Reversed Tarot Cards Explained

by Douglas Gibb on July 3, 2009

Reversed Tarot Cards

There are a lot of different opinions on how to read reversed Tarot cards. I think it’s one of those ambiguous areas of Tarot that only personal experience will make you feel comfortable with. Some of the different approaches to reading reversed Tarot cards are unhelpful; principally because they are not practical. Avoid the practice of interpreting a reversed card as somehow reversing the upright meaning, and try instead to see it as just another way to group the cards.

I have been asked before if I think it’s necessary to use reversed cards in a Tarot reading and my honest answer is no. I’m unconvinced that using reversed cards, for people that are concerned with memorising vast amounts of keywords or DMs, is the best practice for them. It tends to provide an unnecessary amount of stress that is counterproductive to the aim; giving a Tarot reading.

The method that I am about to outline here is the one I use in my professional practice. I know this method works, and it really is simple to use, however, I must insist that you avoid the temptation of adding any more DMs to your repertoire. In my opinion, the use of reversed cards is not to provide the reader with additional DMs, but rather to allow the Tarot reader to structure the ‘narrative’ or story he tells the client.

The Method For Reading Reversed Tarot Cards

I use the reversed Tarot cards to structure a Tarot reading. It’s difficult to explain exactly what I mean by this. I do not mean that I change the DMs of the cards just because they are reversed, or that I assign any special privileges to either the upright or reversed cards. In fact, whether they are reversed or not does not matter much to me. The only thing that concerns me when I see reversed cards is what story they are telling me.

Like any good book or movie there is the main plot, but contained within this structure are ‘sub-plots’ of the main story. I see reversed cards as indicating the sub-plot of the main story within the client’s life. As a result, I group all the reversed cards together to help me determine what this sub-plot is.

For example, if it’s a relationship reading, I’ll first look at the main plot of the reading before checking out the reversed cards. If it just so happens that the client’s partner is reversed then I will apply all reversed cards to him. This allows me to tell the client what their partner feels about them, the issues that surround them and in some instances their motive for acting the way they do. In this way, I group the reversed cards together in order to help complete the Tarot reading.

Additionally, I’ll use reversed cards as a way to explore blocks or resistance to the client’s plan or goal. In fact, I’ll usually interpret the same reversed Tarot cards more than once in order to add greater depth to my readings. The process of reinterpretation is possibly a little too involved at this stage of our learning, but it is worth while recognising that nothing is absolute in a Tarot reading. Every card can be reinterpreted by using different criteria, depending on the information you are looking for, as often as you like.

Example Two Card Tarot Readings Using Reversed Cards

The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. Firstly, to get you comfortable with viewing reversed cards, not as a reversal of the DMS but rather, as a method for structuring a reading. Secondly, to illustrate that there is no real mystery behind using reversed cards. In a two card reading, the ‘narrative’ you tell will be much the same as if they were both upright.

In fact the technique I use to read reversed Tarot cards would see two reversed cards identically (if it was only a 2 card Tarot reading) as if they were upright. You might see reversed Tarot cards differently, that’s fine, the important point is not to get ‘hung-up’ on the thought of learning extra DMS when really, it’s not necessary.

The Three of Swords Reversed and the Seven of Disks

Here we have the 3 of Swords reversed next to the 7 of Disks. We know Elementally that Air and Earth are enemies and weaken each other. We also know that one is Active and the other is Passive which results in a neutralising influence. Therefore, this situation is unlikely to change. When both cards were upright we saw them as meaning profound debt. Now that one of them is reversed, how does this change the story? Not a whole lot to be honest. The main change is that the person experiencing the debt is bound to feel worse about things and also, if we imagine the 3 of Swords as somehow indicative of other people, being cut off from any outside help. On a positive note, we could also imagine that the client has the determination to succeed as indicated by the 7 of Disks; it just appeals to my imagination as being stronger.

Four of Wands reversed and the Hierophant

Here we have the 4 of Wands reversed. When both cards were upright I felt it indicated marriage; now, with one of them reversed, we will have to reinterpret the cards again.

I still see this as an excellent combination of cards. I can’t see the 4 of Wands reversed as indicating a great obstacle to the client’s life. At worse, all I could say would be that the client could take more time to enjoy what’s happening around her.

If we completely reinterpret these cards we could say that the professional advice offered by the Hierophant will certainly help the client with their property; perhaps the client has experienced delays in terms of moving home?

