Tarot has tons of controversies, but reading Reversals is among the most hotly debated. Like the debate over who can read Tarot and how to read Tarot, the disagreement over Reversals seems to stem from a sense that there is a Right Way and a Wrong Way to read Tarot.
This isn’t surprising. Thousands of Tarot readers around the world have worked really hard to hone their skills. They have studied, practiced, put themselves out there by reading for others, and studied some more. It makes total sense that those readers might have some pretty strong opinions about the best way to practice Tarot.
In my opinion, though, it really comes down to personal choice. There are amazing Tarot readers out there who read Reversed cards and other amazing readers out there who don’t.
So, should you read Reversed Tarot cards? How can you decide?
Proponents argue that Reversals provide even more nuance and clarity to the Tarot, while opponents claim that Reversals are confusing and unhelpful. Many agree, however, that beginners should focus on learning the Upright meanings first before moving on to the Reversed meanings.
If you are a new Tarot reader, my strong recommendation is that you stick to the Upright meanings at first. Seventy-eight card meanings are already a lot to learn, even if you are an intuitive Tarot reader who doesn’t focus on memorizing the card meanings.
Does that mean I want you, a new Tarot reader, to stop reading this post? Of course not! I still think it’s useful to know what other readers out there think about Reversals so that you can one day develop your own thoughts about them.
This post is also for you if you’re an experienced reader who is considering delving into the world of Reversed Tarot cards, or if you currently read with Reversals but are contemplating dropping them.
Reversed Tarot Cards: Those Opposed
I’ve already kind of showing my hand about beginner Tarot readers and Reversed cards—I just don’t think there is enough value added when you’re first learning. Lots of readers, however, never incorporate Reversals into their readings, and they have lots of different reasons for (not) doing so.
Many Tarot readers are turned off by a stereotype of Reversed cards, which is that they are all doom and gloom. Gina from Incandescent Tarot, for example, writes that Reversals feel too simplistically negative to her, which is one reason she stopped reading with them. In Gina’s view, adding Reversed meanings actually limits the ways she can interpret the cards.
One of the most helpful justifications for not reading Reversals comes from Beth at Little Red Tarot, who says, “If there is a blockage around a certain card’s energy, I find that this emerges within the reading anyway.”
Some deck authors and artists don’t even design their cards to be read Reversed. The images in the Shadowscapes Tarot, for example, were not designed to be Reversed. (Now, this doesn’t mean that readers can’t still read them Reversed—you do you!) Same with The Good Tarot—Uprights only for that deck.
Reversed Tarot Cards: Those in Favor
I think that, in many ways, reading Tarot Reversals is the default position. If you purchase a Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck, the “little white book” (LWB) with all the card meanings will have Upright and Reversed meanings listed. If you look up card meanings on some of the major Tarot websites, you’ll usually see Upright and Reversed meanings there, too.
However, Tarot readers who read Reversals don’t just do so because they think they have to! These readers find deep meaning in both sides of the cards. As one reader, Pat Morgan, wrote in a Facebook group for professional Tarot readers, “If you cut [Reversals] out, technically you are cutting out half of your reading cards.” This is akin to playing a sport with one arm tied behind your back—maybe you can do it, but why would you want to?
Other readers see even more possibilities in Reversed cards. In addition to the multiple meanings Upright cards could have, Reversals work the same way, which leads to endless opportunities for interpretation. And with multiple methods for reading Reversals (see below for those), Tarot readers really do have a lot of options for extracting meaning from the cards.
So how, physically, do you read Reversed Tarot cards?
If you decide you’re ready to start reading Reversals, you need to make it so Reversed cards might come up! The easiest way to do this is probably to divide your deck in half, turn one of the halves around, and then shuffle the two halves together. I like to shuffle with the bridge method, so here’s a quick shot of what that would look like (featuring the beautiful Ostara Tarot Deck).
