Should you use reversals in Tarot?

Ahh, reversals. A perennial topic among Tarot nerds. As someone new to Tarot you might be wondering: should you use reversals in Tarot or no?

Is one method or another better? No.

Reversals are largely a matter of personal preference.

But to help you decide which method is right for you, let me first dispel some common myths about reversals.

Top 3 Myths About Reversals

1. Reversals provide more nuance and depth

Proponents of reversals sometimes say make generalized statements like this that are certainly false. They say that using reversals doubles or triples the number of meanings inherent to Tarot and thus using reversals better enables you to cover the full spectrum of human experience.

But this is completely wrong: the amount of depth in a Tarot card is relative to the skills of the reader. 

A good, experienced Tarot reader will be able to find infinite depth within any Tarot card, reversed or not.

Reversing your cards does not automatically entail more nuanced readings. Being a person of nuance leads to nuanced readings.

2. If you don’t use reversals then you are missing the “negative” aspect of human life

This might be the most common myth I hear.

Proponents of reversals will say things like, “If you only use upright cards then you’ll miss out on all the dark aspects of the human experience.”

Whenever I hear this, I’m always like: have you looked at the suit of swords? The whole suite is one big mess of anxiety!

Well, I’m only half-kidding.

But the point is that there is plenty of “negativity” in upright cards if you know where to look.

Furthermore, it is a myth unto its own that any card is inherently “positive” or “negative” and thus in need of being “reversed” to bring out its positive or negative meaning.

The sooner you get away from the idea that some cards are inherently “bad” (I’m looking at you 9 of swords), the better you will be at reading Tarot.

My personal opinion is that the best Tarot readings are ones where you walk away feeling empowered.

I’m not talking about being a Pollyanna, where literally everything is sunshine and rainbows. I’m all about uncovering harsh truths and facing reality in an uncompromising fashion. But, for me, empowerment is about realizing that harsh truth and walking away with a plan of how to tackle it, how to overcome it, or, at least, how to better cope with that truth.

So while seeing the 9 of swords might make you anxious, a good Tarot reader will be able to give you appropriate life wisdom in order to deal with that anxiety in a healthy way. A bad Tarot reader will just say “Your life sucks! Now that’ll be $20.”

Similarly, if you get a “positive” card like the 9 of cups, then a good reader should caution you that life is cyclical, and often happiness is temporary.

So within every card is the potential for good and bad, negative and positive.

With that said, if you want to learn reversals, there is nothing wrong with that either. Using them can definitely add a degree of complexity to your shuffling and reading mechanics, and having double the “meanings” can indeed give nuance to your reading (which does not thereby imply using only uprights has less nuance.)

But just know that reversals are by no means necessary for addressing the dark aspects of human existence.

3. By using reversals, we enable a symmetry in the positivity vs the negativity of the Tarot

It is a pure myth that we should expect some kind of perfect symmetry in how much negativity or positivity is distributed in the Tarot. That is to say, there is nothing about human life that entails some kind of 50/50 split between the good and the bad in the Tarot.

The degree to which positivity and negativity are distributed in the symbolism of the Tarot is entirely relative to the reader themselves, since it is a fact of Tarot that meanings are both relative to the interpreter and constantly evolving across time.

Why you might want to read with reversals

So with these myths out of the way, is there any reason to read with reversals? Absolutely!

Like I said at the beginning of the post, it’s entirely a matter of personal preference. But there are many reasons why you might read with reversals

  • You can use reversals to represent blocked energy
  • You can use reversals to represent a warning or caution. Thus, the reversals are not something necessarily to be feared, but offer a message of protection that you can use in order to better tackle the problems you might be facing
  • You can use reversals as a simply shuffle mechanism for getting “yes” or “no” answers (only if you know how to shuffle reversals properly)
  • You can use reversals to explore different possibilities or alternative paths beyond just the upright message
  • You can use reversals as a way to enhance or boost the inherent energy of the card. In this way, it’s not really the “opposite” of the upright energy but merely a more intense version of it
  • You can use reversals to explore the Jungian concept of the shadow self
  • You can use reversals to explore the darker areas of your unconscious, generally speaking
  • You can use reversals to explore the idea of internal vs external
  • You can use reversals to challenge your creative muscles because, generally speaking, reading reversals is a more advanced technique than simply using uprights
  • Sometimes the deck creators explicitly put in a “reversed meaning” for each card and you might want to use them

Why you might want to stick with just upright cards

If you are new to Tarot, my advice would be: stick with just doing uprights. It’s just easier!

Since Tarot newbies are almost always overwhelmed with the idea of just learning how to read 78 different cards, throwing in reversals just adds a layer of complexity that is unnecessary.

With that said, it is definitely not true that advanced readers always read with reversals. There are plenty of intermediate-advanced readers (myself included) who have tried reversals, and it just wasn’t for them.

Again, personal preference! Different strokes for different folks.

Simplicity aside, there are other reasons why one might want to not read with reversals:

  • It’s easier to appreciate the artwork
  • You can actually approximate reversals by allowing “degrees” in your readings e.g. a card titled at a 10-degree angle is different from a card tilted at a 30-degree angle, etc.
  • Unless you are skilled in the art of nuance, using reversals can often make your readings unnecessarily negative
    • For example, what if you got all 5 cards in a 5 card spread reversed? It’s almost TOO negative to be even meaningful
    • A lot of Tarot newbies get easily scared by “negativity” in Tarot readings and their Egos are unable to cope with this, and thus they are liable to reject the Tarot altogether rather than take seriously the idea that there might be something wrong in their life or in their personality. Using reversals can exacerbate this phenomenon.
  • There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing the silver living in everything and optimism can be its own kind of magic. If reading upright helps facilitate your optimism, then go for it!

In conclusion, there is no right or wrong reason why reading with reversals is better than not. But there are some persistent myths that I hoped to have dispelled. I also provided some reasons for and against using reversals. With this knowledge, hopefully you can make an informed decision!

Do you read with reversals or no? Let me know in the comments!

Related Links

Should you buy your own Tarot cards?

How to Learn Tarot

This is the Best Tarot Deck for Beginners

To Reverse or Not to Reverse

How to Shuffle Tarot Cards

Is Tarot Reading Hard?


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