Methods for Reading Reversals


Reading reversals can be a challenge for beginning and experienced readers alike. However, there are many misconceptions about reversed cards that may contribute to the problem. Most tarot books you will read have assigned some fairly unpleasant meanings to reversed cards, which may seem superficial and overly negative. Many of these meanings are “left over” from when tarot cards were used in a fortune-telling sense, and it is not recommended that you use this approach if it makes you uncomfortable. Tarot students may be daunted by the idea of learning an additional 78 meanings for the cards in order to read them in reverse, but this is really not necessary. If you have learned the primary meaning of the card, you can read it in reverse, and will learn how in this lesson.

Every card has positive, neutral and negative aspects contained within it, a full spectrum of meanings centering around a core concept represented by that card. In a sense, you can think of the basic card as “neutral” – neither positive or negative, but representing a group of ideas, lessons, or concepts. When reading without reversals, all of these aspects of the card need to be considered, and it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly how the card should be read in any specific situation. When you add reversals to your reading tools, remember that you are also adding uprights – the positive balances the negative. Now it is possible to determine whether the forces represented by that card are acting in a positive or negative, helpful or unhelpful, obvious or hidden manner in the situation. And later when we add dignities, we will be able to add even more shades and nuances to the card meanings. This helps us use the limited number of cards in a tarot deck to reflect the myriad of situations and possibilities that can occur in real life.

Using reversals helps you identify whether the overall situation is positive or negative, pinpoint areas of blockage or difficulty, and help the client devise strategies to surmount obstacles they are facing. Reversals can help uncover hidden issues or problems that the client was unaware of or is hiding from themselves. In many cases, these are the very issues that a client most needs help with, and may be the reason they turned to you for a reading to begin with. Using only uprights to identify positive and negative influences unnecessarily limits each card to being “good” or “bad”, and requires the reader to make a value judgment about which category each card is placed in. With a full spectrum of cards that can act in a variety of different ways, a whole new world of meanings is available to the reader.

While it is not strictly necessary to use reversals, they are one of many tools that should be evaluated and learned as part of your tarot studies. Each reader can then make an informed decision after learning to use them and after serious practice and reflection. Elemental dignities and other approaches can be used instead of, or in addition to, reversals, and we will cover this in a few weeks. The goal of this lesson is to present you with a variety of tools relating to reversals and dignities, so that by the end you will have tried them all out and will have chosen one or more that work for you, comfortably, consistently, and reliably.

Approaches to Reading Reversals

As with all things in tarot, there are many different ways to read reversals, and each reader develops their own individual style. As long as you understand how you are using reversals in your readings, that is how your cards will fall for you. As you learn more techniques for using reversals, you may find yourself using different approaches depending on the question, situation, layout, or position in the layout in which the card falls. This is entirely appropriate, and if you ever feel that a reversed card just isn’t making sense, it is worth reviewing the list of possibilities to see if another approach to reversals might help explain its meaning. Here are just some of the approaches to reversals that you can use:

    • – An area in which the client is having difficulty or problems

– Obstacles or issues that affect the question

– Something which is not likely to happen (used in yes/no spreads)

– An energy, resource, or path forward which is available but temporarily blocked

– Something that has been repressed, or needs to be released

– A negative or unhelpful influence

– Negative or unhelpful aspects of a personality (court cards)

– Something that is hidden, deceptive, or not what it appears to be

– An internal influence or process, as opposed to external

– An approach or course of action to avoid, something you are being warned against

– The normal energy of the card, but out of balance or taken to an extreme

– New moon energy (as opposed to waxing, waning, or full – used mostly with round cards)

    – Any other meaning you assign it to have

With each of these approaches, the upright cards should be considered to have complimentary meanings, for example, an area which will go well for the client, resources they can draw on, something that is likely to happen, something that is externally focused or obvious, a positive influence or helpful personality, etc. It is good practice to decide not only what the reversed cards will mean, but what the upright cards will mean, and it may even be appropriate to communicate this to the client before the reading begins.

