarity and expanded understanding of each one.

This gift is unusual because most books don't offer nearly so many new revelations into the cards. Greer's vast experience, combined with her informed and creative approach to the tarot is tempered with a desire to always learn more. Her openness and curiosity always trumps (pun intentional) the innate human love of being "right," which is what allows her to go deeper and wider than anyone I know, and gives her varied interpretations such an extensive range.

That openness, I think, would encourage divergences from her work. She sees the Hierophant reversed as "Shaman-trickster-coyote" and I see the Magician more in that light (and another friend would attribute that description to the Fool). I always identified the heroine's journey into the underworld with the Moon card, but  Mary attributes it to the Star reversed. Based on Greer's description of Temperance as "bringing about a reconciliation by maintaining a calm temperament," I began to see this card as a mediator (in addition to more traditional meanings), someone who remembers and honors the characteristics of the "opposing elements" and finds ways to successfully fuse the qualities of each. It opens my mind to note and explore her (and others') perspectives, and I'm willing to bet she'd be open to doing the same--the book is littered with attributions to others' viewpoints of a card, from Etteilla to Elizabeth Hazel of Tarot-l. This attitude leads to a win-win, my kind of educational process.

The introduction includes Greer's initial intention in writing the book, and then the "reversals" she endured in the process of writing it, as well as a healthy glossary of "specialized terms" the author uses throughout the text. Some are familiar to most students of the tarot (elemental correspondences, Major and Minor Arcana) and others come from a magical or psychological framework (Golden Dawn, Enantiodromia). A Different Point of View introduces us to various ways in which to utilize reversals, including historical and psychological methodology. Using Reversals provides 12 ways to read reversals (some examples: as blocked, resisted, or delayed)--and adds some others, including James Ricklef's "Five D's". Greer also shares methods of "rectifying" a reversal in this chapter. This section includes some valuable advice for beginners, such as focusing on only two interpretations during a reading.

The next three sections are the card interpretations, which are broken down into the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana, and the Court Cards. Major Arcana descriptions are approximately two and a half pages each; the Minor Arcana and Court Card descriptions are usually limited to one and a half pages. The upright meaning is always provided, but considerably shorter than the reversed interpretations. The bulk of the book is derived from these three sections. Greer explores reversals from many angles (so to speak), including health and the shamanic perspective.

I do have a concern with the aspects of disease that are listed in almost every card interpretation. Misuse of these seems so likely--and so dangerous--that I personally wish Greer had added a warning caveat more frequently. If you utilize these meanings for yourself (in conjunction with seeking professional medical help), that's terrific, but I know too many people who don't hesitate to offer legal, monetary, or medical advice in their tarot readings, which is, in my opinion, both unethical and illegal. To add the imprimatur of Mary Greer (even though she specifically states in the introduction, "References to health and illness in this book are in no way to be taken as medical prognostication") to these readers seems potentially hazardous to me. Repeated reminders of this brief statement throughout the book might serve as sufficient warning.

Even though I have issues with the health attributions, I found myself adding "Radiation" to the reversed Sun, and menstrual cycle issues to the Moon card. I do think these card ascriptions to health factors could be beautifully employed in rituals for improved physical well-being.

In describing the "Unconventional, Shamanic, Magical, Humorous" use of reversals, Greer explains, "If an upright card depicts conventional wisdom, then the reversal illustrates unconventional wisdom. It questions all assumptions indicated by the upright meaning. It is not straight, but crooked and crazy." I was really looking forward to seeing card examples of this type, but found that many of the shamanic level references involved some way of connecting to the divine, as opposed to a "crooked and crazy" interpretation, particularly in the case of the Major Arcana. Some of my favorite examples in this category include the Four of Wands "signifying rites of passage, which...serve a civilizing or spiritualizing purpose. In spirit journeys it represents the chants, drums, and prayers of assistants who help you return safely from the underworld..." and "communing with the dead" for the Five of Cups. Greer also avers that the shamanic perspective can be used for the upright interpretation as well, which works for me, particularly in the examples she provides. 

The mundane examples Greer cites are quite eye-opening and entertaining, such as Judgement indicating "unsolicited sales calls or noisome disruptions." After reading one of the meanings given for the Six of Wands reversed ("Employees or those under you may be disloyal, unsupportive, or simply let you down."), I thought of something my friend Susan used to say about her workers ("My staff--they do not comfort me.").  And that's the charm and wonder of this book--it evokes further thought on each of the cards, makes them new again, and gives the experienced reader many fresh and innovative ways to see those 78 old friends. Greer also provides traditional meanings for the cards, both upright and reversed, from numerous sources, including Etteilla, MacGregor Mathers, Eudes Picard, Saint-Germain, and A.E. Waite.

