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Reversals and Win a Tarot of the Sweet Twilight

This post was written by Barbara Moore
on October 15, 2009 | Comments (139)


Shall we get right into it? How do you feel about reversals? Do you read them? If so, how? Do you have seventy-eight other interpretations that you use? Do you have a system that you apply to or a modification for the upright meanings? Do you not use them? Why? What do you do when one comes up upside down? Because no matter how careful you are, they somehow manage to get mixed up all the time.

It seems that people have fairly strong opinions about reversals. Years ago, when the American Tarot Association used to certify readers, I went through the certification process. That process included creating and using your own reversed meanings. I did so, of course, because I used to be an annoying over-achiever. But I never liked using reversals.

Not using reversals makes me feel like a tarot poser, much in the same way my lack of enthusiasm for the Qabalah makes me feel. Every few years, I try using reversals again. And every few years I try loving the Qabalah (my most recent effort included reading Lon Milo DuQuette’s The Chicken Qabalah, which almost did it, but only because he said it didn’t matter how I spelled it). The Qabalah never sticks and neither do reversals.

I always say something like, you don’t need reversals because there are cards in the deck that can say what needs saying. And I mostly believed that. Until recently.

Paul Quinn, author of Tarot for Life, was on the last episode of Tarot Talk (a radio show on Blog Talk Radio with hosts Raven Mardirosian and Georgianna Boehnke). He told a story that kind of made my head explode.

He told a story about how he studied with Rachel Pollack and Mary K. Greer during their annual weekly summer class at the Omega Institute. On Monday, his first day of class, they told the students that on Thursday the entire class would be doing readings for all the rest of the students at Omega who were taking other classes. He apparently has much Virgo in his chart and determined to be the very best reader. He took meticulous notes all week. When the time came for the readings, he noticed that he left his notebook in the classroom, which was locked and no one was around who could open it.

He pulled a card, asking what kind of energy should he bring to his readings since he <shudder> didn’t have his notebook!?!?! The card he pulled was the 8 of Pentacles reversed. The cards were telling him to not bring all his Virgo-note-taking-energy. Which was good, since he didn’t have his notebook. He was meant to read unfettered from his safety net of notes and “shoulds” and “do it this ways.”

That card reversed in this circumstance made so much sense to me. I tried to think what card upright would be able to communicate the same thing as poetically and accurately. The Fool? Nope, not the same thing, really. The Wheel? The Hanged Man? 9 of Pentacles? Knight of Swords? No. No. No. And no.

Now, after all these years, one man’s amusing anecdote is forcing me to rethink my formerly very comfortable dismissal of reversals.

Perhaps I should pull out my copy of Mary K. Greer’s Complete Book of Tarot Reversals.

Tarot Traversals

While I’m muddling through, leave a comment about your opinion regarding reversals (do you use them, why or why not, and if so, how?) and be entered into a drawing for a free copy of the Tarot of the Sweet Twilight. If you are unfamiliar with this deck, see my review here. Entries will be closed at midnight CST on October 28. The winner will be posted on Thursday, October 29, along with a special Halloween treat…an interview with a very special tarot artist.

Reader Comments

Written By Lisa
on October 25th, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

I do use reversals! When I first started learning the Tarot, I was leery about using them. I wanted to see as little negativity as possible! However, there were too many instances where if I read the reverse of the card I drew for a current situation I was reading for, the reversal almost always made more sense when applied to the question. The positive thing I have found with using reversals is it gives us a very real opportunity to understand what negative factors may be influencing a situation so we can do something practical about it. I belief strongly in empowering myself and others through reflecting on reversals. Great post and thanks for posting the opportunity to win a Sweet Twilight deck!

Written By Amber De
on November 11th, 2010 @ 1:28 am

I learned to read reversals from the beginning. I had bought another deck that did NOT use reversals and was uncomfortable with it. I guess at the moment I am not intuitive enough to read a reversal that isn’t actually reversed.

Written By cynthia g
on January 4th, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

I believe in reading with reversed card meanings. When I do readings I take the reversed cards to mean the opposite of it’s meaning if not reversed. How can anyone ignore the fact that a card reveals itself upside down?
I love the idea of a drawing for a new deck of tarot.