You may notice that there are a few approaches to reading reversals that are not included on the list above, and which I do not advocate or teach in my courses. These are described below along with my reasons for excluding them. However, I support each reader’s right to choose which approach s/he would like to use, and if you prefer one of these approaches you are welcome to use it. If you would like to try out or practice any of these methods, please feel free to use the questions suggested in the exercises below and compare your results to the other methods.

  • Opposite of the Upright Meaning. I believe that each card has a core set of ideas and concepts that it represents, and that any way you modify the card – reversals or dignities – should be variations on the theme of these basic meanings. Using the opposite of an upright meaning tends to result in cards being initially classified as positive or negative, and the opposite of that is used in the reversal. However, I believe that each card has a full spectrum of positive through negative possibilities contained within it, and this approach is unnecessarily limiting. Also, sometimes the opposite of a card is too much like another card, and I see no reason why the tarot would not just provide that other card if that is the meaning that is needed.
  • Little White Book (LWB) Meanings. Most of the LWB meanings for reversed cards are highly superficial and should not be relied upon. Many of them use the “opposite” approach described above, or draw from highly negative “fortune-telling”-type meanings prevalent during the early days of tarot divination. Many are not recognizable as modern meanings and may cause confusion, as well as unnecessary negativity. It is much better to develop your own system and use it consistently.
  • Diminishment or Weakening of the Upright Card. In this approach, a card’s effect is considered to be diminished or weakened compared to the upright card. I feel this method may have developed because readers perceived some cards as already too negative to make worse (e.g., Tower or Devil) through a reversal, and because some cards seemed too positive to ever have a negative meaning (e.g., Sun or Ten of Cups). However, this relies on the idea that cards are mainly either positive or negative, while as discussed above, I believe that all cards have a full spectrum of meanings. A weakening or diminishment of meaning does not seem to me to have much value in a tarot reading compared to other approaches.

All the other approaches suggested above will be explored below and illustrated with exercises. Some approaches to reading reversals with round decks are also provided. In addition, there are times when an entire reading will come up all or nearly all reversed, and this special situation will also be discussed. Finally, there is a section on how to decide which approaches work best for you and are appropriate for any given reading.

For each of the following methods and exercises, keep a journal that records how you felt about the reversal approach that was used. Try each one, even if you think you won’t like it, and keep your interpretation as close as possible to the reversal definition as you can. When you are done, write down any thoughts you had about the approach – did it help you answer the question, did it make it easier to understand what to do with the reversed cards, did it feel comfortable or uncomfortable. You may need to try some of them more than once, so feel free to use and practice these methods as you are doing your other readings for yourself, networks, friends or clients. These notes will help you choose one or more approaches that fit with your own style of reading.

Developing a Spectrum of Meanings for Your Cards

Each card in the tarot deck has many different possible meanings, depending on the question that is asked, its position in the spread, the cards around it, and any reversals or dignities that the reader is using. At a minimum, all the cards in the deck can be read on at least three levels – spiritual, psychological, and mundane. In addition, there are times when the cards are more positive and other times when they are more negative, even when read upright.

One of the most important concepts you will use in working with reversals is that every card contains duality and shades of meaning within it, just as we all do. No card is inherently positive or negative – all cards reflect the cycles of life, and the activities and lessons we have to learn from life. However, many tarot books (especially the little white books – or LWBs) tend to treat some cards as solely positive and others as very negative. While it is true that some tend more toward the positive or negative, each has ways that it can be read that are positive, neutral, or negative, depending on the situation, the question, the position in the spread, and the position of the card. Learning the inherent qualities of the card, both good and bad, is very helpful when learning to use reversals and dignities, and will also help you understand how to read the cards in different positions in a spread.

For this exercise, shuffle your deck, then take out cards one by one, upright. You may refer to any keywords and phrases you have already written in your journal or notes, although it is always best to start with what is in your head . Now imagine a three-card spread, where the positions are as follows:

Card 1: The situation

Card 2: Problems or challenges to be overcome

Card 3: Strengths and resources, who or what will help

Now take your card and rotate it through each of these three positions. How does the meaning change? The first position is purely descriptive, and should be relatively neutral. The next two positions are designed to look at the card in a more negative and positive light. Notice any cards that are particularly hard to fit into the positive or negative positions. If you do not have time to do all the cards, do a random selection, or choose those that seem most challenging to work on.

