Why I don’t ‘do’ reversed tarot cards

In various online tarot communities I belong to, people regularly ask each other how they approach reversed (i.e. upside-down) tarot cards in readings.

There are plenty of different ways you can interpret reversed tarot cards – for starters, I outlined a bunch of them here. Mary K Greer has also written a well-respected book on the topic (which I haven’t read) called The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals. Biddy Tarot provides reversed as well as upright meanings on her website, and Rachel Pollack (among plenty of other authors) includes reversed meanings in my all-time favourite tarot book, 78 Degrees of Wisdom. In short, there’s a lot of info out there for people who want to develop their own approach to reversed cards or experiment with different ideas.

Hanged man reversed tarot cards
Hanged man reversed tarot cards

The Hanged Man, from the Shadowscapes Tarot © Stephanie Piu-Mun Law

Me? I don’t actually bother. I personally find that taking a special approach to reversed tarot cards (which statistically could be 50% of the cards in a reading) adds this whole layer of confusion which bogs down my readings and bugs my clients.

But I don’t ignore them either. Instead, I take a really simple approach to reversed cards.

I’ll shuffle and lay the cards in the normal way, leaving reversed cards upside-down until I start going through the cards one by one. If there are a lot of reversed cards I might make a comment about the client experiencing a lot of confusion at this time, but I don’t make a big deal of this.

If there is a blockage around a certain card’s energy, I find that this emerges within the reading anyway. Still, it’s helpful to know which cards in particular are a source of confusion. So as I work through each individual card with the querent, I’ll make a mental note of each reversed card before flipping it the right-way-up so that the client can view it – this way I’ve acknowledged the reversal without making a big deal of it.

I find that this is as far as I need to go. I can point to sources of confusion as they emerge from the reading as a whole, but still maintain the clarity and focus of an ‘upright only’ reading.

What about you? Do you have a special approach to reversed cards?

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.

20 comments

  1. Ellen says:

    Up until now I don’t use reversals. I’ve got a book about reversals and I haven’t read a single sentence in it. I guess I don’t seem to have use for it (yet)
    In my opinion the 78 tarot cards have enough various meanings and ups and downs together to make a balanced reading
    Hug form a commentoholic 🙂

  2. Marianne says:

    This one’s a minefield, isn’t it! Everyone has their own way of approaching reversals. I never used them at all until recently, and I’ve come to like the way they point to blockages or a need for introspection around a particular issue. I guess I’m not traditional though in that I rarely take a reversed card to mean the opposite of its upright equivalent – that definitely seems too rigid to me. I like to have a little more fluidity and ambiguity in my cards!

  3. Kayla de Both says:

    I usually read all my cards upright and feel intuitively if the card feels reversed in the spread. Most recently I pulled a card that was all happy, happy, joy, joy for a card representing where their suffering was in their life. I felt this card was revered intuitively so I flipped the card. I totes agree with you on reversals causing frustration for both the reader and the client.

    • Little Red says:

      I like your approach Kayla – I agree that rather you can normally intuit whether a card has that blocked/confused energy, regardless of whether it’s upside-down or right-side-up!

    • MJ says:

      I’m glad I came across your post.

      I’m new to tarot and I’ve always used upright cards. From my perspective, the placement of the cards for various spreads (paired with your intuition) determines which cards represent either an upright/reversed meaning, or qualities of both. My readings are always spot on, but when a card feels “out of place” in my spread, it’s because I’m focusing too much on the upright meaning rather than the reversed.

      • Beth says:

        That’s intresting MJ – yeah, I feel similarly, that the spread positions tell you whether it’s the ‘light or shadow’ or ‘upright or reversed’ (etc) interpretation. Otherwise you can end up with some super confusing ‘double negatives’!

        Often when I’m struggling with a card in a reading I find that it’s because I’m not seeing its ‘shadow’, but am focusing on a lighter, more ‘plain and simple’ interpretation when I’m being asked to delve deeper.

        • Catsandra says:

          Thank you lovely creatures for this, that was my “a-ha!” moment on this matter. My first tarot book discouraged reversed/inverted reading. I just went with it, but always had that question mark dangling somewhere…. Until I read this! It makes perfect sense. All along they told me their orientation by where I placed them!!!! Thank you!!!!

    • Beth says:

      Right?

      To figure out the % chance of all cards appearing in reverse, you’d multiply 0.5 (50%) as many times as there were cards:
      1 card = 0.5 = 50% chance of all being reversed.
      2 cards = 0.5 x 0.5 = 25% chance
      3 cards = 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 = 12.5% chance

      I think!!

      Same goes for right-way-up of course.

  4. Mystic Thinker says:

    I have mixed feelings about interpreting reversed cards. I believe that the energy of the card is the same because it’s the same card, how can it have a different meaning? so that then leads to a sign that the energy could be weakened but I feel intuitively that it means that the energy is in the subconscious realm of the querent. Not consciusly expressing that energy but subsciously effecting the same energy but that is not manifesting in a way the querent can tell. Especially true with negative energy cards, like the Devil, Tower, Fives and Nines (the challenge cards).

    • Beth says:

      Ooh, interesting perspective. I really like this – encouragement to look deeper and explore the more hidden ways the card might be playing out.

    • Alma says:

      I think this is a great approach, really bang on. Reversed cards as being either something subconscious or something we are not fully acknowledging, OR it could mean something we are having issues with or feeling uncomfortable expressing in our life. Doesn’t have to be a negative card; for example Ace of Cups Rx could indicate difficulty feeling love or trusting a new love in one’s life, or 10 of Cups Rx could be difficulty accepting the abundance in one’s life or difficulty handling one’s success.

  5. Nisha says:

    just a quick question…When do we need to do reverse tarot reading? I just read them upright. my deck always has cards upright and thats how I keep it…Do we need to reverse the cards?

  6. Shiloh Wren says:

    Does anyone know if the tarot has always been read reversed or is that a relatively new phenomena ?

  7. li says:

    Great thoughts here!
    I don’t know how long reversals have been used, but I haven’t found a ton of older wisdom in reference to reversals. .
    I personally don’t use reversals, unless a card keeps popping out reverse over and over and over, and usually that would be related to some sort of card clarification- if I’m feeling blocked with a specific card/question.
    Plus, reversals don’t necessarily mean the opposite of the card upright. Sometimes reversals are related to position, or meaning to a more dilute degree.
    I’ve also heard reversals being like an underline in a sentence. ..the card wanting to be in more than one position during a spread.
    Also depends on how you do layouts..I used to do layouts more than now a days…layouts give awesome structure – totally depends on the question, familiarity with the layout, and the vibe.
    I also knew one reader that just shuffles constantly until the card pops out: reverse, right side up , on the table or on the floor. ..using the cards more like rune tiles.
    For me, I find the cards pretty complete without reversals because there are both positive and negative meanings in each depending on the relationship to one another- with or without a layout.
    Thanks! 🙂

  8. kathleen hemrich says:

    I just pulled The Lovers, The Chariot and The Ace of Cups for my query of “Will I mutually connect with someone romantically this year?” Great cards right? Except they’re all reversed 🙁 but? I googled reversed cards and came upon your site. Thank you (and your commentors) for introducing the idea that reversed cards can often be about the querents possible conflicts, or fears etc. I also like to let the cards sometimes “fly” out of the deck and feels it both organic and exciting! And, I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy Seventy-Eight Degress of Wisdom – Thanks again!

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