Thoughts on Reversals?


So I have no doubt at ALL that I am opening up one heck of a can of worms on this one, but this is definitely one of the sort of subjects that I kind of joined the forum to ask since it's been kind of percolating in my brain the last few weeks. I also didn't see a thread on this super recently when I did a search but if I missed it, my bad!

The thing is that I, to date, have never read with reversals. It always seemed, to me, to be somewhat disruptive to the reading, even possibly making the images harder to interpret because they're upside down. On top of that, I always liked to keep my decks neat and orderly. On top of THAT, while I'm very much a fan of believing in the fate of things when it comes to the cards (ie, I always take into account cards that drop out of my hands, etc.) the idea that I could get more or less upright or reversed cards depending on how I picked up the deck just seemed too arbitrary to me.

Now, I've always read the cards using proximity and relationships of location to help augment the cards and help me figure out which shades and echoes of the meanings and associations are really the most pertinent. But it was only really recently, reading through a few more books and by extension, reading through a few example readings, that the idea of reversals really seemed all that attractive or useful to me as a prospect. Mostly because they've been very clear to treat it as a subverted or on-it's-head version and/or using it as an indication that the energy of that particular card has been stymied as opposed to giving it what seems like a whole new meaning, which fits my brainspace better. Obviously everything with the tarot has a lot of subjectivity to it, but the explanation I've found more recently just jives better than the stuff I read earlier.

But, while I do want to grow as a reader, those original points still stand to some degree. So I suppose I was wondering how people felt about the concept of reversals in general, how they tend to deal with them in a greater deck sense (do you shuffle them straight up and let fate accidentally reverse them? mix them all up on the table and see what ends up flipped? bridge the cards so that they're practically 50/50 at one point?) and if, say, they'd feel it's disrespectful to the cards or to the messages to, after NOTING that a card is reversed, perhaps manipulating it to see the images more easily.

I'm still sort of warming up to it but I'd love to hear people's thoughts (now that I've rambled for four paragraphs).


I like reversals. I think they add nuance to readings in a way that isn't always possible with just uprights. For example, the upright sun card may represent enlightenment and joy. Usually, no matter where in a spread the card shows up, that meaning will shine through. If it shows up in a "problem" position, maybe the card means that the person is too bright and intense, for example. But if the sun appears reversed in the same problem position, the reader might instead infer that the person has dimmed, or that the person is not as bright as they once were, etc.

I find them useful and quite like them. If you haven't already, I'd recommend Mary K. Greer's book on tarot reversals. (

One of our own members here, Valeria, has also written a (free) book on the subject. I read through it and found that it summarized my own thoughts on reversals quite nicely. I would recommend giving it a read, as well (

As for how I shuffle the cards - I generally do a standard riffle so that orientations do not change, but every so often rotate a pile 180 degrees so that the orientations of some cards are reversed. I like to do it like that so that the number of reversed cards always changes, and which cards end up reversed is unpredictable. But then, I'm never upset to see a reversed card in a reading - I just think of them as changing the nuance of the card meaning.

In particular, I try to remember the "5 D's" as Ms. Greer quoted in her book: "Delay, Diminution, Direct Opposite, Dark Side, and Direction Change."

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on reversals :)


I'm still a novice in reading Tarot, but I've taken it as a helpful tool to read with reversals. For me, it makes me more cognizant of the dualities embedded in the cards, and has made me more sensitive to the multifaceted nature in interpreting symbols. While I don't think too much of the binaries as negative/positive or bad/good, I've been trying to see reversals as a card whose energy/meaning is not fully realized in the context of the question being asked; sort of like tamped-down energy, or as a preventative warning when it comes to asking predictive questions. To me, reversals make the cards more dynamic as a whole when I do readings for myself and others, and challenge me intuitively.

I've been trying to immerse myself in literature and have been reading up on websites, and I think Biddy Tarot has some great approaches to reading with reversals:

As I'm thinking more on this topic, there's actually a friend of mine who has a few circle decks, and when she reads, she's been taking account their positions as well, whether the cards present themselves diagonally or sideways, since the cards are cut as circles (a bit more confusing for me to follow, but it's another interesting approach to Tarot that I've never considered).

That said, I hope you give reading reversals a chance! Best of luck! :D


My feeling has always been that use of reversals increases - if not quite doubles - the interpretive range of a spread. While reversal doesn't change the basic meaning of a card, it alters the "mode of delivery" and the "angle of attack" for the energy. It's more about the querent's experience of the influence than its objective reality. It provides a quick visual "pointer" for accessing the problematic subtleties already present, to a greater or lesser extent, in every card, making it a useful tool to ferret out oblique aspects of a situation that could otherwise take considerably more contemplation (and time) to identify.

ETA: I missed the other question. When I do a thorough randomizing of my decks, I always randomize for reversal as well as order. I do this by randomly dealing out a deck into seven piles, turning about half of those piles upside-down, reassembling the deck in a random order, and then shuffling overhand a few times. I don't riffle. I then expect my clients to shuffle and cut the deck to put their own subconscious "imprint" on the reading.


I am not using reversals in the traditional way anymore because I think the surrounding cards will tell whether the meaning of that card is to be interpreted in the light or shadow patterns. So, since every card has its light and its shadow, I find reversals a little redundant.

After every reading, I organize my cards in upright position before shuffling again for the next client (or myself), meaning that I will not get reversals in the readings. However, if for some reason I still get a reversal, I interpret it only as a subtle warning.


