Fool’s Journey: Do You Use Reversed Tarot Cards?

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Header by Rory Midhani

All cards shown in this post are from the Dreaming Way Tarot, by Rome Choi and Kwon Shina.

You’ve got your awesome new tarot deck. You’ve been reading for yourself and for your friends. You’re really starting to get the hang of it… to the point where you don’t even have to look every card up any more (go you!) and your readings are making this weird kind of sense.

And then… you start thinking about reversed tarot cards.

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You know, that thing where maybe a card takes on a whole new meaning if it appears upside down? As in, like, 78 whole new card interpretations to learn? Whaaa??

The first thing to know is that you don’t have to interpret reversed tarot cards in a special way. Personally — I don’t. It just didn’t work for me, and it confused my clients too — especially in face-to-face readings (you can read more about that here!)

Plenty of tarot readers do, and if you’re getting started with tarot, it’s a good idea to pick a side. You don’t have to stick with it forever, but at least when you start laying down cards in a reading, you already know which approach you’re going to take. If, like me, you decide you don’t want to interpret reversed cards differently, when cards appear upside down in a reading you can just flip ‘em around and carry on as normal.

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But if you do think that cards appearing upside down carries significance, then you have choices:

Some people simply add extra weight to reversed cards in a reading. No special meanings – these cards just carry a stronger energy than the rest.

You can learn a new set of interpretations. Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom and biddytarot.com and many other learning resources all provide reversed meanings, and Mary K Greer has literally written the book on this topic: The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals.

Alternatively (or additionally), you can use your intuition right there in the moment to put a spin on your existing ideas about the card – for example, it could be a re-working, corruption or blocking of the card’s original meaning.

Here are some possible ways you could interpret a reversed card:

1. Fear of/unwillingness to work with the energy of the card
2. Corruption of the card’s meaning or energy
3. Blocking of/inability to achieve the ‘goal’ or state shown by the card
4. Enhancement of/too much – the energy of the card gets stronger
5. Opposite of the card’s meaning
6. Passing of the card’s energy

Justice-upright-reversed

Let’s use Justice as an example, and here let’s say I’m thinking that right-way-up Justice represents the inevitable law of ’cause and effect,’ and the need to be accountable for your own actions.

How might this work in reverse? Here are a few ideas:

1. Fear of/unwillingness to work with…

Maybe you’re unwilling to accept the consequences of your actions. Or to accept that your actions even have consequences, because that would mean accepting something way more big and scary.

2. Corruption of…

Justice hasn’t been done — someone has been treated unfairly and no one is doing a damn thing about it.

3. Blocking of/inability to achieve…

Maybe it’s time to forgive someone or admit that both of you were in the wrong… but for some reason you don’t want to or simply feel you can’t.

4. Enhancement of/too much of… (energy gets stronger)

You’re being way too black and white about this. Or perhaps you’re expecting the law of cause and effect to solve a problem where really you need to step in and act.

5. Opposite of…

Shit is totally messed up right now. The baddies are winning and the good guys are getting trodden into the mud.

6. Passing of…

Justice has been served and it’s time to move the heck on.


Try it with any of your own cards (it’s even more interesting with so-called ‘negative’ cards.)

Do you read reversed cards? Experimented with different approaches? Let’s hear about it!

Beth Maiden is a tarot reader and writer based in Machynlleth, mid-Wales. She has two cats, a hot builder girlfriend, far too many tarot decks and not enough coffee cups. She's really into bread, the colour red, camping and brand new notebooks. She'd love to cut your hair, read your cards or hang out with you on her blog, Little Red Tarot!

Beth has written 111 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. So interesting! Even though I’m loving your approach to personalizing meanings, etc, it had never occurred to me that there were so many personal choices about how to work with reversed cards. I had almost decided just to ignore reversals, but that didn’t feel quite right for me. These other possibilities give me a lot to ponder!

  2. I’ve found that I prefer not working with reversals right now – I use the card position and the question to figure out how to interpret meanings. I like doing that because it forces me to expand my thoughts on the cards, especially the more polarizing ones. Getting 10 of Swords in positive position? fin interpretive times, lol.

