A guest post shared by Valeria.
Reversed cards can seem scary..
..but so can forest-dwelling folks that speak in an unknown tongue.
The truth is: anything we do not understand can seem scary at first. It is only once we understand them that our fear becomes laughably weird. In this Guide, I am going to give you 13 unconventional nuggets of wisdom regarding reversals. Read them, understand them, apply them, and I promise you: deciphering upside-down cards will become easy in no time.
But before you set your expectations too high, keep in mind that learning reversals will not be easy when you start. I don’t like sugar-coating the truth. But if you stick with it, it will get better with practice. Trust me on this one.
Reversals changed my life. Now it’s your turn.
1. The gift of unconventional wisdom
In Alice in Wonderland, when Alice reaches the room at the bottom of the rabbit-hole, she finds a key that unlocks a tiny door. When she realizes that she can’t use the door, she looks around the room and finds a potion bottle tagged “Drink Me”.
Now anyone in their proper senses would know not to drink anything from a suspicious bottle that is even more suspiciously marked “Drink Me”. But not Alice. She takes a gulp and shrinks down to the size of a rat. Her unconventionality is exhibited again when she eats two bites of the “Eat Me” cake and grows to a gigantic size. Long story short: these leaps of faith allow her to exit through the tiny door into Wonderland. Just like the story above, reversed tarot cards will sometimes tell you to take the unconventional path and use the energy of the card-in-question unconventionally.
For example, suppose you pull a reversed Ace of Swords. When upright, this card speaks of those light-bulb moments when we are inspired by a brilliant idea. But when reversed, the wisdom is of the unconventional kind — instead of germinating your own idea, the Reversed Ace of Swords might be telling you to plant one in another’s head. This way you will be inspiring someone else to take the kind of action that you want, and reap the benefits later. Sounds manipulative, I know, but it all depends on your intent.
2. Cards that are truly upside-down
Upright tarot cards are both good and bad (every single one of them). So if you reverse the meaning of the upright card, you will still get a good meaning and a bad one for the reversed.
Confused? Here’s an example: The upright Star is a card of hope. It speaks of trusting the Universe and knowing you will be alright. It is an exceptionally positive card. But it also has its negative side. The darker side of the upright Star may be speaking of too much optimism. Maybe you have lost touch with reality because you are flying too high. Maybe you are so focused on the spiritual that you have forgotten it will only show you the way, and will not drop anything in your lap unless you follow it up with actions in the physical world.
A complete reversal of this Star, will therefore have both kinds of meanings. As a reversal of the positive, the card could be telling you that your hopes and wishes are going to be dashed to the ground. But as a reversal of the negative, it could be saying that you have successfully grounded your spiritual inspiration in reality and are making things happen. Good for you!
When a reversed card shows up as a total reversal of the upright, keep in mind that there are always two sides to a story. That’s the fast track to a complete reading.
3. Excessive and explosive energies
Lighting up a hand grenade to look for a candle in the dark is a deadly mistake. It will give you light, no doubt, but also evaporate you along with the candle. That’s the kind of excessive energy we are speaking of here. When a tarot reversal speaks of an excess, go back to the meaning of the upright card to get a hang of the situation.
For example, while the upright Sun speaks of happiness, enthusiasm, and all good things – the Reversed Sun could be pointing at a person or situation that burns out everyone else in their presence. Perhaps the person is too egoistic and cannot bear to have the spotlight away for even a second. And when it does, he throws a bloody big tantrum! Perhaps the workplace is not as good as you thought at first. It had seemed positive and active at first – larger-than-life almost – but now you can smell the sharp tang of politics and unhealthy competition in the air.
When dealing with reversed cards that hint at excesses, go back to the meaning of the upright and then figure out what would happen if that card blew itself up out of proportion.
4. The red flag of undermined energy
Tarot reversals can also point out undermined energy – that which has not been fully realized or is weakened for some reason.
