We have already seen that the cards are magically and morally neutral - so important is this fact that I made it my First Principle of Tarot. A logical extension of this fact - one which is often overlooked - is that the meanings of the cards are essentially neutral as well. Contrary to what some might assert, there are no inherently "negative" or "positive" cards. Another of my Principles states that the Tarot evolves to suit the people who use it, and a necessary condition for such evolution is that all of the cards, from the brightest of the Cups to the darkest of the Swords, contain the seeds of both light and dark, positive and negative.
This fact may not seem immediately obvious. After all, how can one find any negative aspects of such cards as the Nine of Cups, or The Sun? Similarly, how can one find anything good in The Tower, or in the Three of Swords? It is not only possible to do so, but learning how to see both sides of every card is essential to understanding the cards, and to giving good readings. Let's face it - eventually, Ten of Swords is going to show up in the "best outcome" position of a spread, and it will be necessary for you to see the brighter side of this supposedly dark and gloomy card. That, or the Ten of Cups will appear in a "things to avoid" position which will require you to see the shadow produced by this card's normally uplifting message.
The Ten of Swords and Ten of Cups are such a good examples that I will use them to demonstrate the technique of "seeing both sides of the card". By examining the imagery of these cards it becomes possible to see some of their overlooked aspects. How can anything be good about a man impaled by ten swords? What wrong can be found in a family celebrating under a rainbow? To find out we have to consider a half-dozen features of the card. This procedure can be repeated to find the good parts of any so-called "negative" card, or the darker sides of the "positive" cards.
Here is what this process reveals about the "negative" Ten of Swords:
Just to show that similar techniques can apply to "positive" cards, I will use a similar analysis on the Ten of Cups - a card almost universally seen as full of happiness and light. But:
So what has this process proven? Is the Ten of Swords a card of ruin or of spiritual enlightenment? Does the Ten of Cups represent real happiness or just an idealistic daydream? The answer is that the cards can represent both of these meanings, depending on the situation. They are inherently neutral but they can cover a full range of meanings, from the very positive to the very negative.
Learning to work within this range is essential to a true understanding of the Tarot - not just of those cards which most readers do not touch with a ten-foot pole, but also of those with whom they feel totally comfortable. Eventually you will come to see that the friendliest cards can sometimes be used to stab you in the back, and that the darkest ones can often turn out to be your best friends.Copyright 2000 James Rioux