The Fool reversed and the Universe reversed

Both these cards are reversed. I will use the same interpretation we used when both these cards were upright: The Fool indicates something new and when combined with the Universe card I would be inclined to say that this person will be moving abroad.

I used the same interpretation as before as I don’t use reversed cards to reverse the DMs. Instead, I use reversed cards to help create a structure within a Tarot reading; to help me explore the ‘sub-plots’ within a reading and to provide a way of analysing the blockages or resistance that life, or the client, might create.

I would like you to continue using reversed cards within your practice readings and next week we will be combining all these different lessons into a powerful three card spread.

This post is part of the Beginners Tutorial To Reading Tarot Cards.

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14 comments… Let's discuss

Barbara G Meyer July 7, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Actually, I find saying that a Reversed card (Rx is the way I like to designate it in print) is NOT what the upright meaning is can be very helpful. Sometimes it isn’t, sometimes no card means what you expect it to mean, but it is one way of looking at the cards.

Sometimes when I lay out a spread (like a Horoscope with 12 cards) and many are reversed. I think, boy this person has a LOT of things they DON’T want to happen or don’t want to think about. For example, in your last 2 card spread with the Fool Rx and the World Rx, is it possible that yes, the person is moving abroad to a new experience…. and they don’t want to or dread doing it for some reason (maybe not consciously?)

In the previous reading the 3 of Swords does not change to you. And being the reader, in touch with the querent you are probably right, but looking in general, could it also mean they have debt but don’t care a whole lot? (3 of swords Rx can be a good thing, a relief of anxieties, since I use Waite-esque picture cards exclusively, the swords Rx fall from out of the heart.)

So I will never say never to Rx meaning NOT the upright meaning, but you are right, it is not the ONLY possibility.

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Douglas July 7, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Hi Barbara, thank you for sharing your thoughts and interpretations.

I really like the way you explained how you use reversed cards, particularly the interpretations. I think they add a new depth to our understanding.

Sometimes when I lay out a spread (like a Horoscope with 12 cards) and many are reversed. I think, boy this person has a LOT of things they DON’T want to happen or don’t want to think about.

I agree, what you have expressed here is what I would call a resistance. This is a great example of how this can appear in a Tarot reading.

For example, in your last 2 card spread with the Fool Rx and the World Rx, is it possible that yes, the person is moving abroad to a new experience…. and they don’t want to or dread doing it for some reason (maybe not consciously?)

This adds an extra depth that I enjoyed reading. Yes, I think you’re right to say that this is a possible interpretation. In this case it is always useful to look to the other cards (if these cards were part of a larger spread) to validate and corroborate the interpretation.

In the previous reading the 3 of Swords does not change to you. And being the reader, in touch with the querent you are probably right, but looking in general, could it also mean they have debt but don’t care a whole lot? (3 of swords Rx can be a good thing, a relief of anxieties, since I use Waite-esque picture cards exclusively, the swords Rx fall from out of the heart.)

So I will never say never to Rx meaning NOT the upright meaning, but you are right, it is not the ONLY possibility.

This puts an interesting spin on those two cards. Yes, it could mean they don’t care a whole lot. Again, this is a great example of using the reversed cards to add a structure to a Tarot reading.

One note of caution to beginners reading this comment. It is not necessary to complicate the learning process just yet with learning different ways or methods of interpreting the reversed cards. However, Barbara’s comment is an excellent example of how different approaches to reading reversed Tarot cards can add greater understanding or depth to the ‘narrative’ that is forming between you and your client.

For those that are interested in a exploring the subject of reversed Tarot cards further, I would recommend the Interactive Tarot Blog. I have been following this blog for some time and I think this article is one of the best I’ve found.

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Theresa August 10, 2009 at 9:14 pm

I am a huge fan of reversals. They can give a different perspective, shift meanings, call attention to delays or stagnant energy, etc.

I am also a yoga teacher and one of my teachers said that you must do inversions (headstand, or any type of going upside down pose) otherwise you risk becoming conceited and too fond of your own opinion – by going upside down we see other points of view and develop compassion. I like to apply that thought to reversed cards.

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Douglas August 11, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Awesome point :)

I’ve never thought of the reversals in that way but it makes complete sense ;) . When I was reading your comment, I was reminded of the Hanged Man; how the upside down position shows the world in a different way. Sometimes all that’s needed is a different perspective!

I also agree with you when you say that the use of reversed Tarot cards can bring much more subtlety and depth to a Tarot reading.