For example, say you get a reversed Queen of Wands. When upright, she is a fierce monarch who rules with confidence and a voice of steel. She is a lioness, feminine yet fierce. However, a reversed Queen of Wands resonating with weakened energy will feel wishy-washy and unconfident. She might even put on the mask of excessive behavior (something we call compensation) to hide her inner weaknesses.
The interesting thing is that when you look at undermined energy from this lens, you will realize how excessive and undermined energies are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, when you find a reversed card speaking of one, always remember to take the other side into consideration as well.
5. Cards that are internalized
Tarot reversals may not be unconventional all the time, but they are always inwardly-oriented. You will notice that each and every meaning in this Guide resonates with that statement. Reversed cards that give unconventional wisdom ask you to turn inward and listen to your intuition. Reversed cards that go full 180 degree on the upright speak of a serious shortcoming inside the person. Excessive energies, undermined energies, cards that confuse you – all speak of internalization in one way or another. Therefore, for every subsequent meaning, try and see the cards through the lens of this knowledge.
Back to the point at hand, what does ‘internalized’ mean in relation to tarot? It means absorbing something so completely that it becomes a part of the personality.
Therefore, if you get a Reversed 5 of Pentacles, the reversal could be speaking of a person who has internalized that he is poor. Such a person, regardless of how rich he gets, will always hoard away his wealth and live like a miser. This is because this man knows he is poor and is afraid that one day destiny will figure out he is a fraud and take away all his wealth.
Now let’s look at a positive card: If instead of the 5 of Pentacles we were speaking of the 6 of Cups, the game changes totally. The 6 of Cups is a very sweet card. It signifies friendship and platonic love. Therefore, the Reversed 6 of Cups resonating with the energy of internalization speaks of a person who has internalized the principles of amity and love. I don’t know about you but that makes me feel all warm inside!
6. Cards that speak of other cards
That sounds really mysterious. But if you look closer, it isn’t so..
A tarot card never stands in vacuum. It always has others to add to its meaning. This can be in the form of a numerological line-up that follows a logical sequence, or an astrological grouping of similar elements. It can also be a recurring element through the cards, like a river that shows up in its entirety when you arrange adjacent cards in a single file. Therefore, if you really think about it, a reversed card referring to another Tarot card is not that far-fetched an idea.
For example, let’s take the King of Swords. Both the King and the Queen are masters of their elements, but while the Queen manifests it inwardly and leads through example, the King manifests it outwardly and leads on the front line. One is yin. The other is yang. In this case, a reversed King of Swords might resonate as internalization of the energy of Air. Thus, he might be expressing his mastery over Air like the Queen of Swords. Mind bending, isn’t it?
Suppose you get the reversed 8 of Pentacles. While the upright card speaks of relentless hard work, the reversed might be saying that the querent is feeling a little ‘out of it’ and is not in the mood to put in much effort. So it asks the querent to go back to the lesson of the 7 of Pentacles and find stable ground by relearning patience.
These kind of reversed cards are extra special. Watch out for them when they show up. It means you have crossed over from beginner into more advanced tarot reader territory.
7. Cards that show movement and give direction
The first time I came across this phenomenon was during a personal tarot reading. It was near the end of the month, and I was doing my regular Month-in-Love spread to figure out how my love life would be in the coming weeks. Needless to say, I was hoping for a good reading because I was in love – but what I got from the cards blew my mind.
This particular spread has four cards arranged in a line, with the last card representing the lesson I would learn from the events of the entire month. And what I saw when I turned it over, threw me off my game – the reversed Knight of Wands was the last card, and he appeared to be galloping away from the other three. It was a slap of reality across my face. In this reading, the reversed Knight of Wands retained his upright meaning, but by moving away from love, he was telling me to stop getting distracted by meaningless pursuits. Was this energy internalized for me when I did this reading? No. After all, the card was in the position of the lesson I would learn. But did I learn it by the end of the month? Yes, I did.
Reversed cards will sometimes tell you a story through movement. And this phenomena can happen in numerous ways. You may find the reversed Princess of Pentacles looking towards another card. Perhaps the reversed Ace of Cups is pouring its emotions into a card directly underneath it. Maybe the staves of the reversed 8 of Wands are hurtling away somewhere.
