Reversed tarot cards are really straightforward and everyone agrees on how to approach them.
…said nobody, ever. 😉
As you may know, I wrote a series of (personal, unofficial) interpretations of the Wild Unknown Tarot deck. I’ve received lots of lovely comments and questions about those posts, and there’s one thing I’ve been asked again…and again…and again. Which is, of course: what about reversed (aka inverted or upside down) cards?
And so now, I present to you Carrie’s guide to tarot card reversals!
To reverse or not to reverse
Tarot is a highly personal art form. It is a system that is loosely tied by tradition, and it can be very useful to verse yourself in traditional approaches. But as with any other aspect of your tarot craft, there are no rights or wrongs. Some phenomenal readers use reversals. Some phenomenal readers do not use reversals. You can choose which camp you’d like to set up with and you’ll be in good company either way!
As with anything else in your practice, it’s useful to experiment. Try out reversals and see how they suit you…or don’t suit you. Refer to the golden rule of tarot: tune in to your intuition.
A caveat, though. Although experimentation is great, give yourself a chance to acclimate. If you’ve never read reversals and want to try, set the intention to use them for a set period of time (maybe a moon cycle). Reading reversals can be uncomfortable at first, but sometimes sitting with growing pains leads to evolving as a reader.
You may find yourself dipping in and out of using reversals. For example, I generally do read reversals, but I find them unnecessary in certain spreads. And even if you use reversals regularly, you may find they feel wonky with certain decks (I don’t read reversals at all with the Japaridze Tarot for this reason).
Here’s why you might want to use reversals: they can result in more complex, nuanced and clear readings. If this is how reading reversals feels for you, great! Keep using them.
Here’s why you might not want to use reversals: they can be distracting without adding anything valuable. If this is how reading reversals feels for you, stop. There’s no need to force things.
You could say incorporating reversals into a reading is like adding cilantro to a dish: some people LOVE the flavor it adds, other people think it tastes like soap. It’s okay to be in either one of these categories.
How to read reversed cards: a few methods
So, you’re ready to give it a go, eh? We’ll now consider some theories of interpreting reversed cards. These are my go-to approaches; cobbled from various books, teachers, and personal experience. This list is by no means complete or authoritative, but I do hope it will give you some lenses to try out. Tune into your intuition to choose which of these approaches to use with any given reversal.
Resistance to the lesson
It is not always easy for human beings to swallow the lessons life presents us. We are masters at evading, justifying, or just flat out ignoring the things we most need to learn. When a tarot card turns up reversed, it is sometimes a signal that you (or whomever you’re reading for) is experiencing some level of resistance to that card’s lesson.
Say, for example, that you are considering how you can increase your salary. You know you’re being underpaid but you are weary to broach the topic with your boss because you don’t want to be pushy. You do a reading for yourself and the Two of Wands comes up reversed. This card is traditionally associated with boldness and confidence. Therefore, this card could show that you are resisting this chance to learn about actively asserting yourself.
This is one of the most common methods I use for understanding reversed cards. I find it to be such an empowering approach. Once we know where our resistance lies, we can begin to understand it. And as we understand our resistance, we can learn to transform it. In this way, we can open ourselves fully to what the universe is teaching us.
The Shadow Spectrum
Each tarot card has an entire universe of meanings. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but consider that each card’s set of meanings could be viewed on a spectrum, ranging from light to shadow. Light is not equivalent to positive and shadow is not equivalent to negative. Instead, meanings on the light side of the spectrum are more readily apparent, meanings on the shadow side of the spectrum are more unconscious and insidious. A reversal can be a sign that the card’s energy is currently manifesting on the shadow side of the spectrum.
Say you’ve been having doubts about undertaking a new venture. You ask for clarity on these doubts and receive the reversed Queen of Swords. If you consider the shadow spectrum of this card, you might find that you are being overly self-critical, cynical and snarky. It seems that your doubts are stemming from shadowy unconscious beliefs, as opposed to well-thought out critique.
The physical reversal here is just a stand-in for what your intuition alone might discern. Making the unconscious conscious is a profound magic that tarot evokes, and this method is just one way to add a psychological element to your readings.
Internal Verses External Energy
This particular method of reading reversals carries some inherent contradictions, so I am drawn to it less frequently than some of the other methods here. However, once in a while my intuition is just like “BAM, this totally applies right now!”
Occasionally, a reversed card is a particularly strong sign that an energy shift is needed INTERNALLY verses externally. Now, this is a bit tricky to explain. The way I use it, tarot is always best equipped to speak directly to the seeker’s internal state (as opposed to giving third party information). That said, tarot can give us direct information about influencing our external world AND our internal world.
As the example here, let’s say you are feeling stifled by your relationship and ask for advice. You draw the Fool reversed. Under this lens of interpretation, the reversal suggests that the Fool’s energy is needed specifically in your inner world. You may not need to take leaps – such as leaving your partner – in your external world. This could help you realize that what you need is a sense of internal expansion. The liberation you are seeking starts within you.
The Exclamation Point
Last but not least, an open ended but useful theory. Sometimes a reversal is just a cue to pay extra attention to that card. In this case, the card in question may tie together a theme or highlight a recurring message, particularly in a bigger spread.
For example, let’s pretend you’re planning to start a new business and you lay out a spread for advice. Among the various cards is the Hierophant reversed. As you weave the story of the reading, various cards bring messages of new ideas, training and collaboration. In this case, the reversal of the Hierophant may just be an exclamation point asking you to pay particular attention to this card. You might then intuit that working with a business mentor is your next step.
The exclamation point is one of the most common theories I use for reversals. A reversal can be a powerful sign that we need to really sit with a particular card.
So, there you have it! I hope that this gives you some good perspectives to test out in your own tarot practices.
I’m curious to hear what works for you. Do you read reversed cards? What methods have you found the most effective? Comment and tell me about it, if you want.