Unlike playing cards, Tarot cards have a right-side up position. It took me ages to integrate reversed cards into my tarot reading. Because I read for a long time without them, I’m a proponent of doing what you like when it comes to reversed cards–I think you can read effectively either way.
However, there is a subtle depth and richness that can enter into readings when you do use reversed cards.
Upside Down You Turn Me ….
As far as I can tell, the tradition of reading cards in a reversed position came about simply because sometimes the cards appeared that way after the deck was shuffled. An obvious interpretation when this occurred was to choose the opposite of the upright meaning. There’s nothing especially mystical about it–and this was one of the reasons I chose not to bother with reversed cards.
However, as the literal crazy-ass magic of the Tarot became more clear to me (and I began to trust myself more), it seemed that if the Universe wanted to deal out a reversed card, then that might actually have shades of meaning that was distinct from the card upright.
As I did more readings, I began to see that indeed, reversed cards signified an internalization, repression, or denial of the quality expressed by the card.
Here’s an example of how this shows up. This was one of the first times I “allowed” reversed cards in a reading. I remember it well.
I had been working with this client we’ll call Linda. She was going through a big break-up and I had been supporting her with energy work. She was having a hard time letting her relationship go. For the current session, she asked for a card reading, and I decided to shuffle my deck with cards reversed.
The spread was Past: 10 of Cups, reversed; Present: 8 of Swords; Future: Ace of Cups
The reversed 10 of cups indicated that her relationship wasn’t as ideal as she was remembering. This card suggested that there was a block within her to true happiness, or that happiness was illusory or somehow not achieved. Look at the card–all those cups upside down will equal empty cups! Linda started to cry when I told her about the card. I asked her to stay with her feelings and guided her to express herself. Turns out, the relationship had not been as perfect as she wanted to remember, but she had spent years telling herself he was the ideal guy, that they were the perfect couple, when in fact, the relationship was pretty dysfunctional. That one reversed card gave Linda permission to open up to her truth and see the aspects of the relationship she hadn’t wanted to admit to. And then truly grieve. This was the first real step of healing for her.
A reversed card can also indicate the inner state of mind of the querent, especially if you are using a spread that doesn’t have a specific position for the internal dimension. In my Inner Work spread, or the classic Celtic Cross, you have a card to indicate the subconscious or inner belief system. In smaller three-card spreads, a reversed card may appear to reveal an inner state that needs to be explored, or in yes/no questions, the “no” answer.
An Exercise to Try
Do a three card spread for yourself on an issue that is important but not one that you are super emotional about or invested in. Shuffle the deck so that reversed cards are an option. Pull your three cards. If you don’t draw any reversed, play with turning one upside down. Or, you can experiment with reversing each card in turn and seeing how your intuition responds to this subtle variation in meaning. Try reading the cards with Past, Present, Future. Then explore Subconscious, Conscious, Superconscious, or Mind, Body, Spirit. Experiment with how reversals shift the meaning of the answer. You will begin to see how upside-down cards work for you.
When Reversed Cards Aren’t Helpful
There are enough cards in the deck to reveal specific energies (i.e. blocked, open, positive, negative) that using reversed cards isn’t required. This is why I didn’t feel them necessary for so long. They can add confusion and anxiety if you are a beginning reader. Some of the Major Arcana are hard to read reversed. When you are starting out as a reader, it can really mess up your flow to integrate or work with reversed cards. And you don’t have to, like I say. If you or your querent needs to know they are being trapped by their fears, the Universe will throw down a Devil … you don’t have to find the 8 of Swords reversed. You get the idea?
As you evolve your reading skills, you will come to understand the meaning of each card–and that includes the entire spectrum of the archetype from light to shadow. Your intuition will tell you how that energy is being expressed by the client or yourself. Large spreads anyway will have cards to cover what is blocked or not working. Reading reversed cards can complicate already complex readings like the Celtic cross.
Learning to read cards is a wonderful, fun, and mind-blowing experience. Allow yourself to experiment, make mistakes, and to trust your intuition.