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I’ll be completely honest here: It took me years to read reversed cards. I was well into being a professional reader before I decided I would add the upside-down cards to my readings under some circumstances.

Clients and students are often curious if they should or shouldn’t use reversed cards. It’s a purely individual choice, and you can read effectively both ways. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of reading cards reversed.

The Upside of Upside Down

The tradition of reading cards reversed is a practical one: sometimes the cards appear upside down. At some point along the way, readers decided that if “fate” dealt a card reversed, it must be important. The most obvious interpretation would be to choose the opposite of the regular meaning. There’s nothing mystical about it—and this was one reason why I chose not to bother with reversed cards for years.

However, when energy is blocked, not flowing, or a client is in denial about something in their life, nothing brings that home as directly as a reversed card. 

Susan had called in for three readings in a month. She was obviously going through a tough time with a relationship break up. I had done two larger spreads for her but felt she wasn’t really acting on the advice that had come through the cards. I decided to shuffle my deck with cards reversed, trusting that the right ones would show up as always. And I decided that a little tough love was in order. I told her we’d do a three card spread and that she needed to start taking responsibility for her own healing. I am always happy to help clients, but not to the extent that they depend on me to do the work for them—which is impossible anyway!

The spread for Past, Present, and Future was as follows: 

• Past10 of Cups, reversed
• Present:  8 of Swords
 Future:  Ace of Cups

This turned out to be powerful medicine for Susan. When I told her about the reversed card in the Past position, she was confused at first. I told her it was likely the relationship had not been as idyllic as the vision she was remembering and holding onto. The 10 of Cups showing upside down suggested there was a block to true happiness or that happiness was illusory or not achieved. If you visualize 10 cups upside down, what is happening? Liquid spilling out—and empty cups! 

Susan broke down in a way she hadn’t in previous readings. I gently guided her to explore her feelings. It was true, the relationship had been far from happy, but she had told herself for years that he was the ideal man, they were the perfect couple, etc. With the power of that one reversed card, she was able to open up to her truth and deal with the shame, disappointment, and the heartbreak.

The other benefit to reading reversed cards is to add the inner dimension of the querent, especially in spreads where there is no specific card position to represent the inner mindset. For example, in bigger spreads, like the Celtic Cross and the Inner Work, there are places to indicate the subconscious mind or inner beliefs of the client. But in three card spreads, or yes/no layouts, you may need a reversed card (if it appears) to show the client’s inner (possibly unconscious) state of mind or a “no” answer.

In the above example, we could have looked at the layout as Mind, Body, and Spirit. The 10 of Cups would then denote that in the past, the client had not truly been happy, but she was unable to admit it. She believed that she should be happy; but though others may have found her relationship perfect, that wasn’t true for her inside. This may have created a lot of mental conflict. 

Both methods reveal essentially the same meaning, but in slightly different ways. If the 8 of Swords had been reversed, it could have meant that she was pretending to be fine on the outside now and moving on, but inside she was still trapped by limiting beliefs and self-illusion. 

A Simple Exercise

Try a three card spread for yourself on an issue that is important but not emotionally charged for you. Shuffle your deck so that reversed cards are an option. Pull three cards and note which are reversed. Now, use different meanings for each position. First, you might look at Past, Present, and Future, then consider the reading in light of Mind, Body, and Spirit. Then try Subconscious, Conscious, and Superconscious. See how the meaning of any reversed cards changes as you subtly shift the intention of the layout. If you don’t draw any reversed cards, play with turning one upside down and see how that changes the meaning for you. You can also experiment with reversing each card. Use your intuition to let you perceive different shades of meaning. You will begin to see how the upside-down images speak to you.

When Reversed Cards Aren’t Useful

I find that there are enough cards in the deck to communicate specific energy (positive, negative, open, blocked) that reversed cards aren’t really necessary. They can add a dimension of confusion and anxiety for beginning readers or for clients. Some cards are hard to read reversed—especially some of the Major Arcana. 

As you evolve as a Tarot reader, you will internalize the spectrum of meaning for each card, from negative to positive. Your intuition will guide you as to how that energy is being embodied or called forth from the client (or yourself). 

Larger spreads that contain placements for a wide variety of emotional states will usually cover what isn’t working, what is internalized, or what is blocked. Reversed cards in these spreads can just muddy the water.

However, I do recommend that as you play with your cards, you experiment with reading them reversed. It really is an individual choice. Allow your reading to evolve, and trust that if and when it’s time to use reversed cards, you’ll know it.

Do you need help interpreting reversed cards in a reading? Would you like to experience a professional reading with the possibility of reversed cards? Call an advisor on Keen today and tell them you are curious about the upside-down world of the Tarot.