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AJ September 17, 2009 at 6:52 am

The reversal meanings are too much to handle for a beginner like myself. I think I should stick with the upright meanings for now. I don’t want to have information overload… just the elemental association with my daily card is already intimidating me… I think I should slow down… lol.

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Philippa November 12, 2009 at 2:37 am

I’m reading a book on Neuro-Linguistic Programming – I’m not wholly convinced by it, but there was one thing that resonated with what Barbara wrote:

Your unconscious mind can’t process negatives. It interprets everything you think as a positive thought. So, if you think, “I don’t want to be poor,” your unconscious mind focuses on the “poor”, and because it doesn’t do negatives, the thought becomes, “I want to be poor.” Being poor then becomes the goal in your unconscious mind and like a young child, desperate to please, it helps you behave in a way that will keep you poor. Obviously this was not what you really wanted.

Reversed cards may show where your client (or you!) may be thinking in negative terms. Thus 9 Swords reversed becomes, “I want to avoid sorrow,” which is NOT the same thing as, “I want to be happy.”

I have one additional use for reversed cards – if a substantial majority of cards (say 7 in a 10-card spread) are reversed, then I conclude that this reading has to be abandoned. If it’s for me, I just put the cards away. If it’s for a client, then I ask them to re-focus and I re-deal – perhaps with a new Signifier.

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Douglas Gibb November 13, 2009 at 11:25 am

Hi Philippa,

Thanks for dropping by :D

What an interesting take on reading reversed Tarot cards. I have friends that really like Neuro-Linguistic Programming and I can certainly see how it could have an informative role in delivering a Tarot reading.

I have one additional use for reversed cards – if a substantial majority of cards (say 7 in a 10-card spread) are reversed, then I conclude that this reading has to be abandoned. If it’s for me, I just put the cards away. If it’s for a client, then I ask them to re-focus and I re-deal – perhaps with a new Signifier.

That’s really interesting! The Golden Dawn also had several procedures in place to determine whether or not a reading should be abandoned. Although they didn’t involve reversed Tarot cards (they didn’t, as a rule, read with them) it did involve the use of a Significator.

Thank you for your thoughtful, and informative response to this article. You’ve provided some excellent alternatives to reading with reversed Tarot cards :D

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Sheri February 10, 2010 at 8:07 am

Hi Douglas,

One thing I’ve learned in my readings is that it really doesn’t matter in which direction the cards are. They are going to tell the truth whether you want to hear it or not. Reading the cards in a “nice” way for someone is doing them a disservice. It can disappoint them or worse harm them. Not to mention it makes you, the reader, look bad.

Sheri

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Douglas Gibb February 11, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Hi Sheri,

That’s awesome. I’m in complete agreement.

This shows that the Tarot is now becoming something much more than a deck of cards. It’s now becoming something that is challenging your ideas on life (the nature of time and events) – as well as how real life and the Tarot co-exist. This is a great sign, and one that indicates that your learning has moved in a different, more holistic direction.

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michelle February 21, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Hiya, I do believe the reversed cards have an effect on my feelings. It is a negative for them to be put on the table, maybe negative feeling, wishing for something not to happen. For you know to tell the person you are reading for a false meaning will look so bad and it would make me go away and think, “oh my, I wish I didn’t say the un-reversed meaning”, as you look back on the cards and think and study that reversed meaning went a lot with that person’s life. Thanks, just my opinion.
:) XXXxxxxXXX god bless xxxx

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Ellen June 30, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Hi to everyone
i was wondering if yu have or you know of any live tarot chat rooms

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Douglas Gibb July 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Hi Ellen,

I don’t know about Live Tarot Chat rooms, but I do know of a supportive Tarot Forum which you might like to check out.

I wish you all the best in your search.

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Catherine July 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Hope this is ok for me to post, but I really want to share this tarot deck with your readers. It’s called Revelations Tarot and it shows the upright and reversed meanings, through the imagery on the same card – great if you’re learning to use reversals.

And as an added bonus, for more experienced readers and tarot students, the author’s ideas and thoughts on what those reversals are a wonderful expansion of your own ideas. My interpretations have been enriched by studying this deck – everyone should buy it!

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Melissa M November 2, 2012 at 3:42 am

Reversals for me are distorted energies, like 6 of cups reversed would be sour memories of the past, lovers reversed – choice already taken, or leaning heavily to one alternative, king of cups reversed – someone totally out of their mind etc.

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