Here is an example, using the Magician:

Card 1 – Situation: Gathering tools and planning/imagining a new enterprise

Card 2 – Challenges: Not having the tools I need, miscommunication, deception

Card 3 – Strengths: Effectively applying my tools and skills to create something I desire

One thing to note here is that spread positions alone can be very much like upright or reversed cards. In this case, Card 2 is like a reversed card, while Card 3 is like an upright card. When using reversals, it may be best not to choose spread positions that mimic the meanings of upright and reversed cards that you are using, to avoid conflicting results.

Obstacles and Problem Areas

One of the most straight-forward ways to read reversals is as obstacles or problem areas for the client in the situation they are asking about. This is a very helpful way of reading reversals because it gives the client information they need to remove obstacles and clear up problem areas in their life. Anytime you read a reversed card this way, it is important not only to tell the client what the problem is, but what they can do about it. This turns a negative into a positive, and it is these readings that can prove to be the most life-changing and empowering. Sometimes knowing about a potential problem in advance makes all the difference in preparing for and/or avoiding it.

For example, if a client asks about her marriage, and receives a reversed Empress, the client may be feeling that she is unable to develop her creative side and pursue her own interests in the marriage. Perhaps she has been too busy taking care of kids and husband to do anything for herself, or anything to express herself. She may feel much more satisfied in this marriage if she sets aside some time for herself each week to take classes, work on a creative project, garden, or just do things for and by herself. This may require some work to set boundaries and communicate her needs to her family. Another possible interpretation is that she really wants kids but has been repressing the desire because she is afraid her husband does not want them. This is a serious issue that should not be left unresolved, and may require counseling to address.

Exercise #1: Do a 3-card reading using any spread of your choice on the question: “What can you tell me about the new job I am about to start?” Select specific meanings for each of the three card positions, related to the new job (for example: the work itself, the co-workers, and opportunities for advancement). Read any reversals as possible problem areas, and give the client specific advice about how they can resolve these issues. Also develop a specific approach to interpreting any upright cards the client receives in this reading – what will these cards be telling you about?

Exercise #2: Do a 3-card reading on the question: “What would it take for me to get a raise at work?” Read uprights as suggested approaches that may work and reversals as obstacles that will need to be overcome. In this reading, use a more free-form style without specifically defined positions.

Reversed cards can be used in Yes/No spreads to identify the likelihood of things working out the way the client wants, and specific issues that if addressed, will improve the chances of this happening. For any yes/no question, you can lay three or more cards. Any upright card shows areas that are likely to work out and strengths or resources the client can draw on. Any reversed cards show problem areas or obstacles that need to be addressed, if the situation is going to work out. Using this method, the number of reversed cards gives an indication of the likelihood of the event, but the client also learns why it is or is not likely to work out and what specific obstacles they need to overcome to improve their chances. If all three cards are upright, the situation is probably clear sailing and the client has little to worry about. If some cards are reversed, the answer is “possibly, if these specific issues can be addressed”. If all cards are reversed, chances are very slim, but it is still worth going through the specific issues and then the client can decide for themselves whether they want to do the hard work to overcome all these obstacles.

Exercise #3: Do a 3- or 5-card reading on the question: “I just had a huge argument with my best friend. Are we going to be able to patch this up or is this the end of our friendship?” Discuss the overall number of reversals in answering the yes/no part of the question, read the upright cards as strengths they can draw on in their friendship, and the reversals as specific problem areas they are going to have to resolve. Provide some guidance on resolving each problem area, as suggested by the card.

Moving Forward in Life

Clients often come to us with questions about reaching a future goal or getting themselves out of a bad situation. In these readings, reversals can be helpful in pin-pointing the specific things that need to be done to move forward. When clients have a future goal they are trying to reach, any reversals in the reading will show paths forward that are currently blocked and what areas the client needs to pay special attention to in order to get where they are going. One very common reading request is wanting to start a home business, and wondering whether it is really possible and will actually work out. You can design a spread that takes into account a wide variety of different factors, then look for any reversals as areas the client needs to pay special attention to, or wait to resolve, before starting their business. For example, if the client receives a reversed Seven of Wands in a position relating to the marketplace, it could mean they are going to have so much competition that it will be hard for this business to stay afloat. In this case, they need to rethink the product they are offering and make sure that it has unique features that are marketable and distinguishable from that of other competitors.

