If you’ve been involved with reading tarot for any length of time, you might have been led to believe that tarot reversals are some kind of dogmatic rule.
Before we begin, I’m definitely not against anyone using reversals if they prefer. A good tarot reader needs to develop their own system and style.
I began reading tarot cards in 2003. I started reading professionally a few years after that.
I have used reversals in my readings in the past; but over the years, as my own style evolved, I stopped doing so. I haven’t read tarot reversals in at least 10 years.
I DID try an experiment last year where I did a few readings using them again, just to see how I felt about it all these years later - but it still didn’t call to me.
I would have needed to feel it was a much superior approach to my own in order to start using them.
5 Reasons Why I Don’t Use Tarot Reversals
1. It’s Contrived & Mechanical
It feels too mechanical to me. How should I shuffle them so that reversed cards are happening naturally? Just a few in the deck? Or approximately 50/50? Again, it seems too contrived and artificial.
I already categorize the cards in my deck as being positive, neutral or negative in their upright position. This is a natural and simple way to add an extra layer of interpretation to my readings.
For example The Sun is positive, The Devil is negative, court cards are neutral.
2. Imagery & Intuitive/Psychic Hits
Part of my reading style includes getting messages from imagery that jumps out at me. This happens spontaneously - and in a way that is relevant to the question asked by myself or my client.
When using tarot reversals, the pictures and images in the cards are upside down; it’s more difficult for me to have these spontaneous intuitive or psychic hits.
I realize there can still be reversed imagery that has meaning, depending upon the deck. For example, in the Rider Waite Smith, the man in the 10 of Wands could appear to be vaulting upwards with those wands. But overall, it's a rare occurrence with reversals.
Not to mention that in some decks, there is specific imagery that was placed there intentionally to convey a deeper meaning.
I definitely prefer viewing the artwork right side up!
3. Tarot Reversals Not Used Until Late 18th Century
From what I understand from my tarot history studies, reversed cards weren’t used for a long time. It’s a relatively recent thing from the late 18th century. The first deck that gave the reader the option for reversals was the Grand Etteilla Tarot Deck from the 1780’s.
The cards from Etteilla’s deck had the meaning printed on top of each card with the reversed meaning printed on the bottom.
But when I look at my Tarot de Marseilles deck, the minor arcana cards are mostly symmetrical - similar to modern playing cards. See the 7 of Wands below; they are reversed from each other.
7 of Wands from the CBD Tarot de Marseilles by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov. The images were reversed from one another when I took the photo.
The TDM decks are based upon the first tarot decks that came out in Italy sometime in the 15th century, with the standard version coming out sometime around 1748 by the French card manufacturer Grimaud.
This history lesson isn’t the most powerful reason I don’t use tarot reversals - but because of the other 4 reasons I’ve listed, it adds support to my overall philosophy regarding reversed cards.
According to tarot researchers such as Robert M. Place, the major arcana weren’t even in the same standard order in the distant past. It’s helpful that we now have a fairly standardized sequence - although the Strength and Justice cards are swapped in some systems like in the Thoth tarot deck.
4. It’s Too Ambiguous And Confusing!
My style of tarot reading is based somewhat upon a European cartomancy and predictive style. Not that I believe the future is carved in stone. I definitely don’t! But I have fairly precise meanings for the cards because I want precision in my readings - I don't want meanings to overlap.
I also want my subconscious mind to be free to roam and receive other information - not be bogged down and struggling with basic meanings.
With reversed tarot cards, how do I know for sure how to interpret it? Is the energy exactly the opposite of right side up? For example, is The Devil now a good guy?
Or, is the energy of the card blocked in some way; like The Sun having clouds covering the sky?
Some tarot authors who advocate for reading reversals say that a reversal can also mean the same as upright, but with a muffled and limited meaning.
That lack of precision is not for me.
Not only that, but I can already get that information with less ambiguity from surrounding cards.
5. Flow Lines, Dignities and Associations
This brings me to my final, but also most important reason for not using tarot reversals.
I use other systems for bringing out the nuance that is inherent in tarot cards and tarot readings.
I read lines. In particular, 3 card lines. Even when I use the Celtic Cross, I look at lines. When examining a specific card in a layout, it's often very helpful to look at the previous card and the following card to gain insight.
The Celtic Cross is time tested. A lot of people seem to dismiss this classic spread these days, but it’s one of my all time faves!
To me, these lines flow and tell a story. They also support or hinder each other in various ways. A simple example would be the Ace of Wands, Ace of Cups and The Empress together. This combination would certainly have me considering the possibility of a pregnancy - although it would also depend greatly upon the question asked and the context.
In larger spreads, I scan the cards for whether they are positive, negative or neutral. There are also suits to notice, the number of major arcana and even repeated numbers. If there’s a higher proportion of any of them, according to the odds, it stands out to me.
I’ve also explored playing with astrological associations and dignities over the years. I’m still not sure if it adds any accuracy or depth to my readings; plus I’m usually of the opinion that Tarot and Astrology aren’t necessarily associated in any way. But I’m open to that as a possible new layer to bring in to my readings. We’ll see.
In my system of reading tarot, all cards must reflect back to the question. I do my very best to stay disciplined with this. However, in my experience, there have been times when another issue on the client's mind comes through!
What If There Are Reversed Tarot Cards By “Accident?”
This almost never happens to me when I shuffle the cards, because I have so much practice at shuffling.
But when I do tarot readings in person, the client will sometimes mix up the cards with reversals because they’re nervous, or not used to shuffling the slightly larger cards like we have in tarot.
When that happens, I’ll notice it, file it in the back of my mind and turn the card right side up. Ultimately, I’ll stick to my system of reading the cards.
So far, it’s never been necessary to include any kind of reversed meaning in order to “blow the client’s mind” - or facilitate a transformative and meaningful tarot reading for them.
Takeaway: It's Not The Wand, It's The Wizard
So as you can see, there is really no substantial reason to use tarot reversals (or astrology, or qabalah for that matter). You can if you want! But you don’t have to. A specific technique will not make you a better tarot reader. That's like saying a guitarist who uses a certain technique is better than one who doesn’t use that particular approach. It’s down to personal taste and style.
However, if you are drawn to this technique, then by all means, use it. Just make sure that you practice and then practice some more to make it your own!
How do you feel about using tarot reverals? Do you use them and find they add more meaning in your readings? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.