Rider-Waite Tarot Reversals: Explanation and Reference Guide

Updated on October 5, 2018
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A professional tarot reader with 18 years' experience, I have a resource-rich website and tarot reading service.

If there’s one thing guaranteed to confuse beginning tarot readers, it’s reversed cards or ‘tarot reversals’. What are reversed (Rx) cards? They are simply cards that appear to be upside down from your angle of vision.

Before we go on any further, it’s important to understand that you don’t have to use reversed cards at all. I only incorporate them occasionally. For the most part, I choose to work with upright cards only. The reason is this: as you become familiar with the tarot, it becomes obvious that the 78 upright cards are quite capable of getting the message across. Another reason is that the longer you use the cards, you begin to realize that each one has a range of interpretations that span the negative to positive scale. An experienced reader can discern where on the scale the card fits according to the seeker’s question, circumstances, the position of the card in the spread and the other cards around it.

Having said all that, using Rxs can definitely add a deeper dimension to a reading. Mary Greer, in her book, The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals says, “In truth, reversals are ways to see through to the ‘other side’. They allow us to go beyond the limits of the known.” She goes on to say that, “…they provide an opportunity to reach beyond logic and lead us into the realm of potentials and underlying causes where everything is connected and magic happens.” I love that.

Rider-Waite, reversed cards
Rider-Waite, reversed cards

Reversals Are Not Always Opposites

Do remember that Rx card meanings are not generally the opposite of the upright meanings. If you thought they were, then sorry, that would be too easy. In some circumstances the opposite meaning may work, in most, you have to refer back to that pesky negative to positive scale. Reversals commonly express themselves as a lessening or increase of the energy of the upright card. For example, the meaning of the exuberant Ace of Wands might be significantly decreased if the card is upside down. The inspiration and impetus is still there but the impact is lessened, or more temporary, or easy to miss.

“Rule number one is: Know the basic meanings for each card ranging from the most helpful to the most problematic possibilities.”

— Mary K. Greer

The Negative to Positive Scale of Card Interpretations

Let’s take an example to help you understand this scale of interpretation which is present in every card whether it is is reversed or upright. We’ll use the Empress.

  • Famine
  • Smothering love
  • Self-indulgence, vanity
  • Excessive demands
  • Helicopter parenting
  • Infertility
  • Female health problems
  • Extravagance
  • Seductress
  • Gossip
  • Sociability
  • Charm, courtesy
  • Female member of the family
  • Fertility
  • Growth
  • Wealth
  • Passion
  • Motherhood
  • Love

You can see how the negative can morph into a positive interpretation. It’s your job, given all the variables, to work out where on the scale the card belongs. And of course, those keywords could lead to a hundred other possibilities. Trust your intuition.

Reversed Rider-Waite Empress
Reversed Rider-Waite Empress

How to Incorporate Upside-Down Tarot Cards

My personal preference is to make sure the deck is well shuffled with every card in the same direction. I then cut about a quarter of the deck or even less, turn it around, and reshuffle thoroughly. I don’t agree with cutting the deck in half, thus giving each card a 50:50 chance of coming out reversed. To me a reversed card is significant, so having half the deck reversed just wouldn’t work for me.

The Advantages of Using Tarot Reversals

A reversed card adds a little shock to the reading. It will pull you up short and make you pay attention to it. It will add extra nuance to the reading and perhaps help you dig out a more accurate interpretation than if it had appeared upright. It is easy to disregard the more negative connotations of a card if you only see the positives.

The Disadvantages of Reversals

Similar to the above, it’s easy to only focus on the negative aspects of a card if it appears upside-down. You have to keep in mind that scale of negative to positive. If the majority of the cards appear Rx, then to me, that’s not particularly useful unless the situation is so dire that only negative cards apply. I have been known to turn the cards back to upright, particularly if I think I might have been holding the deck the ‘wrong’ way. However, I keep in mind those negative possibilities.

I’m giving you the extreme negative meanings in the lists below, but you should soften your interpretations by mentally moving along the scale. So for instance, in the Magician below, I mentioned ‘narcissism’, well if you pull back a little from that harsh interpretation then you have someone with narcissistic tendencies, or someone who is somewhat selfish and uncaring of their partner’s needs; they may not be an out and out bad person.