Exercise #4: Do a 3-card reading on the question: “I want to go back to school and get a Master’s Degree, but I am worried about our finances and who will take care of the kids. Is this possible right now?” Define the three cards as major issues of potential concern (you choose the issues), and then look for reversed cards to see which areas may actually be a problem and which ones will work out OK. For upright cards, identify the resource represented by that card that can help in that area, and for reversed cards, offer any suggestions you can on how to overcome these obstacles. Look at the overall picture to see how doable this idea is right now. If two or three cards are reversed, try reading the reversed cards as what has to happen before she can go back to school. This gives her hope that it can be done in the future, even if not now.

Another typical situation is a client that may feel completely stuck in their life, but not really know what is wrong or how to solve it. Reversals are very helpful in “diagnosing” the problem and offering suggestions for how to fix it, especially when the client is hiding something from themselves or avoiding the real issue. Often there is something or someone in their past that needs to be released in order to move on, and reversals will identify this. For example, if a client feels that they have trouble forming positive relationships, and they receive a reversed Five of Swords, they may have experienced abuse in the past that they need counseling for. Until they resolve and release this old situation, they may be subconsciously trying to resolve it by choosing unsuitable and abusive partners. This approach is especially helpful for relationship and marriage “counseling” – and we do a lot of counseling as tarot readers.

Exercise #5: Do a mind-body-spirit reading on the question: “I feel so depressed and sick all the time. I just have no motivation to get out of bed in the morning. I can’t figure out what is wrong with me. Can you help me?” Look for reversals to get an idea where the problem lies, then offer appropriate advice. Do a followup reading to get more specific details on the area(s) suggested by this reading.

Negative Influences or Personalities

Generally speaking, the basic meaning of a tarot card is always the most important, and the reversal is simply a modification of that meaning. Each card has positive and negative aspects to it, although some are more inherently positive and some more negative. Whether a card is positive or negative may depend entirely on the situation. A Four of Pentacles may be very good thing if you are a person of modest means trying to save up for your retirement. It may be a problem if it represents a father trying to control his children using money. A reversal helps you identify whether a given influence represented by the card is acting for better or worse in a particular situation. This is particularly true of court cards, as every personality type represented in the tarot has both good and bad aspects to it, just as each of us has our good days and our bad days, things we have done that we are proud of, and things we did that we know were hurtful and wish we could undo. Never fall into the trap of thinking that a particular card or personality represented by a court card is always good or always bad, or you will have difficulties with reversals. In one interpretation, a reversal simply indicates that a thing or person is having a negative influence on the situation, whether they mean to or not.

Exercise #6: Do a 4-card reading as follows. Ask the question “what two things or people are having the most positive influence on my life right now?” Pull two cards from the deck and place them upright. Now ask the question “what two things or people are having the most negative influence on my life right now?” Pull two cards from the deck and place these reversed (or imagine that they are reversed). Explain to yourself how each of these factors is affecting your life at the moment. Now imagine that you are doing this same reading for a friend, and you receive the same cards in the opposite positions. How does this change how you would interpret each card?

Exercise #7: Do a 5-card reading on the following question: “I am having great difficulty dealing with my teenage daughter. I don’t know whether it is me, her, or outside influences that are the biggest problem, or whether this is just normal mother/daughter teenage “stuff”. What’s going on and is there anything I can do about it?” Use three cards to identify the factors having the strongest influence on the situation (good or bad) and after you have looked at the first three cards, draw two more cards to suggest possible strategies for resolving any problem areas identified in the first three cards. Pay special attention to any court cards that come up and how they may be influencing the situation.

Hidden, Deceptive and Unrealized Factors

Reversed cards can identify hidden wishes, problems, or influences, and they can identify unresolved wishes or issues. For example, in a relationship reading a reversed Ace of Cups may indicate a relationship that is not actually real – wishful thinking, a crush on someone from afar, or an internet romance that has no chance of going anywhere. If someone asks when their Mr. Right is going to show up, and they get a reversed King of Pentacles, it could very well be that Mr. Right is already here, but for some reason she hasn’t noticed him yet. He may not look the way she expects, or she may be looking in the wrong places, or overlooking an old friend. She may not realize the type of man that would actually make her happiest.

