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Contra-positive cards

July 17, 2010

Today while I was thinking about the Tarot (as I often do) I got a flash of inspiration for a new way to find solutions for problems indicated by the “problem” cards among the 40 “numbered” cards in the Minor Arcana. (Yes, I know there are no “good cards” or “bad cards” but there are more than a few that people typically see as a warning of trouble.)

Since I like to find new ways to make my readings more helpful, I thought I would explore this nascent technique further by first writing it up (which always solidifies my thoughts and ideas, bringing them out of the element of AIR and into the element of EARTH), and then sharing it here on my blog to get reactions from other people about it. I’ll also be trying out this technique in practice, and if any of you do that too, I’ll be happy to hear about your experiences.

So … Here’s a summary explanation of the technique —

When you get a troublesome card from the Minor Arcana (I’m sure you know which cards I’m talking about, but if you don’t — hold on, I’ll get there), consider its “contra-positive” card (yes, I just made up that term) to find a way to solve the problem.  Simple so far, right?  Except, what’s a “contra-positive” card?  Here’s the definition:

To find a Pip card’s contra-positive card, subtract the card’s number from 11 to get the new card’s number, and use the contrary suit for the new card.  The pairs of contrary suits are:
Wands (fire) vs. Cups (water)
Swords (air) vs. Pentacles (earth).

Note that the numerical results of this method pairs up the numbers from 1 to 10 with the numbers from 10 down to 1:
1 and 10
2 and 9
3 and 8
4 and 7
5 and 6
then back the other way.

Okay, that explanation may have made your head hurt, but it’s really not very complex.  I’m sure it will help if I give you a couple of examples.

Let’s start with the Five of Pentacles.  That’s a card that usually makes people cringe, thinking of misfortune and poverty. So what’s the contra-positive card?
First, the new card’s number:  11 – 5 = 6
And the suit? Swords is the suit contrary to Pentacles.
So the contra-positive card for the Five of Pentacles is the Six of Swords.

That card can indicate accessing a support group or gaining a new perspective, which can be helpful when you suffer misfortune or if you feel financially strapped.

Here’s another example.

Eight of Cups -- Tarot of the MastersConsider the Eight of Cups. Granted, this is not one of the more notorious cards, but I often see in it a person who is moving away from something and having feelings of regret about it, even though they know it’s the right thing to do. So let’s find the contra-positive card:

11 – 8 = 3 and Wands is the contrary suit, so we get the Three of Wands.Three of Wands -- Tarot of the Masters

This card advises one to take the long view, to see the big picture, which can help when you’re betwixt and between, not completely separated from one thing and not yet arrived at something new either.

Once I had this technique spelled out, I decided to make a list of the Pip cards that I find most typically “problematic” and then match each one to its contra-positive card to see how well those pairings might work as far as problem/solution pairs. Granted, my list of problem cards and yours might differ, but probably not by too much. What follows is in the format of “Bad card” / “Contra-positive card” followed by an associated “Problem” / “Possible solution” pair.  Note that the list of problem/solution pairs is quite rudimentary; it’s just intended to show potential uses of these card pairs.


Five of Wands / Six of Cups
Strife / Make a loving connection … be “a lover not a fighter”

Seven of Wands / Four of Cups
Feeling attacked / Keeping your eyes open for new options

Ten of Wands / Ace of Cups
Feeling overloaded / Opening to new relationships (which can help take the load off)


Five of Cups / Six of Wands
Grief / Getting back out into the world … supporting other people’s endeavors

Seven of Cups / Four of Wands
Confusion about where your heart lies / Home is where the heart is

Eight of Cups / Three of Wands
(See explanation at beginning)


Two of Swords / Nine of Pentacles
Indecision / What will lead you to prosperity?

Three of Swords / Eight of Pentacles
Words that hurt / Understanding takes work

Five of Swords / Six of Pentacles
Nasty people / Being charitable (it really confuses the heck out of those nasty people)

Seven of Swords / Four of Pentacles
Thievery / Hold on tight to what is yours

Eight of Swords / Three of Pentacles
Victim mentality / Work with other people on solving the problem that you think is victimizing you

Nine of Swords / Two of Pentacles
Worry / Regain balance in your life … have fun

Ten of Swords / Ace of Pentacles
Defeat / Find new opportunities


Five of Pentacles / Six of Swords
(See explanation at beginning)


So there you have them.  By the way, it was interesting to note that none of my “bad cards” turned up as a contra-positive card for a different “bad card.”  I was heartened to see that and took it as a bit of evidence in favor of this technique.

