There is a lot of talk among tarot readers about the placement of tarot cards, and what upright and reversed tarot cards really mean. If you’ve ever worked with the tarot, or another card oracle, or even just played games with playing cards, you’ll know that the more you shuffle the cards and handle them, the more chance there is that some of those cards are going to be upside-down when you lay them on the table. Is this just chance, or when reading the tarot, is there a greater cosmic force at work?
Tarot cards represent energy and situations in your life. No matter who you are or what you’re going through, there are going to be easy and challenging aspects of any situation. This can actually be mirrored in the tarot. If you have mostly upright cards in your reading, then that’s an indication that you’re on top of your situation, and the energies are flowing smoothly. However, if you have mostly reversed cards in your reading, then your situation is on top of you, and the energies are challenged in some way.
Reversed cards (sometimes called inverted or contrary) don’t have to mean that bad things are going to happen. Rather, see them as a card that is drawing attention to itself. It’s asking you to pay special attention to that area of your life, or that energy of the card. In this instance, the card is showing you what’s upside-down in your life—and very often, it will give you hints as to how to put things right again.
Some readers always include reversals, and will strongly defend the value of interpreting the upside-down cards. Other readers will deny that importance and refuse to use them. There really isn’t a right way or a wrong way to read the tarot, so using reversals or not is simply a matter of choice.
However, think on this. When you do add in the reversed meaning of the cards, you double the scope of what the tarot has to offer you. Instead of having 78 different meanings running through the cards when reading just the upright images, including the reversals means that you now have a total of 156 meanings for the cards; 78 upright, and 78 reversed.
All tarot cards have keywords that help to describe their meanings. Some people who don’t use reversed meanings in their readings choose not to do so because they want to read the tarot quickly, without having to take the time to learn additional meanings for each card. Other people believe that everything that you need to know is in the upright image of the card whether it is reversed in the reading or not. Yet others will include reversals in their readings, but say that the meaning is the same; it will just be delayed, or take longer to come to pass.
You might be led to think that the reversed meaning of the card is opposite to its upright meaning. For example, the major arcana card, The Chariot. The upright keywords for this card include movement, determination, and control. Therefore, you could assume that the reversed meaning for the card could mean lack of movement, lack of determination, and lack of control. You might even look at the surrounding cards in a reading and decide that the reversed Chariot card was telling you that you were moving in the wrong direction, focusing your determination on the wrong things, or losing control in the form of anger and frustration.
Related Article: How to Do Your Own Tarot Reading
If you’ve not worked with reversed cards previously, why not give it a try? After all, there are no new tools to buy; you’ve already got your tarot cards! It’s just a case of learning how to use them in a new and expanded way. This can be as simple as asking a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question; if the card comes out upright the answer is yes, and if it is reversed the answer is no. Like anything else, the more you work with the cards and familiarize yourself with their energy, the easier it will be to interpret what they’re telling you. When you start to look at tarot reversals and why they’re important, you can unlock a whole new dimension of awareness and communication with your tarot, and that type of growth is never a bad thing!
Hi! I’m Charla Stone and I learned astrology and mysticism way back in the 1970s. I've spent the last four decades using the stars, tarot, runes, crystals, totems, and more to bring light and guidance to others. I’m just an old hippie at heart who has traveled the world to learn of its cultures. I’ve been published online and in print—which still rather surprises me, as this isn’t something I do, it’s just who I am! When I’m not writing or doing readings, I’m spending time in my garden or the art studio, or with my beloved dogs.