Spectrums of Meaning

To use reversals or not? That is one of the most commonly discussed choices in tarot. I suspect it’s more relevant to predictive readings than introspective, but as a seeker drawn more to the shadowy aspects of the cards, I was spurred by the descriptions in Paul Quinn’s Tarot for Life which separated the reversed and shadow meanings. As I explored them, I realized that while his reversed meanings were often the opposite of the upright, his shadow meanings were often the exaggerated aspects (as our shadows are so often expressed). Over the years of integrating theories and practices, this naturally merged with my tendency to look to the more therapeutic aspects of the cards, as what fear and shame holds us back from pursuing our dreams (or exaggerates our pursuit), and the spectrum just made sense.

We are living in a time when spectrums are, thankfully, gaining a wider acceptance in understanding the topics that we as humans love to polarize. The gender binary is slowly coming to be recognized as a spectrum of gender fluidity. Neurotypical and neurodivergent expressions are now more commonly referred to as “the spectrum.” As artists, we’re trained from a young age to see color in spectrums — not just in the hues of individual colors, but across the whole wheel. Green is simply a point on the spectrum between yellow and blue.

I learned this as an herbalist, as well. When we look at the physiology of health from a holistic framework, we recognize tissue states of the body. Biologically, our organs and cells are constantly striving for homeostasis. But aren’t we always striving for homeostasis emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, as well? In the tissue states of the body, we can look to the four humours, which are always at various points on the spectrum; but a major underlying factor is the spectrum between deficiency and excess. Deficient tissues are weak and saggy; tissues in excess are excited (and we utilize the energetics of plant medicine to influence them back into balance). My Libra moon thinks that everything is ultimately about balance, and so I thought that this translated really well to the cards.

If we look to the suits as humours, excess damp or water can be seen in the Cups, deficient fire in Wands, and so on. Is the bloviating extreme of the Knight of Swords not an expression of excess air? If we compare tarot to herbs, how can they influence us back to center? Mainly, they ask us questions which may encourage us to consider the issue from other perspectives. Hopefully, they help us to connect with the internal parts that may need some tending — or even just the opportunity to express themselves. For example, the 8 of Cups nudges us to move on from something that no longer serves us on our path. In deficiency (or, I use ‘resistance’ with tarot), we may remain in that situation — perhaps out of emotional insecurity — refusing the call to leave. At the other end of the spectrum, in excess, we may have a tendency to always walk away from situations rather than face them. The balanced center is where we consider the situation and take the appropriate action. The cards invite us into the questions which may influence right action. Do you have a pattern of walking away? What are you avoiding? Are you in denial about moving from one stage to another? And more. Lots more.

And so, I am thoroughly intrigued by this notion, and I look forward to exploring it further (ah, my Page of Swords is gleefully activated!). It will, of course, be a neverending pursuit, but the basic skeleton I’m laying out here in these meanings is, perhaps, a start.

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