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To read reversals… or not to read reversals? That is very often the question. The choice to incorporate reversed cards into your Tarot readings is personal and individual. Not every reader reads reversals, and readers who do read reversals use a variety of different approaches to do so. In other words, as with pretty much all other aspects of the Tarot, there is no one single or *correct* way of reading reversals.
In my personal journey and experience with the Tarot, I’ve always incorporated reversals — right from the beginning. When I was first learning the cards many years ago, I learned each card’s upright and reversed meanings simultaneously. Adding reversals to my readings offers an extra layer of significance and depth. It’s almost like adding a whole other language to a reading; a language through which we can receive more nuanced guidance for our issues and more detailed answers to our queries.
How do ensure our readings include reversals in an organic, natural way? The simplest technique is just to cut and shuffle the deck so that a certain number of cards (up to half of the deck) get turned upside down. You can do this yourself, or you can ask your querent/client to do this. (This will also depend on whether you allow your querents to handle your cards, or if you’ve got a no-touch policy.)
Once you’ve shuffled the deck to ensure a certain number of reversed cards, and you’ve laid out your selected spread, how do you actually read those reversals? Let’s dive into 5 possible ways to do this. Keep in mind that the priority is always to listen to your intuition; that’s how you’ll know which of these possibilities applies to a specific reversal.
- Read reversals as blocked or stagnant energy
Oftentimes, a reversed card will indicate that the card’s upright energy is blocked or just not flowing properly. To move forward or heal, the querent needs to find a way to get that energy moving again (you can always draw an extra card as a clarifier to ask, “how can I [or your querent] restore flow and movement to this energy?”).Example: the upright Empress signals fertility, abundance, and creativity.
A reversed Empress could therefore signal an obstacle to abundance or a creative block (i.e. writer’s block).
- Read reversals as deficiencies
Similar to a blockage, reversals sometimes indicate that the querent is deficient in a certain kind of energy. The solution in this case is to increase that specific type of energy because it will bring the querent into greater balance.Example: the upright Emperor brings an energy of order, structure, discipline, and strategic action.A reversed Emperor would therefore signal that an area of the querent’s life is too chaotic and the querent would be well-advised to further develop the energy of structure and discipline. (This doesn’t mean going to extremes, however! Just figure out a way of reducing chaos and implementing a healthy schedule or cleaning out that junky closet or prioritizing your time.)
- Read reversals as excesses
Opposite to #2, reversals can often signal that the querent has too much of a certain type of energy, at the expense of overall balance. Here, the message would be to reduce that excessive energy and cultivate its opposite.Example: the upright Hanged Man is all about stillness, introspection, slowing down, and not making any rash decisions.
A reversed Hanged Man can indicate that the querent is taking too much time making a choice, or needs to be more decisive and take action in the external world (rather than just taking time for internal introspection).
- Read reversals as problematic beliefs or attitudes
Reversals can also suggest that a querent’s attitude towards or belief about a certain topic (i.e. money, relationships, career, health) is problematic, skewed, or self-sabotaging. The querent is being asked to reexamine that attitude or belief and to replace it with a more empowering alternative.Example: the upright Six of Pentacles speaks of the important balance between giving and receiving. Since Pentacles are about finances and material concerns, I often read this card as indicating a healthy flow of money in the querent’s life: they have no issues attracting financial abundance and using that abundance to help others, to contribute to important causes, and to provide for themselves and their families.
A reversed Six of Pentacles can signal that the querent’s beliefs about money and material abundance are out of whack. Or perhaps a belief that one must always give and never take (which has resulted in chronic scarcity and over-giving in the querent’s life).
- Read reversals as moments of transition
Reversals can also suggest that the querent is experiencing a change or transition. In this case, the best advice is sometimes to just leave things alone for a while until they sort themselves out. Reversals indicating moments of transition tend to crop up especially when the querent has been doing intense inner work, recently participated in a workshop or retreat, started meditating regularly, or made some other positive change.Example: upright Strength symbolizes the querent’s ability to release base emotions like rage, anger, jealousy, and resentment — and how to communicate or channel those emotions in a healthy way when necessary.
A reversed Strength can indicate that the querent is in the process of learning how to work with those emotions, or that the querent has started to finally acknowledge and express them. The message here is just to keep going — the card will eventually turn upright once the querent has worked with those emotions and energies sufficiently.
I hope you’ll try out using reversals in your readings if you haven’t done so already. They really do add an additional + powerful layer of meaning and nuance to the messages we receive through the Tarot.
*deck featured in this post is the Pagan Otherworlds Tarot. All rights belong to the deck creators & publisher.