Written By David
on February 20th, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

Hi guys newbie here, VERY VERY new to the hmmm realm of Metaphysics…? Ha. I can spill my story out to who ever is interested. To start i’ll just say, i bought my second set of Tarot cards yesterday from the Labyrinth Metaphysics store. I had a rider-waite deck i’ve used 2 or 3 times, however i’m artsy by nature (i have an extensive dance back ground and appreciation for creativity and detail), so i did a minor upgrade to the Radiant Rider deck. I’ve read up on the subject of tarot, since i was pretty much clueless about spreads and the meanings of the cards, and i have a remedial understanding. So what i do currently is read both the upright and reversals of the cards i draw from my Past, Present and future readings. I’ve been referencing the little book you get when you purchase a deck. It somewhat helps, I would appreciate further assistance or reference points if anyone has any thanks! have a good one. BboyVybe@gmail.com

Written By Kelli
on March 21st, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

Some years ago I said something that has proven true at least for me, “Everything Absolute will become Obsolete”, in reference to things I was discovering in my life which shattered all I’d been taught & believed to be True & without Question!
Unless the entire deck was read for every inquirey, it would be impossible to make certain the point was clearly made & I feel it may be why, at times the cards cive confusing answers.
You cannot have One without the Other & be aware that Either Exist or are of any Importance therefore I feel reverasal is to be read as such, though the interpretations are not as set in stone as the upright positions are.

Written By LeXi
on March 30th, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

A symbol has a very different meaning when reversed. Take the swastika for example. I feel that reversed cards have their own meanings as the symbols and images are recreated viewed in a different way. Using reversals has completely changed my readings and not too surprisingly made them incredibly accurate at reading the future.

Written By Christina
on June 8th, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

I always read the reversal…and i honestly didn’t realize that some don’t. In my opinion, it only makes sense to do so though.

Written By Random Al Askendir Xtranj
on June 20th, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

I use and absolute DEPEND on reversals.
There is no other way I have found to identify a part of the reading that the querent is directly involved in that I might counsel him/her on what to do or change to ‘turn everything around’. (see my other Tarot comment).

Written By Jo-Ann Moniz
on July 8th, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

Being a new student to the art of Tarot readings, I found this article to be very interesting. I hadn’t thought about whether or not to use reversals but now I can see that they would be a very important part of interpreting the entire reading. Thanks for giving me some new insight to my study,

Written By Shelley Brown
on August 16th, 2011 @ 10:45 am

I have vacillated between using reversals and ignoring them for a long time.At times I feel it’s appropriate and then at others, they just seem unimportant…no defining circumstances for the change…it just happens.The Tarot, being a tool upon which to focus the mind and inspire the intuition;in and of itself, does not define the reading… the reader does…therefore, when in the act of reading, it seems fitting to follow your intuition as to the use of either a reversed meaning or not… for each particular reading.That being said , it would probably be a good idea for beginning readers to form an understanding of what each card reversed says to them in order to have a basis upon which to decide to use a reversed meaning or not. In any case, the use or dismissal of reversed meanings in a reading should be at the intuitive descretion of the reader in my opinion.

Written By Schinji
on August 31st, 2011 @ 10:34 am

Whenever I’ve done readings, I’ve pretty much always used reversals–though it has definitely made for a steeper learning curve to try and keep track of the meanings.

As I fully respect tarot as a tool for higher understandings, it is still only a tool, and the worker is the person who must both bring enough insight and connection to the higher realms going on bear on the reading and potential uses of that tool. Tarot, like so many card games, cannot simply be used as a story-engine (though, if you’re a fiction writer…). As practitioners of tarot, our higher purpose should be to see through the stories and get to the kernels of insight–and by using those cards to guide us–and not be conditioned too strongly by them.

In that sense, using reversals seems like a take-it-or-leave it particularity to the reader. Specifically in my use, I’ve felt that the reversals can go two ways.

A) A reversal represents the negative aspect of the card revealed.

B) More usefully, it is the blockage of that same energetic concept of the card.

The upshot of which, in my readings, and depending on what feels most appropriate, those cards, reversed or no, represent the current situation being viewed. If certain cards’ energy can be reversed, that may end up flipping the card in a more desirable fashion. Especially when a fair number of reversals show up, one card then can become a lynchpin or locus for a cascade of changed events, a center for awareness and change, and then allow for those other cards to right (or reverse) themselves accordingly.

At least, that’s how I tend to go with it. Of course, the practitioner, still, is key in interpreting those insights.