The Most Common Tarot Reversal Methods:
This topic will get its own blog post, but before I wrap this one up, I thought I’d share the most common methods for reading Reversed Tarot cards. Checking these out might help you decide whether to wade into the murky waters of Reversals or whether Upright is just right for you.
I have ranked these methods in the rough order of least helpful to most helpful to me, but you may take (or leave) any of these techniques as you explore. Once you feel ready, start trying them out!
Perhaps the most simplistic way of looking at Reversed cards—and, to me, the least helpful—is just to view them as the opposite of their Upright position. The problem here is that the cards are not necessarily dualistic, and thinking of them in that way can lead to really shallow readings.
By the Book
The next method is to go with whatever meaning your deck’s Little White Book says. Though not all decks offer Reversed card meanings (see above), most do, so you could default to what the authors say about each card. If you’ve read some of my other posts, especially this one and this one, you will know that I’m an intuitive reader, which means I don’t usually read “by the book.” However, it is certainly a direction you could choose.
Reversed Tarot cards could indicate energy that will not show up for a little while. For example, if you pulled the Nine of Pentacles Reversed, you might discern that you might experience leisure, luxury, or abundance… just down the line a bit.
Some Tarot readers interpret a Reversed card as amplifying the energy of the Upright position of that card. We might think of this as the card intensifying the message of the card or waving its hands and jumping up and down.
For example, if you pulled two cards in response to a question and one of them was Reversed, you might just spend a few extra minutes studying this card and asking yourself where its energy is showing up in your life.
Look at the Card Before
This is not a technique I usually use, but since I’ve seen it come up on other sites and in books, I thought I’d share it. According to this method, if a card comes up Reversed, you could choose to see it as gesturing back to the card that comes before it in the Tarot. So say you pull the Eight of Pentacles Reversed, whose Upright keywords include the mastery and hard work. You might interpret the message as being that you need to put a little more time in and persevere (a Seven of Pentacles keyword) before you can achieve your goal.
Another common and interesting way to interpret Reversals is to view them as blocking or resisting the energy of the Upright card. For example, if you ask what might come up for you in your career soon, and you pull the Three of Cups Reversed. This could indicate that you might have an opportunity for a group project but that you might be resisting participating in it for some reason.
This could lead you to examine any anxieties or reservations you might have about working in a group or with a particular set of people at work; this examination could lead you to release that energy and take advantage of the opportunity.
What Could Make It Upright?
One really interesting technique for reading Reversals comes from Cat at The Self-Care Emporium: “A good reverse card hack is to look at the reversed card and think about what action you need to take in order to reach the upright meaning of the card.” This is really similar to the Blockage/Resistance method I mentioned above, but it kind of assumes that the Upright card’s meaning is desirable (or, at the very least, necessary).
Next up is reading Reversals as representing the energy of the Upright position but turned inward. This is a great method because it keeps the focus squarely on the querent, and it allows us to look inside ourselves for our own answers. (This, to me, is what Tarot is all about anyway.)
An example here might be if you ask how you might strengthen your relationship with another person and you draw the Six of Swords Reversed, you could then ask yourself in what ways you emotionally distance yourself from that person.
Why You Should Choose Your Reversed Tarot Card Method Before You Read
Before I close this post, I do want to offer a suggestion about reading Reversals, especially if you are relatively new to reading Tarot. To avoid confusion, it’s usually best to stick with one method at a time. When I was learning to read with Reversals, I tried out each technique for a few days or weeks to see which ones I liked best.
Of course, once you have a little more experience, the “proper” meaning of a Reversed card could come to you intuitively. It has definitely happened to me that I just sort of knew which meaning I was supposed to glean from a Reversal. If you don’t decide on the Reversal method you’re going to use before you start reading, however, you risk relying less on your intuition and more on your ego. That is to say that you risk just telling yourself the meaning that you want rather than the one you may need.
That’s it for this post. I hope you find it helpful as you make your way on your Tarot journey. As always, happy reading!