The Wacky World of Tarot Reversals
by Angelo Nasios
The wacky world of Tarot reversals is a controversial subject among Tarot readers. The views and opinions on how to read them differ. Some readers do not use them at all. First let’s look at why we would or would not want to use reversals. Then I will discuss some ways to read reversed cards.
The Missing Piece
One side of the argument is that reading reversals provides a way to get more information out of the cards. By not using them we may only be getting half the story. Like a puzzle, reversed cards help fill in missing parts to reveal a complete picture. A reversed card adds new meanings for a new level of awareness. This is just one side of the story and there are two sides to all stories, Tarot included.
Reversals are Redundant
For those readers who don’t use reversed cards the reasons come down some of the following. One such reason for not using reversed cards is that you have to remember more meanings about each card. Tarot decks have 78 cards and let’s say you can remember 3 things about each card. That would be 234 meanings for upright cards only. Adding reversals gives a total of 468 meanings. This argument concludes that adding reversals only adds more to remember and is an overload of information to remember.
Another view that some readers hold is that upright cards hold all there is to know about the cards. Good and bad, reversed card are not needed. Reversals can be confusing as some readers argue. Is the tower reversed a sign or relief or a massive disaster? How are we to know what the reversed card is supposed to mean?
How to read a reversed card?
Historically reversed cards have been seen as either a negative turn of the cards from of the normal meanings, or the opposite of its normal. For modern views on reversals let’s see what some of the prominent readers and authors have to say on the topic.
Mary K. Greer, in her book, The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals explains that a reversed card is a “red flag”. Something is not right and needs attention. Taking this from Ms. Greer, I want you to see a red flag to pop over the card and you should hear an alarm go off in your mind. Ms. Greer goes on in her book to show her 12 ways to read reversals. I won’t list them all and won’t go deep into the details them, buy the book for that it’s worth it.
1. Blocked or Resisted – The normal energy is blocked, repressed, rejected etc.
2. Projected – projecting denied material onto others.
3. Delayed, Difficult, Unavailable
4. No or Not (the upright meaning): Lacking - You can reface a standard upright meanings with “no” or “not”. This is a common view on seeing reversed cards as a direct opposite.
Joan Bunning, in her book, Learning Tarot Reversals explains that reversed cards can be seen in three phases. Picture a roller coaster as it is going up, reaches the top and rolls down. Ms. Bunning does not agree with the “no” or "not” view on reversed cards as mentioned above. She says that a reversed card keeps “its essential nature” and does not become opposite. The three phases talked about in Ms. Bunning’s book are
Absent – Energy of the card is absent.
Early phase – It has not been developed. It is weak, but is gaining influence.
Late phase – Energy is on the decline. It is losing power.
Janina Renee talks about reversals in her book, Tarot for a New Generation. She views reversed cards as “having pretty much the same meanings and potential as an upright card, but they are interpreted as being more questionable, more uncertain as having some difficulty in fully expressing their energies…their expression is milder, more low-key”.
One of my favorite and most interesting ways to read reversed cards comes from Thirteen's introduction to reversals, here on
Aeclectic Tarot. Thirteen describes three common ways a reversed card is seen. Two of which we already know about: opposite and blocked. The third way to read reversed cards is “upside down image” which is described as “where you re-interpret the image given that it is upside-down.” Examples are given, “upright cups are now spilled, and that man in the Ten of Swords - he's actually worse off than when he was upright. Upright, the swords are all in his back - the nightmare had ended, it is over and done with. Reversed, he's on top of them sinking down to their hilts - it's a lingering end, drawn out and torturous. Reading Thirteen’s reverse meanings can bring new interpretations into Tarot reversals.
These are just some ways to read reversed cards. It’s your job as the reader to choose whether or not you wish to use reversed cards and how you want to read them. If you are new my advice is to stick to the upright cards to keep things simple. When I started out using Tarot I bounced back and forth from using them to not using them. Now for the majority of the time I use reversals. Sometimes however I get into a mood where I don’t want to read them, because I find them somewhat bothersome. As I always say there are no laws to Tarot reading, just ideas and suggestions. If you do not want to use them you may want to shuffle the deck in a way so they don’t come up, or when they do come up reversed just turn them upright!
© Angelo Nasios
The recipient of Tarosophist of the Year 2011,
Angelo Nasios is a rising voice in the tarot community.
Angelo is known for his popular YouTube channel in which
he produces educational tarot videos. Tarot:
Unlocking the Arcana, Angelos first book will be released
by Schiffer Publishing.