Let me know if that helps. 🙂

Written By Omar Ramirez
on September 23rd, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

I use reversals, because as you told there are several cards that would not be able to reflect the very same Idea of the reversal card. How do I use them? O don’t try reversals as the opposite of the straight card. Instead I try the reversal as a blockage of the straight result, but most often it appears as slow energy for the manifestation, like it is something weak. In case of the future it means it could take longer than expected, in case of the present ot could mean something not so meaningful. About the past, the reversal could mean something of little consequences today.

Written By Robin
on September 30th, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

Well in my case I have , only because it has been years since I have used my deck. But my all time goal is to not to. To trust my inner voice.

Written By Michelle
on October 9th, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

I definitely read reversals. Instead of opposites, these cards often for me mean internal rather than external situations.

Written By Katherine Nobles
on October 29th, 2011 @ 10:03 am

Although I do not deliberately use reversals, at times, one will simply show up in a reading. Whether by accident, my bad shuffling, whatever. When it does, I take note, and analyze carefully. There is a reason for all things, and obviously, Spirit wants me to take note.

Written By Catia
on December 8th, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

According to a friend (Genora), ” a reversal can mean a great difficulty calling urgently to be addressed or something that is easily handled. Reversals have to be considered carefully and sometimes delved into by pulling additional cards.”

Written By Jess
on January 10th, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

I’m a beginner so I don’t know how i feel just yet on reversals. like another said earlier, i do believe that they shouldn’t just be written off.

Written By Karen
on March 13th, 2012 @ 8:21 am

I use reversals.I can’t imagine *not* using them. I learned using reversals as all part of it years ago, and even in he very beginnng when I was obviously lacking experience and in depth understanding, I didn’t have a problem remembering and understadning them.I actually don’t understand when folks say they don’t use reversals, because to me the fact that there are negative cards in the deck still doesn’t equal the reversed meanings.
I believe with readers and readings, “to each his/her own”of course–if you do not like or feel comfortable with reversals, then by all means don’t use them. You are the Reader and you know how you read..(or will very soon, if you’re a very new beginner.)

But it seems overly linear and too precise to say that the corresponding elements, placements, and surrounding cards provide enough explanation.,Well, I guess..yes. Maybe.;-)

Speaking for myself alone, I can’t imagine plotting it all out in that maner.

I’ve read cards for 42 yrs and my intuition, and ability to grasp connections, correspondences and details grew over the years, But also at certain times, (oddly)…..my abilities grew in leaps and bounds .. but for reasons unknown!:-)

I had been reading for over 30 yrs when I came across Mary K. Greer’s
book on reversals,- that one lit up my mind unbelievably.
I had sensed certain internal and spiritual meanings with reversed cards, but Greer’s book felt like brilliant candles were all burning beautifully in my brain ..on reversals, Whether it was information I’d known intuitively for years, or somethng quite new to condsider..I loved it.

So Ms Kenner,like you said about how the 8 of Pentacles Rev made more sense than any other card could have *for that particular meaning* that day …most of the time *all* reversals seem like that to me.
And that includes when I didn’t even have much awareness and knowledge to begin with. lol 🙂

Written By Jaime Rivera
on March 31st, 2012 @ 8:29 pm

The book I started reading Tarot with advised not to use reversals, so I did not. Recently I decided to give it a try, and the perfect situation came up:

A friend was told that the postman had tried to deliver a letter but, since he was not around, and his signature was needed, the postman told the person who was at home to tell him to go look for him at a certain location where he would be delivering letters later on that day.

This letter was news of legal matter. We knew that for sure. We even knew what it was about. What we did not know was whether it was good news or not. We would learn in just a couple of hours, so it was a perfect way of testing whether reversals worked. I didn’t tell my friend that I was going to do a reading to see what he could expect. If the cards had good news, I would tell him, but if they didn’t, I would let him find out on his own.

So, I did the reading, and it was full of reversals. The King of swords reversed in the immediate past position. Justice reversed in the crown position. The nine of cups (the wish card) reversed in the immediate future position. It was all just doom and gloom due to the reversals!! These cards were positive had they been upright.

So, I did not tell him. I just tried to clear my mind and try to see if I could clear the negative energy I had picked up from my reading.

He called me a few minutes later. It was GREAT news. So, there you have it. All these reversals led me to believe there were going to be delays, bad news, stagnation, blockages, etc. and in reality, the news was received quickly, it was good, and it was the best possible outcome.

I’m NOT using reversals ever again.