So, now with this method spelled out, I’d be interested in your thoughts about it. Remember, this is just a hypothesis at this time. It is only intended to be a possible, helpful technique to consider, sort of like looking at the next sequential card to see where things might be going.  (i.e., the Ace in a suit leads to the TWO, which leads to the THREE, etc.)

Also, I have to point out that this method came to me intuitively, not as a logical, methodical calculation, but I do see how it can make sense rationally also. If a card’s meaning combines its numerical and elemental associations, it seems reasonable to look for solutions in the opposites of those associations.

Footnote: The term I’ve coined, Contra-positive, should not be confused with the similar term, contrapositive, from the field of mathematical logic.

Addendum: I have added to this technique in several ways in a subsequent blog post.







  1. Oh, I love the idea of this! I also don’t think of cards as being good or bad, but this is an interesting and novel approach if the person you’re reading for thinks a card is bad. I guess it would have to be something you just spoke of, as a reader, rather than trying to shuffle through to find it…

    I shall certainly give this a go – thanks for a fascinating new technique!

  2. Brilliant!!!

  3. cynthia tedesco permalink

    dear james,

    i LOVE THIS as it’s TOTALLY HELPFUL to the client! i pair KAIZEN -MUSE CREATIVITY COACHING TOOLS & ‘MUSES’ to our tarot cards for this kind of reading but having an arithmetical tool is a wonderful beginning!

    i’ll be trying this out this weekend! thank you so much! there are several arithmetical tools that illustrate the cards` relationships. this goes that extra step using elemental dignities to assist a positive reading experience for the client.

    all good things,

  4. Karen Borusiewicz permalink

    James, this is an wonderful way to look at the cards. And even for those “positive” cards you might want to look at the “contra” card for warnings or obstacles. You open a lot of possibilities to us with a simple technique. Thank you!

  5. What a marvelous idea! I love playing with things like this and will certainly try this method out!

  6. Yes James I think you are onto something here. I am going to try it out during my free freding times and see how clients respond.
    Thanks so much for sharing this.

    However I do not think we need to divorce ourselves from the problem card per se; rather see the counter-positive cards as helful permutations an extension of the true.
    As such the definition from mathematical logic is analogous to your revaluation of card readings. “If a statement is true, the contrapositive is also logically true. Likewise, when the converse is true, the inverse is also logically true.”

  7. Wow. I was very excited to post this technique, but honestly, I was a bit nervous too as I had no idea what kind of reaction it would get. Happily, the reaction has been very good. Thanks!
    Everyone: I look forward to hearing about your experiences using this!
    Paul: I don’t mean to “divorce ourselves from the problem card” but rather to consider it along with its contra-positive.
    Karen: This is a nice additional idea! (“And even for those “positive” cards you might want to look at the “contra” card for warnings or obstacles”)
    Bright Blessings,
    James Ricklef

  8. This is so fascinating! Another technique is described in Ed Peterson’s unique book, Numerology, in which ever tarot card is neatly ascribed a numerical value from 1 – 78. The card of 17 would have opposing energy to the 71 card, the 12 opposes 21. Through this we can find many answers as well, and it also takes us to new suits/elements.

    I’m going to give this a try, James. Thanks for mentioning it. Another stroke of brilliance.

    • Interesting, DL, but this begs the question: What about cards whose inverse number doesn’t exist in the Tarot — every card number that ends in an 8 or 9? What cards have opposing energy for cards 08, 09, 18, 19, 28, 29, etc.?

  9. He uses the system up to 100. So I use 90 for 09. There is no card, but there is a numerology meaning to the specific number. So 29 would still have a 92, even though there is not a card to stand beside it.

    Interestingly, most cards with opposite number have opposite meaning; it’s uncanny how everything fits together like a huge, multi-layered puzzle of perfection.