Reversed cards can also be helpful in providing warnings about things that appear to be something they’re not. For example, if a woman asks about someone she just started dating, a reversed King of Cups could represent a man who appears romantic and loving, but actually has a hidden drinking habit, or who may form an unhealthy emotional attachment and eventually become a problem. Reversed cards definitely act as warnings from time to time, and often they warn about hidden situations or personality problems. This is most likely to occur when a person is asking about a new situation or the future consequences of a course of action, but can also uncover things that are seriously wrong that the client has no idea about (to give one actual example, an employee embezzling funds from a small business). If all the cards in your reading are reversed, it is worthwhile considering whether this may be strong warning from the tarot, depending on the question, and take advantage of this opportunity to provide the client with information they can use to protect themselves.

Exercise #8: A client is planning to meet a man that she has been corresponding with on the internet. She believes they have a chance at a meaningful relationship, but is trying to be cautious. She would like to know if there is anything she should know about this man that hasn’t come up in their conversations on-line, or if she should go ahead. Do a reading that is focused on whether anything in this relationship has been hidden or whether all is as it seems. You may also add cards if you wish to evaluate the likelihood of their in-person relationship being successful.

Exercise #9: You conduct a three-card reading on a new relationship that a male client has just entered into, and receive the Queen of Wands, Four of Pentacles, and The Devil, all reversed. The man is a doctor, recently divorced and lonely, and the woman is quite a bit younger than he is. Complete this interpretation and decide what you will tell your client about this new relationship.

It is important to remember that reversed court cards, especially, may represent hidden issues or insecurities within the client’s own mind or personality. Often these are things the client actually knows, but hasn’t faced up to as a problem affecting their current situation. A reversed court card may actually represent both the client and the people they attract into their life, since like energy often attracts like.

In a reading about the future, especially readings that try to look far into the future, a reversed card may simply mean something that will not happen for a long time, or something that cannot happen until something else is resolved first. In this sense, these cards are telling you that they are only potentials that are still somewhat conjectural, or energies that are not yet in play.

Extreme or Unbalanced Energies

Another way to read uprights and reversals is to view upright cards as the natural, balanced energy of that life lesson or activity, and a reversal as the same energy or activity but unbalanced or taken to an unhealthy extreme. An example might be the Ten of Pentacles, which upright might represent a healthy and financially well-off multi-generational family and the passing down of traditions and family possessions in a loving and positive way. Reversed, this card could suggest a family obsession with inheritance and progeny, and an unwillingness to part with family lands or possessions regardless of the cost, perhaps entangling the family in feuds or lawsuits.

This approach could be used in any tarot reading, but might be especially useful in identifying the source of a problem and specific areas that need to be brought back into balance to improve a situation. Occasionally, it may be hard to interpret the reversal, as there are potentially two ways in which the natural energy of a card may become unbalanced – too much of the energy or too little. Normally, the nature of the tarot suggests that the energy of the card would become intensified and unbalanced in a stronger direction rather than a diminishing of energy – too much of something rather than not enough. This is because visual images work in positive directions – the word “not” is a verbal construct doesn’t come into play in visualization using images. If you are meant to get a message of weaker energies, you are more likely to get a card showing a natural passivity and get that card in a reversed position.

Exercise #10. Use this approach to conduct a 3-5 card reading about the current status of your life. Assign each position to an area of your life that is important to you. Read upright cards as positive balanced energies that are active in that area of your life, and reversed cards as areas where something is out of balance or extreme, and then imagine what you could do to improve these areas. Develop an affirmation or two to help you make the necessary adjustments.