Written By Lisa Bowring
on May 1st, 2012 @ 9:59 am

I am a tarot beginner – soaking up information about its many aspects and uses. Everyone seems to be in different camps with regards to Tarot Reversals but from what I’ve read and tried so far I am trying to incorporate them into my readings. I think knowing about them and how to read them is an important learning process and even if I decide to forego them in the future as I get more practice I think knowing about them is part of the learning process.

Written By Melissa Gerber
on September 21st, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

I love the definitions in Tarot Reversals, and often consult them for shamanic-type answers. I do use reversals on occasion, but I have other books with answers to specific areas that don’t use reversals. Please enter me for the contest.

Written By Mavette
on September 28th, 2012 @ 10:09 am

Learning the cards is hard enough, but when it comes to reversals, I let my intuition guide me. I am new at learning Tarot, so I guess I am open minded.. When I pull a card… it always seems to fit …
I would love to be entered into the contest…

Written By Erika May Randolph
on October 16th, 2012 @ 11:45 am

I’ve not used the cards in a reversed position and have found for my readings the meanings are intuitively accessed. I am still rather a beginner and have not done readings professionally, just for friends and family.

Written By Cindy
on March 26th, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

I’m just learning how to use the cards and haven’t had any decks that come with reversal instructions. Perhaps I’ll check out the book 🙂

Written By Dalene
on March 30th, 2013 @ 10:17 am

I have always bn intriged by cards an my mom use to read she says I dnt do to bad but reversals really do get me all mixed up I live n a tiny town on a fixed income wit no transportation so I dnt get the opertunity to get with many other wiccan/pegans or talk to an id like to learn more an make a few new friends too

Written By Gary Suto
on June 4th, 2013 @ 10:59 am

I have been reading tarot for 33 years and don’t remember every not using reversals. For me it is about 78 other meanings, so to speak. Sometimes they are opposites, sometimes the same but to a lesser degree. I always read in sets of 3 or 4. To me it gives more of a story on the direction a person is going. I also don’t try to make it look like a good reading. Half the time people get a reading is because their are problems in their lives. I look for cycles for how long they will be there and also advise on personality issues that got them there. Reversals help with all that. Mary Greer’s book on the subject is a must have.

Written By D. L. Cocchio
on September 24th, 2013 @ 9:17 pm

I am the author of “So You Wanna Read Tarot?” by D. L. Cocchio. I find that it is best to read reversed cards as the energy is simply being blocked. As a tarot reader, you can help them figure out how to unblock that energy in their life by drawing a few more cards for clarification.

Written By Kelly
on September 25th, 2013 @ 9:17 am

I don’t really use reversals, because when other people shuffle the deck there is always room for tons of cards to be reversed. Also, like someone mentioned above, i try to rely on what the rest of the reading is telling me if it is a psoitve card or a negative card. Now if i shuffle the cards or if i notice that someone else is shuffling them and not turning them or when i choose to read with them. I always read them as a possibility. Something negative that could happen or something positive that could happen, but the energy is still not fully there yet for a definate outcome.

Written By Rhonnda Mick
on October 2nd, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

I do use the reversals and always have for many reasons… there are positive and negative energies in everything in the universe…yin and yang so to speak….so I tap into the intuition of the card and read the reversals and let it speak to the person I am reading for…..with the positive and the negative or reversed meaning it makes a clearer picture to the person being read to. Not everything is positive in life so we take the good with the bad there is a balance that must be reached and maintained in all things….

Written By Hyunh Le Nhu
on March 30th, 2014 @ 12:29 am

Indeed I do not use reversals with my only and one tarot deck Shadowscape.

I believe the art in every card already included both positive and negative meanings, based on the spread, we’d pick the right meaning. Let’s have an example with one of my favourite card – 8 of Swords. Though many people will judge it with the illustration of a chained swan, which is trying to reach out to the little free bird over its head. The whole sky is cover by a dark cloak of an unknown entity. But to me, when reading, I tend to combine cards’ elements, positions to interpret the true meaning of the whole scene; of course according to the spread, I will decide to choose bad or good influence from that card. To me, tarot reading is not we withdraw many cards and read them one bye one. Tarot readers also are artist and we paint the canvas with our cards and imagination.

Most of serious artists already put all the important strokes in the card so I think it’s not really necessary to use a reversal physically. If yes, it’s only for easier reading, which I do not prefer.