  10. Davina permalink

    this looks more than interesting. And the fact the contra card is usually supportive, positive, or advisory makes it a system that COULD work. I will mentally have them paired so if I do have a situation where a difficult card is in a problematic position I can switch over in my head to also have a way forward. Nice idea to have half an eye open for possible problems as well, should the contra (positive) card be the primary card. I can see this being useful for readings which have only a few cards for the spread – sometimes you are left with a gap but no card drawn to fill it.

    nice one James 😀


  11. James, interesting concept. Will have to try it out.

  12. Interesting idea/concept here, very workable and helps to show that every down has an up, even to those who see all to be dark and hopeless.and yes some of those cards can get sitters to feel uncomfortable and this is a way to say he you know what yes there is some thing not so bright about this one BUT…

  13. Alex Silva permalink

    wonderful James!!!

  14. James, you’re definitely on to something. It is worth fleshing out and developing.

  15. Interesting concept James. I’ll have to play with this one a bit and get back to you with my results. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Great idea James 🙂 This method sounds like a fun and easy way to look at a “problem” card. I will try it out first chance I get.

  17. Again, thanks everyone for all the comments, and I look forward to hearing about your experiences using this!

    By the way, I used this today in the way Karen mentioned … looking for warnings or difficulties behind the “good cards.” —
    VERY briefly: In a reading where the 9/Pentacles came up, we also considered the contra-positive 2/Swords (indecision). The warning there was that perhaps since she is in a somewhat comfortable spot in her situation (9/P), she was avoiding making a decision (2/S) that could disrupt that comfort zone, even tho’ there are great potential benefits of making that decision. (Not sure if that makes sense since I have to take this totally out of context in order to maintain confidentiality.) This extra insight did prove helpful.

    • Karen Borusiewicz permalink

      James – thanks for the f/u comments and example. I love having something new to add to my toolbox and think your initial technique, expanded as I suggested, offers lots of possibilities. Love your creativity and the blog!

      • Thanks Karen.
        By the way, I’m thinking of expanding this more in another blog post. Keep your eyes open for that too.
        PS: Um… apparently “f/u” must mean something very different to you than it does to me. :-/

  18. Carolyn permalink

    This is a very interesting tool to bring into readings. I just did a reading where the 10 of Swords came up and it feels so right to offer the Ace of Pentacles / a new project grounded in something physical / the earth as a way through or out of the overabundance of mind in the 10 of Swords.

    I’m curious, how did you come up with 11 to subtract from?

    • Hi Carolyn
      Using 11 to subtract from is merely a short cut to the reverse numerical pairing table —
      1 and 10
      2 and 9
      3 and 8
      4 and 7
      5 and 6
      6 and 5
      7 and 4
      8 and 3
      9 and 2
      10 and 1

  19. Interesting technique James, I could see its value in being used. I will give this a run next time I am doing a reading.

  20. Your ‘discovery’ of the contra-positive-cards is splendid!
    First I was a little suspicious – but I tried it myself… And YES, it works very well!!!

    If you agree, I´d like to introduce this convincing tool on my german blog – respecting your copyright (which is self-evident!).

    Thank you for sharing this great idea.

    • Hi Phine,
      Thanks for your interest in my contra-positive method.
      In your translated post, please include a link to my post as well as a statement of my copyright. Please also send me a link to your post when it’s up. (See the “CONTACT” tab under “ABOUT JAMES” at the top of this page.)

  21. Hi James –

    I just sent an email to you, the planned post as draft attached.


  22. Susan Mc permalink

    James — Another wonderful post from you. Thank you for sharing – I have sent you a little donation in appreciation.

  23. Hi James,

    the post is up now 😉 . It´s exactly the version I sent to you by email.
    Thank you again for your approving,


  24. Very interesting and informative reading. I am generally an Intuitive Reader and rarely utilize cards, however, I have encountered a number of perple who have come to me for readings, telling me that their last Tarot reading had all these “Bad Cards” show up and asking me what I think. Well, like you I do not believe there are “good” or “bad” cards, just as there are no good or bad pieces of information which are imparted to a client through Spirit in a reading. I’ve always suggested that the person see the cards as providing useful information upon which to make decisions or alter actions.
    Now with the information you have provided I’ll be much better informed about which cards the person is talking about and what I might suggest to them as a course of action in relation to any specific “bad” card.
    Thanks for your insight.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. More about Contra positive cards « James Ricklef's Tarot Blog
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  7. What does the Eight of Pentacles mean? | James Ricklef's Tarot Blog

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