How to Read Reversed Cards

By Mary K. Greer

One of the most frequently asked tarot questions is how to read reversed cards – the ones that appear upside down.  For years I didn’t use reversals because I didn’t like the meanings in the books, and I still keep the cards upright with a few decks or for quick readings.  The fact is, the cards operate according to your intentions, so it is up to you to specify what you want a reversal to mean.


Beginners can benefit by using only upright cards until they have a good idea of the full range of meanings possible in each card.  Don’t assume that a reversal switches the good and bad attributes of the card.  I now think of reversed cards as “red tagged”, indicating that they are not operating as usual.  It’s as if they were saying, “Pay attention, I a, not doing the obvious thing.”  First I turn the card upright and review its basic meanings, or I have the client simply describe the upright card.  Then I search for what might be modifying these interpretations.


The following are suggestions for how the reversal of a card can modify its upright meaning.  Keep trying possibilities.  Eventually you will discover which categories most align with your reading style.


  1. The energy normally described by the card may be blocked, repressed, denied, or restricted.  This could be appropriate and healthy, or not, depending on the circumstances.  For instance, a reversed Eight of Cups could express resisting spending time alone, a vacation denied, or blocked yearnings for an inner journey.


  1. There could be a tendency to project denied material onto others.  The Emperor reversed might indicate the projection of one’s own repressed aggressiveness.


  1. There could be hesitation or an external delay.  Overall change may take longer than expected without denying it altogether.  With reversed Aces or the Wheel of Fortune, a new enterprise or change may feel imminent but have trouble getting off the ground.


  1. The energy might be unconscious, inner. Or private rather than conscious, outer, or public.


  1. The person could be overturning, getting out from under, breaking free of, or turning away from the condition pictured.  When the Ten of Wands is reversed, the person might be putting down a weighty load responsibilities and burdens.


  1. A card reversed could indicate a bumpy road.  Energy is not flowing as smoothly or automatically as it would otherwise.  An extra, determined effort and conscious commitment may be required to get whatever the card represents upright, if that is what is desired.


  1. There could be a trickster aspect to the reversed card.  Perhaps a sense of humor is required, or you are being instructed not to take the situation too seriously.


  1. Occasionally, it can work to preface a standard upright interpretation with, “no” or “not”, but take care that this does not lead to a judgmental, overly deterministic, or negative attitude.  A multi-talented woman asked for guidance as to what Spirit wanted her to be and do.  One wonderful card after another came up – reversed.  In a combination of these last two aspects of reversals, the tarot was saying she wasn’t to identify herself as a “teacher”, “Artist”, or “businesswoman”, as her true spiritual identity transcended all labels and would not be found in any job or role.


Several characteristics may function in a single reversed card.  Look to see what is supported by other cards – for instance, the Hanged Man affirming the idea of delay.  Don’t be afraid to ask the querent what seems most likely to them, and make your own list of reversed card concepts until you find what makes the most sense to you.