The book ends with a chapter on spreads (including several new ones, one of which is the "Hanged Man Spread") and a reading for "Sarah" that works with reversals and the breakthrough process, another innovative approach to the cards found in Greer's earlier work. There are four appendices (Reversed Keywords, Suit and Number Keywords, Elemental Dignities and The Heroine's Journey, in which Mary describes the heroine's journey through the Majors in three stages, I - VII, VIII-XIV, XV-XXI, with the Fool/Heroine moving through them all). Finally, there is an extensive bibliography and index.

The book is illustrated with black and white Rider-Waite-Smith versions of the card being interpreted--reversed! This reinforces the intent of the book to see each card from a new perspective, to consistently experience the sense of something askew or awry.

I know I will use this book constantly as a resource, and recommend it to all readers, especially intermediate and professional tarotists. Beginners could find it overwhelming, unless they carefully read the chapters prefacing the card descriptions. If they focus on only one or two interpretations, and use the medical references as stated above, they might find this the best book they could find on using reversals and learning the language of tarot.


Three of Wands

The Two showed a decision to be made, but in the Three of Wands, events are put in motion. In the RWS image, the ships have set sail. This card shows you have the virile force, confidence, and boldness to launch enterprises, perhaps by bringing three people or factors together. From a position of authority, you command, supervise, and direct activities. These may be in trade and commerce, or overseas business and foreign negotiations. Once set in motion, you can settle back to wait for your ship to come in. Historically, the shipping business involved large, high-risk ventures whose payoff, if successful, might take months or even years. Therefore, you could be making long-term plans, or envisioning future prospects, with a need to get the "big picture", a creative overview. However, you can overlook small, immediate details. Or, you might be on the lookout for new prospects and new territory, ready to seize that opportunity first seen in the previous card. This card suggests you are being audacious, bold, and daring in starting toward your goal, even though it might seem imprudent. This might require travel on your part, or you might have to handle your business from afar. Foresight in determining future needs could be important.

TRADITIONAL: Enterprises, trade, negotiation. Activity, undertakings. Bold, audacious, rash, imprudent. To seize or usurp. Courage, daring. Intellectual dynamism, commercial ability. Initiative. Travel. Voyages of discovery. Productive cooperation.

Three of Wands Reversed

The Three of Wands Rx indicates you have difficulty putting plans into action or that you are experiencing a creative block. You may feel daunted at having bitten off more than you can chew, and tasks could appear overwhelming. At one extreme, you display a lack of foresight characterized by rash activity that brings on exhaustion and mishaps. At the other extreme, you can have daydreams, hopes, and wishes that never get off the ground because you do not know where to begin or are afraid to take risks. Problems could also arise from overambitiousness, arrogance, or obstinacy, followed by anxiety about whether you will see any returns. You may hesitate to get help from others through distrust and fear of deceit, causing you to feel cut off and isolated. While these things can result in delays and setbacks they are generally temporary; the situation may improve. However, there is still a possibility that you will not get a return on your investment, or that a project could fail.

Focus on immediate, practical, step-by-step details. You could reorganize a job into smaller tasks. You might hold unconscious assumptions and expectations that will cause problems when someone fails to meet them or does the wrong thing. You may feel ignored or left out of the information loop. On a more personal level, you could turn your back on the future in order to focus on the past, which includes everything from past-life recall to genealogical research. This card could also signify an expatriate.

When projected on to others, you may seem them as ignoring day-to-day operations while daydreaming or concentrating only on future potentials. Healthwise, it could indicate illnesses acquired in foreign travel or genetic proclivities to certain health problems.

In the shamanic and magical realm, this card indicates one's responsibility for actions and decisions as they radiate effects unto "seven generations" in the future and, some say, even into the past.

TRADITIONAL RX: Ulterior motives. Distrust, treachery, deceit. Interrupted by misfortune. Reward for labors. Cessation of adversity. End of pain, toil, and disappointment. Respite from affliction. Beware of help offered. Hope, desire, attempt, wish.

The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals by Mary K. Greer
Publisher: Llewellyn
ISBN #: 1567182852

If you want to purchase The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, click here.

Cited text 2002 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review and page 2002 Diane Wilkes