How to Interpret Reversed Tarot Cards

by Brigit on January 21, 2010 in Tarot 101

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.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Siobhan May 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Thanks very much for this. I use tarot to gain positivity and insight in my life, so reversals which add to the likelihood of a negative are quite difficult for me. I have so far been using upright cards only; however I do see all meanings to be possible and rely on instinctively relating the card to my situation. So for instance I could take the two of pentacles as meaning I had balance or that I needed to gain some balance in my life (a very simple example). Mostly this works very well as I read only for myself and know the situation well. However, I do realise that it would be harder when reading for others. Also there are times when I am unsure which way to go in a reading – do I have this quality, do I need it, will I get it, should I have it etc. So I have begun to wonder if I need to deal with reversed cards which would at the very least hint strongly on which way to go. You are so right about what you say in your opening to this article. It is words like deceit etc that I find off putting and alarming. Therefore I find it most helpful to be given a range of options on reading reversed cards and to know that I can choose as appropriate at the time – or even before I start. This way reversals are a nudge to me to do some extra thinking around the issue and work out what the card is saying in a constructive way. This is not scary, but empowering. So thanks very much! I’ve seen articles stating one or the other ways to read reversals but not suggesting all/any which are appropriate. This makes much more sense. And yes I can see why experience is key. I love your suggestions. I Will be taking them on board. Again many thanks.

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Biddy_Tarot May 21, 2010 at 8:42 am

Hi Siobhan,
Thanks for your comments. I’m glad to hear the blog post is helping your Tarot readings! Plus, reversals can offer so much new depth and complexity to a reading and they don’t have to be scary but as you say empowering!
Biddy

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Amy July 14, 2010 at 10:48 am

I realyy enjoyed your post and feel that is important information to have when starting out.

For four years I have been laying out my deck of tarot cars and have seen a pattern in the cards..

Thank you for the advice!

Amy

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Michael January 8, 2011 at 12:11 am

Very good description

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krys January 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I have a question, I was looking at this website for information .. i dreamt of a tarot card, there was a devil on it and it was upside down… I don’t know much about tarot cards, could anyone tell me the meaning of this card?

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Biddy_Tarot January 13, 2011 at 6:41 am

Hi Krys,
Thanks for your question. If you’d like to find out more about the Devil, upright and reversed, check out my Tarot Card Meaning for the Devil.
Thanks, Biddy

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Dana April 29, 2011 at 6:11 am

Do you feel as though when asking a yes/no question that along with the way the card faces (upright or reversed) there is also meaning in what card is turned up?

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Biddy_Tarot April 29, 2011 at 6:44 am

Hi Dana,
Absolutely! It is very helpful to interpret the card that has been drawn for the yes/no question both in terms of whether it is upright (yes) or reversed (no), and what its divinatory meaning is. This will give the Tarot reading a lot more depth!
Thanks, Biddy

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Davey Lettermen September 15, 2011 at 12:54 am

Hi Biddy! I have been using Tarot cards as my own basis for my Yes or my No. Since I was quite using it for quite a while, my friends have noticed and eventually said I should stop it because it is not for real. What should I do?

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Biddy_Tarot September 29, 2011 at 10:48 am

Hi Davey,
The Tarot is a wonderful tool, particularly for spiritual guidance. Each card holds a message that can be important for our lives. So whether you believe it to be a divination tool or simply a spiritual guidance tool, it doesn’t matter! You will be able to benefit from the messages of the cards.
Biddy

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Aphrodisiastes September 21, 2011 at 3:47 am

Biddy, honey

You rock! ;) I loved it! Thanks a lot.

Blessings,

)O( Aphrodisiastes )O(

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Teri September 29, 2011 at 2:21 am

Biddy thank you for the insight into reversals. I’m relatively new to tarot and when I get a reversal I can feel myself tense up. But employing the methods you described above will help me to relax when a reversals pops up.