Ironically given that I did a whole section on reversals for the "Tarot Meanings" here on AT, I don't use reversals and never have...with the exception of the Revelations tarot deck (, where using reversals is pretty much the whole point. And yes, I learned to read the cards without ever using them. Why not? (1) I buy decks because of their pretty pictures, and I want to look at them. I also want my sitter to see them (which is why I have the sitter by my side rather than across from me). (2) Seeing these pictures upright, one flowing into the next, gives me a "story" while a reversed card interrupts the story. To some the reversed card might indicate something important in the story, but for me it's like a page in a book upside down. It's just stops me from reading it. (3) Like many, I feel that the spread, the question, the circumstances of the sitter are enough to clue me into the meaning of the card. Reversals are redundant.

I do think reversals can be useful for many readers, as Barleywine said, as "pointers." Especially if they're at that confusing stage: "The card can mean so many do I know which one?" Reversals can be very helpful with that. There is, however, a problem with reversals in that respect. Readers often view cards as being either positive or negative. Just those two. And reversals can reinforce that. But no card in the deck is just good or bad (good when upright, bad when reversed). All cards have multiple meanings that cross the spectrum from light to dark. And a lot of whether that meaning is positive/negative depends on the person and their circumstances. The 9/Pents single woman, for example, could be a devastatingly negative card for someone eager to get married, but perfect happiness for the woman wanting a room of her own, quiet and solitude.

So, if you're asking if you can read (learn to read) tarot with all the nuances and complexities without ever using reversals...then yes. Absolutely. And if you're asking the benefits of using reversals, then I would say that they can help readers to gain a wider range of meaning, and hone their instincts when it comes to assigning meaning. But reversals can trap a reader into seeing the cards even more as just "positive/negative." And it's important for readers to get past seeing cards, even reversals, as fitting into only those two slots. That narrows, rather than expands, the nuances and complexities.


Just to add, if you are an "upright" reader, who feels like upside-down cards need to be turned right-side-up and you just can't read them otherwise--BUT you also feel like you should give reversals a try, the Revelations Deck is the way to go. It's a way for "upright" readers to have their cake and eat it too :D


Personally I really like reversals, and I think some decks read better that way. I recently tried to read Deviant Moon all upright, and the cards came out flat, unclear, and not very accurate - it's as if I could feel its reluctance to cooperate in this way. But I'm going to focus on a few points you make.

The thing is that I, to date, have never read with reversals. It always seemed, to me, to be somewhat disruptive to the reading, even possibly making the images harder to interpret because they're upside down.

If I'm having a hard time reading a card upside down, I just pick it up and look at it upright for a minute to get a grasp on it before returning to its reversed position. I don't think this is disrespectful at all, as you say - I can only see that being the case if you decide you don't like it reversed and decide to read it upright anyway! But in many cases the reversed image can actually be helpful - the example that I read somewhere which sticks with me is the RWS 3 of Swords, which reversed looks like the swords are falling out of the heart, instead of sinking into them. Very telling! A lot of examples are much more subtle, but I do get a very different vibe from reversed cards than upright, and that tends to inform my reading. I recommend studying a card upright and then flipping it and seeing what intuitively comes to mind - don't overthink it. I remember looking at the Hyena card in WU Animal Spirit and thinking at first, "okay, connecting to the shadow self, but not too bad...." and then I flipped it and said "YIKES! Obsession, vengeance, nightmares." I wrote: "I feel like the Cheshire cat has flipped upside down and has blood trickling down his fangs." It was very instinctive, and I couldn't tell you what about that image suddenly made me think obsession and vengeance. But that's what I saw.

Contrary to being disruptive to reading, I find reversals really inform the reading as a whole, especially in large spreads. They are visually disruptive in a way, but this can be a good thing - it's like it's saying "PSST, you need to pay attention to this! Something's going on here!" The most straightforward example I can think of recently was when I did a chakra spread, and the reversed cards were all mapped onto the chakras that were "out of alignment," so to speak. The visual disruption of those cards really made these issues crystal clear.

On top of THAT, while I'm very much a fan of believing in the fate of things when it comes to the cards (ie, I always take into account cards that drop out of my hands, etc.) the idea that I could get more or less upright or reversed cards depending on how I picked up the deck just seemed too arbitrary to me.

I keep track of which side is "up" for my decks and try not to flip the whole thing upside down. Before each reading I shuffle, split the deck in thirds (roughly! if one third only "wants" to be a tiny portion, I let it), flip whichever third feels right, then shuffle until I'm ready to read. I used to flip half, but it's more helpful to me to have most cards upright so that the reversed ones are more meaningful - especially if I get a spread and they're suddenly mostly reversed! I might also flip small portions as I shuffle if it feels right.

edit: That said, it can still take some practice to get used to reversals. There are a lot of ways to read them, and it can be difficult to strike a balance between consistency and following your intuition. But I think it's worth at least trying.


I don't usually use reversals. If I do, though, I make sure the cards are all upright and then turn about a third of the deck around upside down, then shuffle really well. I put them all upright again after the reading.

If a card does come out reversed when I wasn't purposely using reversed cards, I read it reversed.

Right now I'm using the Motherpeace a lot, which is a round deck, so reversals and everything in between show up on their own. I really like this about the deck, and I read them as waxing or waning energies. With a normal deck, though, I don't usually read any reversals except with Motherpeace. I use a specific topic/question from the sitter and then use positional names to include cards to be read reversed.