Unhelpful Aspects or Approaches

When we started, we thought about positive, neutral, and negative facets of the cards. Here is where that really comes into play. For example, a positive statement about the Four of Pentacles might be “a person creating a responsible financial foundation for their family’s future”. A negative statement might be “a greedy, materialistic, or stingy person”. A neutral statement could be “a person who tends to be conservative with their money”. This last could be good or bad, depending on the situation. Rather than making value judgments, it attempts simply to describe a person or an approach to a situation. I say “attempts”, because sometimes one person’s value judgment is another’s neutral description 🙂

Using the positive/negative approach for uprights and reversals is more like making value judgments, and we should be aware of how it might come across to a client, and also of the enhanced possibility of our own values and biases creeping into the reading. However, in some cases, making value judgments may be appropriate. For example, in an exercise above, you were asked to complete the reading for the doctor and the new person he was seeing. Your reading of the cards may have contained some fairly strong negative statements about the woman in question, which could also reflect on the doctor. This could easily make some readers uncomfortable. Yet, in this hypothetical situation, the doctor came to us essentially asking for a value judgment (by the universe, not by us) on this new person he was seeing. In these cases, and especially when the cards speak out strongly and tell a coherent story (good or bad), it is OK to make strong positive or negative statements, which may inevitably contain some value judgments.

An alternative approach which may feel a lot more comfortable in some cases is to stick to the neutral meaning of the card, and imagine that this neutral meaning is acting helpfully or unhelpfully in this specific situation. The neutral meaning may describe an aspect of our personality, or an approach to a situation we have been considering. This approach works best when doing a reading for ourselves or other people we know well, when we will instantly recognize a card as representing some familiar aspect of our personality. For example, I have a tendency to vigorously defend my ideas and ideals, even if strongly challenged by others. I might represent this tendency with the Seven of Wands. This tendency can be good in some situations, bad in others. If I receive this card in a reading, I can use whether it is upright or reversed to let me know whether this is an appropriate time for me to exercise this particular trait. One good exercise to prepare for this method of reading is to think about your own personality, and come up with as many descriptive sentences about it as you can. Try your best to make them non-judgmental, neither positive nor negative, just descriptive. Assign a tarot card or cards to each statement, then you will recognize another possible meaning of that card when it comes up for you in a personal reading.

Here’s an example of how this approach differs from the traditional positive/negative. A woman asks for a reading about an important decision she needs to make, and her birthdate shows that she is a Libra. You’re doing a one-card reading on FTN, and you pull the Justice card. If you were using the traditional upright/reversed approach, a reversed card might suggest that she is about to make the wrong decision or is not seeing the bigger picture. She’s getting lost in the details and on the wrong track, or making a choice that is not fair to others and will create negative karma – or whatever you think of when you think of the dark side of the Justice card :).

Using the neutral approach instead, you might say:

Intro description: “Being a Libra, you have a tendency to want to weigh all the details of both alternatives and examine the pros and cons very carefully before making a decision. You want to know the big picture and the karmic implications of your actions and decisions. You want your decisions to be logical and fair to all concerned.”

If upright: “This approach is appropriate in this situation because there are facets to this decision that may only become evident upon careful consideration. The details are important, and your decision may affect others, whose needs should be carefully weighed. Take your time, and don’t
make this decision until you feel you have examined all the issues. If it would help, make a list of the pros and cons, for both yourself and others.”

If reversed: “This approach may not work well in this situation. There may be a need to make a decision quickly in order to take advantage of an opportunity that could disappear if you wait too long. Or, this may be one of those times when you have to make a decision without knowing all the things you would like to know. This could be a time when emotions and gut feelings are more important than logical weighing and balancing, and it might be time to let your conscious mind rest and try to access your intuition and feelings about this situation, and those of others.”

Using this method, we have said less about whether her decision is likely to be right or wrong, and more about what might be a good approach to making this decision. She goes away with some valuable guidance, and still has ultimate ownership over the decision. It’s more about process than outcome. Whether that’s appropriate will depend on what the person wants, what type of question it is, and what you as a reader are comfortable doing.

Exercise 11. Choose a goal you would like to reach, or a problem you would like to solve. Draw three cards, and before interpreting them, develop a value-neutral statement for each one that describes you or a possible approach you might take to your question. Then use the fact that each one is upright or reversed to determine whether that aspect of your personality or possible approach is likely to be helpful or unhelpful in this situation, and why. Work hard when doing this to be non-judgmental about yourself – recognizing that nearly every aspect of your personality has its plusses and minuses at various times.

