I’ll be straight with you – reading reversed (upside-down) tarot cards is not for beginners. If you’re just starting to learn the tarot, don’t worry about them.
When a card gets reversed in your reading, just turn it right-side-up and interpret it that way. Don’t make it too hard on yourself, especially in the beginning.
It’s hard enough to remember the meanings for 78 different cards, but then adding another 78 interpretations is just too much!
Ignoring the reversed cards isn’t just something that newbies do, either. There are plenty of professional tarot card readers who choose not to read the reversals. Being about to read reversed cards doesn’t make you a “better” tarot card reader – it just gives you more options to choose from when you are interpreting the cards.
To avoid using reversals, you can carefully shuffle your cards to remain upright (like Kate of Daily-Tarot-Girl does), or you can lay them out reversed and then turn them over as you read the spread (as Beth of Little Red Tarot does).
As a beginner, if you choose to layout reversed cards, you can just considere the ones that land upside-down as “extra significant” or “extra confusing,” without bothering to learn a zillion new meanings.
So, for example, if The Tower shows up in a reading as a reversed card, you could interpret it as “extra horrid and crisis-y” or “extra unexpected change.” The reversal just emphasizes the upright meaning of the card.
How To Read Reversed Tarot Cards
Once you’ve mastered the upright meanings of the cards and are ready to explore reversals, the best book (practically the only book) on reversed tarot cards is Mary Greer’s The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals (from the Special Topics in Tarot series).
If you choose to learn and read the reversed meanings of the tarot cards, there are a few traditional – but very different – ways to do so.
These are only a few possibilities when looking at reversed cards. And remember, you don’t need to learn these meanings at all, if you don’t want to!
Reading Reversed Cards as Opposites
As one of the easiest interpretations, you could read the reversal as the opposite meaning of the card. So, if The Tower is reversed, it is sending a positive message of change (since the upright version of The Tower is about crisis and upheaval through change).
One way to read the reversals this way is to preface your upright keywords with the words, “No” or “Not.” So, in our Tower examples, the reversed meaning becomes “not a crisis” or “no upheaval.”
Reading Reversed Cards as Negatives
For the second traditional meaning, you could read the reversal as a negative interpretation of the card. In this case, the card becomes worse, blocked, or stuck. In our example, if The Tower is reversed and read as a negative reversal, it becomes even more dire and awful.
Reading Reversed Cards as Pictures
This isn’t a traditional way of reading reversals, but it’s fun and I like it. It’s how I’m learning them, for now.
Since one of the ways beginners start learning the meanings of the cards is by just looking at them and describing the visual story, you can do the same with reversals. Just describe what you see when you look at the upside-down card.
To visually describe The Tower reversed, you could see two people flying upwards though the sky after something below them is being destroyed. In this interpretation, you could read the card as, “fleeing from a bad situation.”
Of course, there are other ways to read reversals (and a dozen alone are covered in that awesome Mary Greer book), but these are a great place to get started.
Choosing a Method
How do you know which method to use when learning and reading the reversals? How do you know which interpretation is the “right” one?
It’s your choice!
If you’re going to read the reversals, just tell your cards exactly how you’ll be interpreting them.
When you’re shuffling the cards, mentally (or verbally) let them know how you’ll be interpreting any reversed cards if they show up. Guide the cards so that they can guide you.
Right now, I’m still such a tarot newbie that I’m careful about how I shuffle my deck and layout the cards. If anything accidentally shows up upside-down, I usually interpret the reversed cards as “more” of the upright reading. So, right now for me, The Tower becomes more dire, the Lovers indicate a stronger partnership, and the Eight of Wands gets even speedier.
I’m also starting to consider the “visual description” method, too. Even if I don’t read them that way, I consider how the meaning would change if I did.
This is one reason I love keeping my tarot journal. I can do a reading and then explore the “what ifs” of alternate ways to read the cards, and keep a record of everything I’ve discovered.