Learn to keep an eye out for these movements and I promise you your readings will improve vastly in their accuracy. They sure did for me.
8. Cards that tell a story
When you first start interpreting upright cards, you can go two ways. You can memorize the meaning of each and every card, or you can allow the cards to tell you their story through the image.
Tarot cards are chock-full of symbols and archetypes., so the pictures more or less tell you the entire meaning. But to read them this way, you need to have a strong intuition to land on the right one. After all, the symbols don’t stand alone. They are always in relation to the others around them. When you have this ability to read the story of the cards (I recommend you start developing this with uprights first), the world of reversals will start singing for you.
For example, when you look at the image of the reversed 9 of Cups, you immediately know that the cups are empty since they have spilled everything on the floor. In fact, the figure seems to be grimacing. Therefore, this card speaks of emotional dissatisfaction and emptiness – if it was standing alone. What do you think it might say if it was paired with a reversed 3 of Swords?
If you just look at the reversed 3 of Swords, it will appear to you as if the swords are popping out of the pierced heart and falling away. This card might then represent a broken heart to you that has started to heal (even though sadness still remains). But when the two cards are taken together, the story sounds a little different. Perhaps the perpetually heart-broken person and the person represented by the reversed 9 of Cups are in a relationship. It would seem then that, in the process of trying to heal the other, our Cups person has run out of juice. Probably they failed to see that the broken birdie was too self-absorbed to care where the love to heal their broken heart was coming from, which is the cause for that ugly grimace.
Remember: stories always have multiple elements in them. Don’t ever read a card in a vacuum when you have others surrounding it.
9. The roadmap to solving problems
We all have problems in life. We have good times too, no doubt, but no one can escape hardships. What do you do when you face one? While most people complain and remain on their asses, there are those proactive few who roll up their sleeves and get to work – work that goes right to the heart of the issue and fixes it at the root.
Is it hard work? Yes.
Does it leave you wanting to run away? Frequently.
Do you feel proud of yourself once you have fixed it? Absolutely!
The truth is, anyone can be this person. We just have to learn to break out of the inertia of not doing anything with the power of our will. That’s where reversed cards come in. Reversed cards will sometimes tell you how to get to the root of a problem and fix it. But the answer is never easy.
For example, while the upright 8 of Cups is about taking a spiritual sabbatical from your emotional attachments and going on a journey to find your own truth, a reversed 8 of Cups is about taking this same journey inwards. In this reversed position, this card asks you to dive in deep beyond the darkness of your psyche and purge the poison that is lurking in the unconscious. Is it tough to accomplish? You bet your ass it is. But the fruits of that labor and the courage you show to accomplish it are sweeter than you can ever imagine.
Be extra attentive when a reversal shows up bearing this message. It’s the Universe’s way of telling you that you need to fix a problem at its root, otherwise history will just keep repeating itself.
10. Misused energy
At last we have arrived at a full-out baddie! Like I mentioned before, both upright and reversed cards have entire spectrums of meanings ranging from good to bad. This one focuses on the latter.
We know that the upright Hierophant is the spiritual leader of the community, and upholds order through organized culture and structured teachings. But what would we get if the Hierophant decided to go rogue? We would get a cult leader, like Jim Jones. A reversed Hierophant is a cult leader who poisons his followers’ minds and makes them do heinous things in life. The TV series The Following (an excellent show, by the way) is based on this concept. It shows how a person in the position of power can misuse it to turn people into serial killers.
Another example would be the Reversed Queen of Cups. When upright, she is the master of the emotional plane and a healer who knows how to tap into the vast ocean of the subconscious. But misdirect her energies and suddenly she becomes a secretive control freak who binds her lover in chains of manipulation and possessiveness, drowning him with her intensity (in a very bad way).