Bright Blessings

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rob November 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm

hi, im not really into any of this but i remember as a kids my brother and i had our card read but a baby sitter. Our cards came out exactly the same except mine were all upside down. We watched the girl shuffle the cards and it seemed she was pretty shocked herself.
Its bugged me throughout my life as my brother developed into a succsessful and happy person but i always struggled and had problems. Is it just coincidence or am i destined to follow the same route.

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rob November 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm

ps…a few years later..aged 13 or so i found a pack in my friends room, opened them up, ave them a shuffle and layed them out. first 2 were upside down skeletons and the third was a devil….how about that for freaking out a kid :(

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Ilham March 12, 2012 at 7:58 am

i know i tend to avoid using reversed cards because it seems pretty hard. now i’m fired up to try again. maybe i could start a tarot journal too. (yes! a good reason to start a new blog. lol)

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Elba March 17, 2012 at 5:51 am

Biddy you have such a generous spirit!, I KNOW the universe is taking notice. I wanted to add that when I started doing readings I asked the universe for upright cards, I feel the tarot is so rich that a blocked energy can be shown easily through other cards, the amazing thing is that I NEVER get reversed cards!. That’s why I know there is a higher consciousness behind the answers we get from the tarot!. Thanks again.

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Amit March 21, 2012 at 12:44 am

Biddy!!! What a fantastic concise, clear and beautiful way of explaining the reversals, I really loved the ease of language with perfect explanations, Tarot is not an easy topic but thanks to you and your fantastic knowledge with a considerate attitude that all your posts and this one puts the budding learners at ease. Thanks a ton!!!! for all the valuable information and methods of explanation.
Wish to meet you someday. Any plans of coming to India and holding workshops here?

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Biddy_Tarot March 21, 2012 at 1:10 am

Amit, thanks for your positive comments. I’m so glad I could help! Hmm, I might be able to Skype to India?? Or webinar?

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Cynthia July 29, 2012 at 5:50 am

A webinar would be great……I did a reading this morning using the Celtic Cross spread. This person had five reversed cards. It appears they are depressed with financial and romance issues. There was hope by the end of the reading as the last four cards were upright and leaned towards happier times. I did stress to the individual that they need to have a more positive outlook and grasp their situation realistically.

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Brigit July 30, 2012 at 3:13 am

If you’re finding it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel with so many reversals, focus on the lessons that can be learned by returning to the previous cards. Much more empowering!

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Amit March 21, 2012 at 2:16 am

Oh! Really, Plz give your skype id or if you don’t want to make it publicly here kindly add Amit Raissoni in Skype… would be glad to talk to you. I am really very happy, delighted and can’t explain in words how benefitting your post is not just for me but all the Tarot enthusiasts in the world. You are our High Priestess. Thanks for everything & the replies to every query.

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Joanna March 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Biddy, this write up is a god-send. I am new to tarot reading and still practicing. My headache are the court cards and yes, the reverse cards. Your write up has given me so much confidence. Thank you.

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Biddy_Tarot March 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Joanna, so glad I could help! For Court Cards, check out http://www.biddytarot.com/court-cards-in-a-reading/

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Mariah December 1, 2013 at 4:25 am

Hi Biddy;

I’ve been reading through your site and am always looking to learn more about reversals because of their trickiness. Your articles and interpretations and quite informative and helpful. I have a question, though. Why is it there are no interpretations for reversed court cards?

Thank you in advance for any advice you may provide.

Best,
Mariah

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Brigit December 2, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Hi Mariah,

You’ll find those on the Tarot card meanings pages. For example http://www.biddytarot.com/tarot-card-meanings/minor-arcana/suit-of-pentacles/page-of-pentacles/

Thanks, Brigit

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Michael April 5, 2014 at 10:53 pm

Hi,

I have a question: if you are conducting a reading for a querent, which way is a card considered reversed: when it is reversed facing the tarot reader or reversed facing the querent?

Thanks.

Michael

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Brigit April 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

You’ll need to decide that as the reader. I typically read the cards facing me.

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