Written By Camille
on October 23rd, 2014 @ 3:39 am

Hi 🙂

Generally, when I shuffle the cards, there are always reversals! So, I have to deal with it 😉

It is true that tarot is so rich in itself, that you may wonder “why should I use reversals ?” But there are so many ways to interpret them ! Not only reading their “opposite” meanings. So it can become interesting to consider. It may mean there is a blockage or problem to be analyzed, an important point to consider. It can try to catch your attention. Etc. (Mary K. Greer’s Complete Book of Tarot Reversals is full of ideas like that! This is a great book about it.)

With a deck where it is difficult to differentiate reversals from others (for example pips cards), I do not use them lol ! But on the contrary there are decks (like the Revelations Tarot) which are so great for!

But there are also spreads that are designed for reversals. A few months ago, I have heard about the Camoin method (to do with his famous Tarot, but majors only). You start with a three cards reading (past – present – future), and then, by taking consideration where the characters are looking and if a card is reverse, you add cards around. (Well… I probably do not explain it very well, it is quite difficult in english !) Those are very active spreads. They are still a little bit difficult for me now, but so interesting!
And I am sure there are many others spreads playing with reversals like that 🙂

Written By Caitlyn
on October 25th, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

I rarely use reversals because I intentionally shuffle my deck in such a way as to keep all the cards upright. Perhaps I’m afraid of trying to learn additional card meanings when I don’t feel I even have the regular meanings memorized yet!

Written By Amarie
on October 27th, 2014 @ 10:31 am

I have been thinking of learning to read tarot for some time now. It’s like it’s calling me” I would love to have a deck but have no idea what to get I am waiting for one to speak to me. Maybe this one will…Thank you

Written By Melissa
on February 11th, 2015 @ 1:30 am

I read the cards upright most of the time, but sometimes, depending on the cards around it, i may take it to mean it’s opposite. but there are enough cards to never read them in their reverse meaning. Crowley and other famous tarotists are know for not reading cards in reverse(upside down).

Written By Elizabeth J Romain
on October 3rd, 2015 @ 4:35 pm

I’m open to the universal of tarot like in key 21 which is studying the tarot equates the pie. We take a slice of pie of astrology that is in sync with the tarot, via elements as well as the Qabbalah, Numerology, Court cards which connects with people we deal with in our live; Alchemy to me is relative to the key 14 (The Temperance) harmonizing under pressure using the key elements within said card: Air the balance of utilizing the intellectual skill; Water the balance of emotion. and Fire intuition and drive to enhance the goal. The Hangman key 12: looking at 78 cards at a different view point and or perspective view. It has been my experience in reading cards reversal it reveals the hidden shadows via underlining issues pending on the surrounding of the cards, and also taking a private view. I once read a client who felt uneasy around his boss, he would get nervous and unsettle every time he is around his boss. The Page of Swords Reverse was in his reading. I explain to my client that verbally he is not expressive and stammer for words that are choked within. In addition to,lack of confidence in which he feel small looking up to the boss as a Giant. I explain to my client he needs to sharpen his skills by returning to school in relationship to his trade. He was so amazed at his reading of the said reverse that he actually said, “I actually react that way every time my boss is near.” He now works in a better mode and is in college. So you see, Reversal to me are a part of the pie the universal language of the tarot. Keep growing my fellow tarot reader.

Written By Eliana
on October 16th, 2015 @ 10:55 am

I do not read reversals. I have enough trouble reading in the first place. In the future, I see Thai as a goal, however.

Written By Amanda Aiken
on February 18th, 2016 @ 8:33 pm

My opinion on reading reversals is simple. Everything about a reading is dependant on the natural connection made between the cards first through you, the reader, to the subject. The key word is natural. There is no other step in reading tarot that is changed from its original form. If tarrot was ever intended to be read upright only , or we were to believe that a reversed card means nothing, then somewhere along the way, cards would have been drawn or made to be like that of a modern day deck of playing cards. No matter which way you turn them, the appear upright, because the image is reversed and mirrored. I dont know about anyone else, but anytime I have chosen a reversed card, my intuition tells me that there is a reason for that. Any alteration of the rotation of the card after it is chosen feels overwhelmingly unnatural. And If i have ever ignored the reversal, and read the meaning as if it were upright, I am consumed with the feeling that I am missing something, or perhaps lying to myself.

Written By tracie
on August 27th, 2016 @ 9:11 am

I always read reversed after over 20 years I see a clearer picture and better understand the positives and negatives of a reading.

Written By Angie Hinds
on October 5th, 2016 @ 4:53 pm

I read both I feel I get a bigger picture thinking of the reverse yin and yang of things to see the picture clearer

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