11. Energy projection
When I was an undergraduate in college, there was a girl in my class who had a serious case of delusion. She thought every guy who spoke to her for more than a few minutes was secretly in love with her. Unfortunately, all it did was tell everyone that she was the one who secretly admired them. I am sure you know someone like this. How about a person who thinks everyone is mean to them, when in reality they are known for their biting sarcastic remarks? Tarot reversals can sometimes point out projected energies of this kind and wake us up to our faults.
For example, while an upright 9 of Pentacles represents a hardworking individual enjoying the fruits of their labor, the projection of it in the reversed card could be speaking of a perception in this individual’s mind that everyone has it all and they just toil away in vain.
Watch out for such red flags. When they come up, spend some extra time to figure out why you are projecting onto another. It’s always worth it to fix this flaw.
12. Delays and obstacles
This one is a fairly simply to interpret. After all, when things go upside-down, you know that it takes a while to go right-side-up.
For example, when the reversed 3 of Cups turns up bearing this message, it could be saying that you are going to find it difficult to make friends when you socialize. Perhaps it is pointing at an internalized environment of unfriendliness, which makes you give off bad vibes. Or maybe it is pointing out that you are trying to fit in a crowd that isn’t on the same wavelength as you.
When reversals speak of obstacles and delays, make sure you find out how to improve the situation. It is very easy to get fatalistic and believe you are doomed. But if you accept your power over your own life, you will realize that there is always a way out of every bad situation. And if not a way, then a chance to mitigate the consequences.
13. When you have blocked energy
We have finally arrived at the last point on this lengthy guide – and I left it to the end for a good reason. Tarot reversals very frequently reveal an internal block that is creating the bad situation. When we deal with such energies, the biggest problem is not the block in itself, it is that the individual is rarely willing to do anything about it. Therefore, when a reversed card signifies a block, be careful how you explain it to the querent.
For example, suppose you do a love reading and the reversed 4 of Wands shows up in the future position.
While it can mean a lot of things, probably even referring to the querent’s internalized desire to marry the love interest, if the card resonates like a block, it might be telling you that the querent has some inherent fears of getting hitched and is sabotaging the relationship to prevent the possibility of marriage even before it occurs to the other person.
Upfront honesty in such a situation will not be wise, because the querent will not believe you. Instead, ask them gentle questions that encourages them to own up to this block before you reveal what the card meant. This way the person will be more willing to find a way to heal their self.
A few words before we end the show
Let’s take a moment to applaud the ones who read this article in its entirety. You guys are awesome! Having said that, I am sure you must have figured out something important as you went along — it is impossible for all 13 meanings to show up in one card at the same time. That means, you need to figure out a way to land on the right meaning based on the context of the cards.
How do you do that?
The only way is through approaching reversals from the right angle. After all, knowing how to draw shapes does not qualify as knowing how to write. To help you out with that, I have written an in-depth book on tarot reversals that takes on the subject from A to Z — it contains an expanded edition of this guide PLUS extra chapters on the secret to accurately reading reversed cards. It also has tools and exercises to help you get started right away. You can download it for free right here. And when I say free, I mean free. No subscriptions and no hidden clauses. It is an honest gift from me to you.
Do you like reading with reversed cards? Have you ever experienced any odd phenomenon while using them (or even the uprights)? What was the craziest story the Tarot has ever told you?
Do leave a comment below with your thoughts. I would love to hear from you.
About the author:
Valeria Black lives in India, and is known to be an eccentric genius who can make people laugh on the dullest of days. She is also known to find it hilarious (although, kind of annoying too) when people misjudge her age based on her childlike face. Nevertheless, she thinks it is better to feel old in a body that doesn’t age than the other way round. She loves animals, but doesn’t own any. You can say hi to her on twitter @ValerieRBlack or check out her website.
Decks featured: Rider-Waite Smith, Navigators of the Mystic SEA, Slow Holler, Spirit Speak, COSMOS, & the Haindl Tarot
Join the Bits & Bobs List!
Friendly, weekly-ish emails from Beth with tarot tips and ideas, news, and other good stuff. (Including cat pictures.)