Note: Though Kings usually stand for a male in a spread, they can be female if the situation or reading warrants it.
Kings lead their knights into battle and sit in judgement on their throne. Where the Queens are the life-giving water of the Kingdom, the Kings are its inspirational fire. Not unlike the Emperor, they represent the power of civilization and authority, control and command.
Reversed, therefore, these cards signal abuse of power or barbaric behavior. Judgement is bad and control has either been blocked or surrendered. The King uses his power to achieve selfish whims rather than do what is best for the kingdom.
King of Swords Reversed
This cool, eloquent observer is a fair man with high ideals. He is the philosopher, the judge, the theoretical scientist. He sees the larger picture, the broader implications. No one can render a more balanced, non-biased judgement on a situation. The negatives of this King come out in his reversal: Woe to anyone who tries to argue with him - he will run verbal rings around them, destroying their mistaken ideas without a second thought. He has no heart when it comes to his ideals and judgements, and will cruelly, if coolly, undermine and condemn those who are in error. At his worse, this king will censor or manipulate evidence to keep himself in power while destroying others.
The King of Swords is also about new philosophies, theories, about observations and facts that can alter and balance out a judgement. Reverse this card and there is a block to new theories and facts. Externally, these could be suppressed by the opposition, like a news program only running stories that agree with its political philosophy, or the church suppressing Galileo's findings, established scientists mocking new ideas that disagree with theirs or police deliberately ignoring the statements of key witnesses. In other words, censorship, or, worse, a deliberate manipulation of facts. It might also be benign problems, loss of evidence, for example. Internally, this could signal a person censoring themselves, holding back truths they ought to be telling.
King of Wands Reversed
The King of Wands is a most charismatic leader. An innovator who can get a following with one speech; adventurous, challenging, warm and in charge. His ideas set people on fire and motivate them to do the impossible. Here is a man who can get pyramids built and countries conquered or peace movements rolling. He can impose civilization on unruly mobs with his energetic willpower alone.
The negatives of the King of Wands come through in the reversal where he becomes, well, Hitlerian. He expects people to worship him and do as he says as if he were a god, not a human leader. He has secret police and shuts down any critics of his ideas. His temper is terrible, often violent - and if he wishes it, he can turn his otherwise civilized followers into barbaric, bloodthirsty mobs, ransacking and destroying in his name.
The King of Wands represents the energy of innovation, change, motivation and challenges. This is the power to get something new started which will make a great difference. Reverse this and we see blocks to innovation and change ; old powers standing in the way, red tape that makes it difficult to just bring out a new invention. Internally, it can mean a fear of taking big, important chances or risks, putting your beliefs or ideas on the line.
King of Cups Reversed
The King of Cups treats his followers like family, his kingdom like a neighborhood. He knows everyone's name and problem; no one is too small or low, he cares for and about everyone, and will make great sacrifices to help them. And everyone loves him back; he is the ultimate, loving father, eliciting fierce loyalty. People will do anything rather than risk disappointing him.
The negatives of the King of Cups are seen in the reverse, where we have a man, maudlin in his expression of emotions, who is far too partisan. He will hear nothing bad said about his "family." They can do no wrong, and even if they do, he will forgive them. Meanwhile, those who are against his family can do no right. He loves to extreme, hates to extreme. He expects, in return, absolute loyalty to the family, and will not forgive those who betray it. This is the family secret (alcoholism for example) that no one talks about because it would be disloyal. At the very worse, this man might well be a perverse loving father, the paedophile who insists his acts are an expression of love and affection.
The King of Cups is about motivating with love, loyalty, and intense feelings. Reverse it and we block the ability to express such emotions - external forces may forbid it, as a man may not cry because society has taught him it's not manly. At its worse, however, is a misuse of such emotions, using loyalty and love to keep secrets, to get people to do and say things that are wrong or feel wrong.
King of Pentacles Reversed
The King of Pentacles is the hard-working, earthy man who motivates with common sense and a hands-on attitude. He shows people how to build that fence, he offers a fair wage and health benefits for workers, he comes up with a practical business plan that everyone can understand and get behind. There are no risks with this King, his fire is banked in the hearth and burning steadily; he is also a wise environmentalist, knowing just how many trees to cut down and plant so that there will always be more for the future. If he says it will work, it will work. And if he says he'll find the people to do the job, he'll find them, reliable, good people that can be trusted. People trust and follow him because he offers no surprises, nothing new or strange or chancy--and he wants to get the job done and done well.
The negatives of the King of Pentacles come clear in his reversal: here is a man who won't take chances, who is too conservative and won't hear of making any changes in the way things are done. "If it's not broke, don't fix it," his is motto, and stubbornly so. In his negative mode he's likely to be a miser, unable to comprehend why prices have gone up, or why he must pay a higher wage. He might well cheat his workers, cut corners, even, at his very worse, embezzle from the company. He expects the best but isn't above letting those who serve him have the worst.
The King of Pentacles represents the motivation of the practical, of hard work and reliability, of conservative methods. Reverse this and we see a blocking of these - people who think they know better do unpractical things, take risks that are foolish, go with wild, new ideas that haven't been tested rather than reliable old methods. Outsiders with their own agenda may waste resources rather than make good use of them (like clear cutting a forest). Internally, a reversed King of Pentacles may be ignoring his own good sense, taking gambles and risks, or keeping to a method that no longer works because he's too stubborn to change.
Curious about this card when upright? Go to our Tarot Card Meanings.