When to Avoid Using Reversed Cards

Don’t use reversals when doing one card readings. There’s no point. There are enough negative cards in the deck to provide the message required. I always feel that a Rx requires context, i.e. has other cards around it to provide balance, therefore interpreting a reversed card out of context is not a good idea.

Reference Guide to Rider-Waite Tarot Reversals

Here is a quick guide to some of the possible interpretations of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. I say 'possible', because in tarot nothing is precise. Your own intuition will help you expand on the written meanings, upright or reversed. Learn to trust it. When something pops into your head, unbidden, it will be significant. Even if it seems way off.

The upright, positive interpretations: Quick Reference to the Rider-Waite Tarot Meanings.

Reversed Major Arcana
Reversed Major Arcana

Major Arcana Cards Reversed

  • Fool -- Foolishness. Making a stupid choice. Disregarding good advice. Getting in with a bad crowd.
  • Magician -- Deception, trickery, cunning. Scammer. Personality disorders such as narcissism. Lack of empathy.
  • High Priestess -- Emerging from depression. Extreme shyness or over-confidence, denying intuition, predatory sexual behavior, superficiality, disclosure of secrets.
  • Empress -- Famine, drought. Neglected land. Smother-love, living through your children. Vanity, empty nest syndrome, feeling useless, infidelity, unloving, unsupportive. Fertility issues. Failing business. Problems with adoption or step-parenting.
  • Emperor -- Nature controlled. Urban sprawl and degeneration. Authoritarian, tyrant, dictator, domination, rigid, unyielding, fatherhood problems, loss of control, obstruction, misuse of power.
  • Hierophant -- Rejection of the establishment. A mentor with ulterior motives. Expulsion, excommunication. Sexual misdemeanors. Inappropriate behavior. Rejecting one’s faith.
  • Lovers -- Inappropriate relationship. Immaturity, lack of love, possessiveness, infatuation/stalking. Lust rather than love. Bad choice, indecision, temptation, weakness, lack of trust, separation. Endless obsessive search for non-existent soul-mate.
  • Chariot -- Ambition but at a cost. Personal life derailed. Travel problems. Stress, quarrels, accidents, delays. Failed negotiation.
  • Strength -- Mental problems. Too overbearing or too weak. Not knowing when to stop. Government vs citizens. Cruelty. Disregarding the well-being of others in order to achieve your desire.
  • Hermit -- Fear of being alone. Social withdrawal, paranoia, identity crisis, embittered. Worry about aging. Fear of having to depend on others.
  • Wheel of Fortune -- Change. Good and bad luck. Destiny, chaos, uncertainty.
  • Justice -- Cause and effect. Poetic justice, unfairness, disputes, legal problems. Bigotry, bias, intolerance. Liver damage.
  • Hanged Man -- Ready to go but being held back. Hidden motives or agenda. Unfinished work or projects. About to move on from a friendship or relationship.
  • Death -- Attempting to avoid an inevitable end. Chronic illness. Extreme depression or pessimism. Coming back from the dead (NDE). Obsession with death. Accident (narrowly escaping death).
  • Temperance -- Out of balance, non-cooperation, conflicting ideas/positions. Emotional extremes. Procrastination. Digestive problems. Mind/body health out of whack.
  • Devil -- Extremes of the upright meaning: Life-threatening addiction, psychopathic personality disorder. Abuse (mental and physical). Escape, release, moving forward, taking control of your problems and your life.
  • Tower -- Weakened energy of upright card. Irritations, things going wrong, setbacks, pressure, stress. Accidents, cuts, burns, surgery. Need to visit the doctor. Can't see the way through all the problems.
  • Star -- Low self-esteem. Lack of clarity. Futility. Not feeling the love around you. Disappointment.
  • Moon -- Resistance to anything spiritual. Self-delusion. Closed mind. Mental health issues, and things like fibromyalgia and urinary tract problems.
  • Sun -- Weakened energy of upright card. Still positive but less so. Success is mediocre. Happiness on a lower scale.
  • Judgment -- Problematic transitions. Resistance, rejection, alienation. Over critical and judgmental.
  • World -- Slightly weakened energy of upright card so generally positive. Completion of projects delayed. Wanting to move forward but held back. Overdue birth. Issues with weight loss. Having to wait for test results.