Assigning Special Meanings to Reversals

Reversed cards can actually mean anything you want them to, as long as you carefully define their meaning before you conduct the reading. This provides an added versatility that can be helpful in some situations. For example, you receive a reading request on a 1-card free tarot network that asks “Would it be better to leave before Dec. 6 or after?”, with no additional context or explanation. You could assign the upright position to mean “before” and the reversed position to mean “after”, and use the card itself to explain why to the client. In this case, since you are only allowed to use one card, you can use reversals to help deal with questions that ask about two different alternatives. The reversed card is not actually read as reversed, but is simply assigned to the second alternative. You can also assign uprights and reversals to the pros and cons of a situation, or any other meaning that is helpful to the reading. Reversals are just a reading tool, and it is OK to use your imagination :-).

Exercise #12: Do a 5-card reading on the question “What are the advantages and disadvantages of starting my own business in the next six months?” Interpret uprights as advantages and reversals as disadvantages (notice that the disadvantages are not read as obstacles, but more like pros and cons). One of the benefits of using this method is that the number of advantages and disadvantages is not fixed but is decided by the cards themselves.

Exercise #13: A client asks whether moving to New York City or Los Angeles would be better for her acting career. Conduct a three-card reading as follows:

Card 1: Ease of getting established

Card 2: Getting rewarding roles

Card 3: Making enough money to live on

Use upright cards to suggest that New York City would be better in that area, and reversed cards for Los Angeles. The card itself provides additional commentary on why that city would be better in that area.

Reading Reversals with Round Decks

There are at least three methods to reading reversals using round cards that may be helpful with decks like Motherpeace, Daughters of the Moon, Tarot of the Cloisters, or Songs for the Journey Home. First and simplest, you can use any of the above methods with round cards by simply assigning them to the upright position if they are closer to upright and to the reversed position if they are closer to reversed. This may be easiest if you are used to traditional decks and not wishing for added complexity.

A second way of reading round cards is to use upright and reversed for cards that are clearly in that orientation, and add shades of meaning for those cards that “tilt” either to the left or right. The farther they tilt, or the closer to lying on their side they are, the stronger the modifier becomes. Below are some possible meanings for left/right tilts:

– Associated with the past/forward-looking

– Associated with or influencing the card to the left/right

– Feminine/masculine

– Passive/active

– Held-back energies/forceful or aggressive energies

Exercise #14: Choose one of the above left/right approaches and do a 3-card reading with a round deck on the question “How can I change my approach to be more effective at my job?”

A third way of reading orientation with round cards is to assign different positions to phases of the moon. A fully upright card represents a full moon, or influences that are fully active, apparent, and realized. A reversed card represents a new moon, or influences that are only potentials or hidden. A card tilting to the right represents influences that are waning, and cards tilted to the left represents influences that are waxing (or the opposite, however you choose). Any number of shades of these orientations can be used. For example a card at 1:00 could indicate an influence that is just beginning to wane, while a card at 5:00 indicates one that has almost fully passed out of your life.

Exercise #15: Use the phases of the moon approach with a round deck to do a 3-card reading on the question “What influences do you see affecting my love life?”

Completely Reversed Readings

Occasionally, we may lay out a reading and find that it is completely or nearly all reversed. These situations almost always have a larger meaning that goes beyond that of the individual reversed cards. The overall reversal gives the big picture, and the details are provided by the individual cards. In general, the tarot is usually trying to state in the most unequivocal way possible that something in the situation is either backwards or seriously wrong. Here are some possible meanings for a reversed reading – which one will apply depends on the type of question being asked, the spread being used, and the cards that appear:

  • The approach being asked about is the exact opposite of the approach that should be taken
  • The tarot is trying to warn the client of something very important that may go wrong
  • The whole situation the client is asking about is a problem, and should be avoided
  • The answer lies in the past rather than the future – time flowing backwards
  • The situation contains a very strong hidden or suppressed component that must be examined
  • The question being asked is misguided, inappropriate, or unethical
  • The client or reader should examine their assumptions, questions, or reading and start over

These meanings are really just generalizations of a variety of possible meanings for card reversals, applied on a higher level. Once you have the overall message, you can determine whether it is necessary to read each individual card as reversed. For example, if the message is that the answer lies in the past, you may want to read the individual cards as if they were upright, but possibly in the reverse order that you normally would – moving from the future back to the past. If the overall message appears to be a warning of something that may go wrong, it may be appropriate to then read each individual reversed card, to get a sense of the specific details the client needs to know about. Finally, in the last two cases listed above, it might be better not to complete the reading and instead take a day or two to think about a more appropriate approach.