  3. Thanks for this! I´m only just getting familiar with the cards and haven´t really picked a side yet. But I often feel a reversed card is sort of shyly tugging at my sleeve and whispering, whereas the “right side up” card may be jumping up and down and shouting loudly and generally making sure I pay attention. Both are good ways of communication, just very different!

  4. actually, I’ve had the opposite experience. when I started doing tarot, I’d flip the reverse cards up “the proper way”, and I found that in doing so, my readings made less sense. now, I leave them reversed – but because the EXACT opposite meaning doesn’t always 100% translate, I find that I am then considering the reverse cards from more angles, and that in turn helps me to achieve a better understanding of my entire reading.

    thanks for the post! it was interesting to see the alternative ways to look at reversed cards.

  5. I interpret reversals as representing an energy that is smaller or just starting or maybe just slightly off from what the card is supposed to represent. I didn’t know people were doing the opposite too, but whatever works!

  6. Back when tarot was a daily thing for me, I definitely interpreted reverse cards as the opposite of their right-side-up selves, or at least as having a particular significance depending on where in my layout it was placed. My tarot reading has been lacking in recent years. But lately, I’ve been using various card decks for ending meditations after yoga, and strangely, I don’t make considerations for cards I pull upside-down. I just turn them right-side-up. Hmmm…

    Reading your posts makes me long for brushing back up on my tarot, Beth. ^_^

  7. Reversals are a challenge. A welcome challenge, imo. They expand a deck’s ~vocabulary~ and force you to test your knowledge of the upright cards: Do I understand this card meaning enough to see how it would manifest if blocked or reversed?

  8. This is cool! I had learned that a reversed card meant something was blocking whatever the card was saying, but I found that hard to get my head round so I usually just turn them right way up and go ahead as if I had drawn them that way.

  9. I do read reversals on most decks (my usual go-to is Revelations Tarot) but I have one (Quantum Tarot 2.0) that I do not. It just didn’t feel right so I don’t.

  10. I know this is an old post, but I just got my first tarot deck, and am so new, so have been reading all these posts. I did a 3 card reading, and got the empress reversed in the future/advice/thing to accept position. I am taking this to mean that it’s going to be a little tough to get to that abundant happy harvest point, but that unravelling crap to get there is worth it.

    And/or, I feel like it maybe it just makes her more queer?

    Does…any of this make sense? I’m having trouble understanding the reversal in an advice position,mi guess!

  11. Hey, I know this sounds silly but say you were doing a reading on someone opposite to you then would the card be reversed if it was upside down to them or to yourself ?

  12. I read cards for 43yrs, I did learn the tarot early on, but liked playing cards better.
    I think it’s wrong to read tarot in reverse as they can be bad enough upright.
    I think the reverse card reading is just another spin on something.
    Also tarot is not made to read in reverse other wise they be marked 4 or 20 etc at top and bottom.
    Like how many tarot decks out now,with spin on them from the original. And so many meanings it’s starting to be come bullshit.
    I learnt the cards by shuffeling each day for 4yrs to see what turned up and how it affected me, so I didn’t take other people meanings as gospel. Then some don’t use meanings, the cards are just a tool to get there vibe going, so they don’t read cards in reverse either…cheers

    • I believe that straight cards are the client’s actions/feelings, while the reversed are the actions/feelings coming from around the client towards him that will influence or come across his path. So far I haven’t been wrong about the way I red it.

  13. Thank you for the ideas about reversals! I am just learning, and think I will consider them as blockages, except for the court cards. They confuse me, especially when they talk about a “tall blonde haired male,” etc.

  14. i’ve only been doing readings for about 3 years (and haven’t gotten much input from more experienced people since i began) so i tend to usually keep the cards upright when doing readings for myself. since most of my readings for others are in person, though, i usually consider it to be a sign if the other person flips over some cards while shuffling and pulls a few reversed cards.

    however, these readings are generally pretty pessimistic so idk

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