First published on Autostraddle.
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.
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.
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. Or, you can confidently go forth, interpreting them in the way that feels right for you.
If you do think that cards appearing upside down carries significance, then you have some 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, biddytarot.com and many other learning resources 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.
A few 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
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 we read this interpretation of Justice 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 in the comments!
All cards shown in this post are from the Dreaming Way Tarot, by Rome Choi and Kwon Shina.
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.