Tarot, photo by aquarian_insight

A card is considered to be inverted or reversed when it is placed in a reversed position. If, for example, the card is placed vertically, its top edge will face the bottom of the spread. The card is read normally as part of the spread but carries an altered meaning.

The use of inverted tarot cards may seem intimidating, but they are not inherently bad. They simply represent a counterpoint to each card’s standard meanings. Consider the balanced energies of the yin and yang: each exists as a reflection of the other. There are those who choose not to make use of inverted cards. The introduction of any negativity to a reading is something they would prefer to avoid.

Why use inverted cards?

Inverted cards are a useful tool for understanding the context of a card’s position in the spread. Contrasting the inverted cards with their conventional counterparts can help understand the tone of the reading. This in turn tells you each cards role. A card’s position may indicate that it is a fear, but are you right to be fearful? Is the future the cards are predicting one to be encouraged or avoided? An inverted card will tell you when something is working against you. In many ways this is more valuable than a reading filled with positives. Forewarned is forearmed.

There are other advantages to the use of inverted cards. Introducing a degree of negativity can make a reading more credible. This is particularly important for professional readers. Querents are often wary of the fairground psychic routine whereby they are told only what they want to hear. A warning or criticism, tactfully delivered, allays any fears that you are just trying to put them in a good mood so they cross your palm with more silver.1

Also inverted cards are useful to those who read using only the major arcana. Eliminating the minor arcana creates a more dramatic reading dealing with grander themes. Inverted cards offer more possibilities while still maintaining the focused intensity of such a reading. Twice the number of possibilities may now arise from the same limited number of cards.

Even if you do not deliberately generate them, it is not unknown for inverted cards to appear in a reading. This is often the result of particularly vigorous shuffling. In this eventuality, it is important to be confident in interpreting the card. It is likely to be of significance.

Generating inverted cards

The process of inverting the cards is simple enough. Shuffle the deck as you would normally. Then cut the deck, rotating the cards which have been picked up 180 degrees. Try to cut as close to the middle as possible. This leaves the deck split roughly evenly between conventional and inverted cards. Reshuffle the cards, being careful not to look at them as many decks backs give away which cards have been inverted.

When laying the cards, you may choose to face the spread towards yourself or the querent. What is important is that you remain consistent in all your readings. This ensures that, regardless of the seating arrangement, you never become confused about a cards position.

Interpreting the cards

An inverted card does not carry the opposite meaning; the Lovers do not become the Haters. Rather, the inverted cards carry the same meaning with a negative connotation. What might have worked in the querent’s favour is instead working against them.

This can be hardest to interpret when it appears contrary to the cards positive position in the spread. How can an inverted card indicate a strength, for example? Remember that any positive taken to excess can become a negative. As with any tarot reading, it is important not to over-analyze. Trust in your intuition.

Sample three card reading

Imagine a simple three card reading. Death is drawn first. There has been a transition in the life of the querent. The card in not inverted, so this transition, difficult though it may have been, was to their betterment.

The next card is Justice inverted. Any misfortune suffered is deserved in a karmic sense. The final card is the Hanged Man inverted. This is an interesting card to invert as the man is no longer upside down. The Hanged Man suggests a change of perspective. However the new perspective will be a false one.

Reading all three cards together suggests a narrative. The false perspective suggests the karmic misfortune is the result of a failure to recognise the transition as being positive.

Sample reading with a significator

Now consider a more advanced reading. The first card is placed in the centre as the significator. This card is the Lovers. The querent is in a good relationship. Across this is placed Judgement inverted. Someone is not in favour of the relationship.

The next card is placed above the significator to indicate weaknesses. It is the Fool inverted. Many times the Fool’s youthful naivety is to his advantage. This is not one of those times. The fourth card is placed above to indicate the querent’s strengths. The Hermit is drawn. Their strength comes from within them self rather than from those around them.