Choosing Your Method of Reading Reversals

Once you have conducted all of the exercises and readings above, and have experimented with all the different approaches, go back through your reading journal and decide which ones you like the best – which ones seemed to work best in your readings, which ones helped you interpret the cards, and made sense with the questions. Choose at least one and no more than four of these methods to practice with intensively for a month or two. You can change your mind later, and you can make exceptions to the rule, but it will help in becoming comfortable with reversals to always have some basic approaches in mind as you do your readings. Too many choices can sometimes lead to overload and indecision, so start simply and add complexity or additional choices as you get comfortable with each approach.

No matter what approaches you choose, make a conscious choice of approach before starting each reading. This is not a hard and fast rule you have to follow once you become very experienced with readings, but it is a good way to start. As you shuffle your cards, review in your mind what you know about the question and situation, the card positions and spread you plan to use, and the method you will use to read reversals. Then stick to the method you have chosen – don’t change it after laying the cards. Sometimes it is tempting to change it if it doesn’t seem to make sense, but whatever you had in mind when you shuffled and dealt is how the tarot chose to provide you with cards, so it is important to stay consistent with that.

Once you become “fluent” in reversals, you may relax and vary your approach to whatever seems to suit the question, reading, spread, and deck the most. I consider this step part of the spontaneous spread design I may do in response to each custom reading. To give you an example of how this may work, below are some reading requests and the resulting choices that a reader could make about how to use reversals in each case:

Q: What do I need to do to reach my goal? Spread is designed to show the steps along the way and the things the client needs to do. Reader decides that reversed cards indicate the steps that will be most difficult for the client.

Q: Why am I having so much trouble getting a job in the area I have trained for? Reader decides that upright cards will indicate external factors (job market, etc) and reversed cards will indicate internal factors (attitude, expectations, etc).

Q: How will my move to Los Angeles work out for me? Reader assigns card positions to different areas of the client’s life, and decides that upright cards indicate areas that are likely to work out well, and reversed cards indicate areas in which the client may encounter challenges.

Q: Client asks yes/no question. Reader draws three cards and decides that upright cards indicate factors in favor and reversed cards factors against. The number of upright and reversed cards indicates the overall likelihood of a yes answer, and the cards themselves explain why.

Q: Client asks a timing question. In addition to whatever method the reader may choose to do timing readings, reader decides that reversed cards may indicate a delay while the particular issue represented by the card is worked out.

Q: Client asks whether they should take a job that is being offered to them. Reader decides that upright cards will indicate pros or benefits to the position and reversed cards will indicate cons or problems with the position. Client is still left to make the ultimate choice.

Q: Reader is reading on a 1-card free-reading network. Client asks about a choice between two alternatives. Reader assigns the upright position to Alternative A and the reversed position to Alternative B. The card explains why that alternative would be the better choice.

Q: Client asks about a new person they have just met and whether or not a relationship would be a good idea. Reader assigns upright cards to strengths and positive factors in the combined relationship, and reversed cards to problem areas or hidden issues to watch out for.

These are all just examples of the myriad ways in which reversals can be used. An experienced reader may or may not be this explicit about choosing their approach to reversals before every reading, and may be able to do it more intuitively. But I find when first learning to read reversals that this approach is very helpful. When I read, I sometimes explicitly assign the upright/reversed positions as above, and sometimes I read it more free-form. While I think it is best to know what your card positions and reversals will mean ahead of time, it is also important to remain open to other messages the cards may bring you. Just like with the meanings of the cards themselves, sometimes doing many readings over time will teach you new ways of using reversals, or what reversals may mean in a given situation.

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