Visit any of those free Tarot reading websites and you’ll often find the descriptions of the reversed cards are peppered with dramatic words and phrases such as ‘deceit’, ‘betrayal’, ‘divorce’ and ‘trickery and fraud’. With these interpretations, it is little wonder why people fear reversed cards and often choose not to use them at all. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to reversed cards than these sites let on.
To avoid anxiety-filled Tarot readings riddled with negative and dramatic interpretations of reversed cards, it is important to understand more about the many ways in which the reversed cards can be interpreted. In this way, you can effectively use reversed Tarot cards to provide your clients with deep insight, constructive feedback and advice, and renewed hope.
There are many methods for interpreting a reversed Tarot card – I have listed eight of what I believe are the most useful and common. These methods can be applied generally to each card of the Tarot deck.
- Traditional meanings. When you first buy your Tarot deck, it will usually come with a LWB (Little White Book). In this book, you’ll find the traditional meanings of the Tarot cards, and if you’re lucky, it will also include the meanings of the reversed cards. Traditional meanings are based on those originating in France in the 1700s and were modified by later writers who used either the Etteilla- or Marseilles-style decks. These meanings read very similarly to those that you see on the free reading websites mentioned above. For example, the Three of Wands reversed – “Ulterior motives. Distrust, treachery, deceit. Interrupter by misfortune. Reward for labours.” My advice is to use the traditional meanings as a starting point. However, to create meaningful insight for your clients, you will most likely need to draw on the other methods outlined in this post.
- The opposite of the upright card. This is perhaps one of the most common (and simple) ways of interpreting reversed Tarot cards and involves simply taking the opposite of the upright meaning for that card. For example, the Ten of Pentacles upright represents financial security, an established family home and a successful career. The opposite of this is financial insecurity, a broken home or a job under threat due to restructuring. What you do need to be careful of is that this method may favour more negative interpretations and may needlessly emphasise fear and suspicion, rather than generating hope and faith. Look to the other cards in the reading to help the client find their way out of a potentially challenging situation.
- The energy of the card is increased or decreased. In this method, the energy of the upright card is either strengthened or weakened. For example, the Ten of Swords upright signifies a painful ending, betrayal and being stabbed in the back. If the energy is weakened, the reversed Ten of Swords may indicate that a difficult period is over and the client is beginning to heal from past wounds. If the energy is strengthened, the client may be struggling to move on from a difficult period and continues to feel hurt and betrayed. Knowing whether the energy is increased or decreased will depend on the surrounding cards, feedback from your client and your gut instinct.
- A need to return to the lesson of the previous card. This method originates from Paul Fenton-Smith in his book Mastering The Tarot: A Guide To Advanced Tarot Reading And Practice and is personally one of my favourites. It creates hope and a way forward for clients, and is an easy way for new Tarot readers to interpret reversed cards. The basic tenet is that the client has not learned the upright meaning of the previous card and must therefore return to this lesson before they can move forward. For example, the Two of Pentacles reversed indicates that in order for the client to effectively manage their financial commitments, they need to return to the Ace of Pentacles and identify their financial goals and put into place appropriate plans to achieve those goals. Note, that when an Ace appears reversed, you need to return to the Ten, and when the Fool appears reversed, return to the World. For the court cards, the King returns to the Knight and the Queen to the Page, however more often than not, reversed court cards reflect the negative characteristics of an individual.
- Blocked energy. The energy of the upright card is blocked or repressed in some way. For example, the reversed Six of Wands can suggest that a lack of self-esteem and self-promotion is impacting your ability to be successful. And the reversed Five of Cups suggests that you are not allowing yourself to move on from a disappointing situation.
- Delays. Reversed cards can indicate delays related to the card itself. For example, the reversed Eight of Wands suggests that plans which were once fast-moving are now coming to a standstill and you are beginning to feel frustrated. The Wheel of Fortune reversed indicates that a project or major change may feel imminent but you are having trouble getting it started.
- Unconscious awareness. In readings where I ask the Tarot what lessons have been learned, I often interpret a reversed card in this position as the client not yet being consciously aware of a particular lesson. In this sense, the energy of the card remains in the subconscious and has not yet been revealed to the client.
- “No.” In a yes/no reading, a reversed card may simply mean ‘no’.
Now, with at least eight methods of how to interpret a reversed Tarot card, you’re probably scratching your head and wondering, “How on earth am I going to know which method to use and when?!” Well, that’s why it takes years and years of practice to become a good Tarot reader! Nonetheless, here are a few tips to help you know which method to use:
- Mentally agree to use one method only. Tell the Universe prior to a reading how you are choosing to read reversals, e.g. “I am going to interpret all reversals in this reading as blockages.” This way, the Universe will present your message to you through the most relevant cards, given that you are interpreting them in a certain way.
- Go with your gut instinct. Sometimes you just ‘know’ what the card refers to. Your intuition may be guiding you towards a specific interpretation, or you may be drawn to a combination of interpretations as listed above.
- Look at the other cards in the reading. Look for themes across the different cards in the spread you are using. For example, the Four of Cups reversed combined with the Hermit may suggest that your client is spending too much time alone and shut off from the world around them. On the other hand, the Four of Cups reversed combined with the Nine of Cups reversed may indicate that your client has lost their connection with their inner selves and exterior opportunities are also unfulfilling.
- Experience. Sometimes, it really does just come down to experience. For example, I know now that whenever I see the Three of Cups reversed in a relationship reading, nine times out of ten it indicates that there is a third person involved and it is usually the client who is that third person. To help you build your own experience, seek feedback from your clients to understand how the cards are playing out in their lives. Do this not only during or directly after the reading, but also a few weeks or months later. Find out how a particular card came to life for your client and understand what it looked and felt like. If you’re still learning and not yet reading for others, use aTarot Journal to learn from your personal experiences of the reversed cards. By doing either of these two things, you’ll be able to build a selection of ‘stories’ around each reversed card which you can then use in future readings.
Exercise for Learning Reversed Tarot Cards
Step 1: Randomly select a card from your Tarot deck. Apply each method to generate a variety of reversed meanings for that card (you may like to use yourTarot Journal for this activity). Synthesise your notes to form a concise interpretation of the reversed card.
Step 2: Come up with three different scenarios which may relate to the reversed card. For example, you select the Four of Swords reversed. One scenario might be that you worked yourself into the ground and did not allow yourself any time for rest or relaxation, and as a result, you ended up sick and off work for a week. Add these scenarios to your interpretation.
Step 3: For the next week, meditate on the energy of your selected reversed card and identify real-life scenarios which occur during this week that exemplify the card. Again, take note of these events in yourTarot Journal.