To the left of the spread the next card is placed. This card indicates the influence of past. The Empress inverted; the negative influence of a maternal figure in the querent’s past. An overly protective mother would explain their foolish naivety and introverted nature. The last card indicates the most likely future outcome. It is Death inverted. Though the relationship is good now, it will not survive if things remain as they are.

The querent would be well advised to ignore any opinions their mother may have regarding the relationship and to instead think for their self.

Conclusion

Even if you decide not to use inverted cards, the ability to interpret them adds another string to your bow. With a little practice and confidence they are no harder to read than their conventional counterparts. The very fact that some readers do not use them could be seen as a reason for doing so. They are a good next step for a beginner looking to advance their craft.

Ultimately, the use of inverted or reversed tarot cards brings a great sense of balance and harmony to a reading. The positive cards counteract the negative ones. Far from being intimidating, you may well find their use comforting.

Image credit: Aquarian Insight

  1. Ed. note: See also “Tarot and sharing bad news” for more about how to best serve querents when negative things come up. []

6 COMMENTS

  1. To sum up one must go without any intention that you can hear anything, and take everything in a positive
    sense and implement the suggested changes in our
    lives to make life a better experience. Some readers have a tendency to use a Tarot journal to discover
    their observations and thoughts about any individual card in detail whilst
    others love keeping a record of each reading they carry out.
    What if you could make sure that something coming that would change your life for the worse did not happen.

    • That’s certainly possible, though most people (myself included), tend to ignore signs of trouble, and forge ahead anyways if it’s something we really want to do — warnings be damned! Then again, at least we know what’s coming?

  2. I think the only reason for not using the reversed tarot was because I didn’t want anything negative in the reading as they can put quite a damper on things and make one feel extremely negative (ok me personally) especially if I wanted something positive or uplifting or perhaps I just wanted it to tell me what I wanted to hear and not what I needed to hear.

    Regardless I have come to the conclusion that I will only do upright cards as they contain both positive and negative aspects, I think if its meant to be placed in the reversed position I would feel that and it might reinforce the message the card is trying to convey or point out things which are lacking.

    • I think there’s a lot to be said for using reverse meanings, and they’re certainly not always negative. A reverse Tower, for example, could signal awareness and avoidance of a negative path, rather than an upcoming upheaval.

      The meaning of reverse cards can depend on a lot of factors, most notably the cards surrounding them — all cards need to be read in full context and intent of the spread. Plus, it doubles the possible meanings and interpretations available to the reader.

      But of course, to each their own!

      • I’m sorry but I’m finding this interpretation of Tower reversed inconsistent with your explanation above. You said inverted cards don’t mean the opposite yet this interpretation of Tower reversed is exactly that, i.e. Tower upright speaks of drastic changes or a catastrophe arriving, yet (as with all upright cards in my opinion) there’s something productive coming out of it, like gaining some insight and destroying false ideas in the case of Tower card. So wouldn’t be more that in reversal Tower speaks of the catastrophe but we don’t gain anything through it and stay in a negative situation despite the awareness of it? I don’t mean to mess about, I’m learning how to read tarot so am just trying to understand. I think that all upright cards, whether positive or negative in themselves, are meant to bring about something productive as an effect. I very much like your take on the inverted cards in the sense that the meaning doesn’t change but has a negative (or more negative if the card is already a challenging one) connotation to it. It makes reading reversed cards quite simple and clear. So my understanding is that in case of a reversed card, the main meaning doesn’t change, i.e. the reversed Strength doesn’t speak of weakness but rather excess in force or that holding back is not productive in a given situation – this would be conisistent with your explanation in the text above. However, given your take on the inverted Tower brings about the opposite meaning twist yet again and I am confused..:)) Would you please be able to help me understand? Many thanks

  3. Sometimes, inverted Tarot cards do not bring negative meaning. Instead, these are just about the opposite meaning of the right cards. So, just know how to balance yourself if translating such cards so that you can get accurate result!

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