The Suit of Wands--reversed cards
The Suit of Wands--reversed cards

Minor Arcana Cards: Reversed Meanings

The Suit of Wands

  • Ace of Wands -- Weakened energy of upright meaning. Inappropriate attraction/affair. Lack of growth and expansion.
  • Two of Wands -- Unexpected turn of events. A new perspective on an old problem. Reluctance, self-imposed restriction.
  • Three of Wands -- Feeling blocked. Unable to get projects started or completed. Delayed results. Investment anxiety. Distrust.
  • Four of Wands -- Not much different from upright. Celebration, reunions, break from hard work. Building of foundations, cementing of relationships. Sale of property.
  • Five of Wands -- Refusing to engage in hostility or conflict. Settling disputes. Inner conflicts, beset by inner demons.
  • Six of Wands -- Treachery, betrayal. Short-lived victory. Pride before a fall. Embarrassment. Public humiliation.
  • Seven of Wands -- Putting up barriers, refusing to negotiate. Obstinate. Biased.
  • Eight of Wands -- Unforeseen, difficult event. Shock. Family or business problems. Think of this reversal as the Tower’s baby brother.
  • Nine of Wands -- Overwhelmed. Ready to give up. Illness, nagging pain. Can’t see the the wood for the trees.
  • Ten of Wands -- Hard labor; little results. Letting go of a goal or dream. Facing a difficult reality.
  • Page of Wands -- Childishness, tantrums. Lacking concentration and determination. Bad news or a reprimand in the form of a message.
  • Knight of Wands -- A rogue, a philanderer, a user. A brawler. A cheater. Over-enthusiasm, impatience, bad temper. Prone to violence.
  • Queen of Wands -- The other woman. A jealous, temperamental mistress. A rival in love or work. Promiscuity, extravagance. Fever, infections.
  • King of Wands -- Arrogant leader or boss. Inflated ego. Misuse of power. Almighty displays of anger. Heart problems or possible stroke.

The tarot Cups: reversed/upside-down cards
The tarot Cups: reversed/upside-down cards

The Suit of Cups

  • Ace of Cups -- Love seeping away. Setting emotional boundaries. Lost or unrequited love. Change in a relationship from romantic to routine. Possible drinking problem.
  • Two of Cups -- Difficulty making a romantic connection. Obstacles to love. Finding yourself in the friend-zone. Losing contact. Separation.
  • Three of Cups -- Over-indulgence. Bored with partying. Disenchanted with close friends. Lack of support or cooperation.
  • Four of Cups -- Ready to overcome depression. Looking for solutions. Preparing for a change. Restlessness. Mild insomnia. Tiredness, apathy. Psychic experiences.
  • Five of Cups -- Healing rifts. Lessening of grief. Help from friends and loved ones. Acceptance.
  • Six of Cups -- Preoccupation with the past or future; failure to live in the present. Problems with a child or young person.
  • Seven of Cups -- Surmounting feelings of doubt and confusion. Making a proactive choice. Trusting your feelings.
  • Eight of Cups -- Coming home. The prodigal returns. Embraced and accepted by family. Facing up to an emotional dilemma.
  • Nine of Cups -- Weakened energy of upright card. Contentment may be reduced, or satisfaction fleeting. Letting go of material concerns. Overcoming mistakes. Overindulgence of food and drink.
  • Ten of Cups -- Relationship or family difficulties. Completion hard to reach. Break up or breakdown of a formerly happy home.
  • Page of Cups -- Teen experiencing emotional distress. Possible gender confusion. Someone afraid of love, or emotional involvement. Young person not fitting in with family. An emotional and possibly upsetting message.
  • Knight of Cups -- Deceitful in love. Unfaithfulness. Obsession with another. LGBT issues or celebration. Coming out.
  • Queen of Cups -- A delicate woman. Perhaps with health issues and/or emotional problems. Someone who needs physical and emotional support. Withdrawal of love from a partner.
  • King of Cups -- A man isolated emotionally. Possible alcoholic or drug addict. Depression and self pity causes relationship difficulties. Unable to express personal feelings.

The suit of Swords from the Rider-Waite Tarot
The suit of Swords from the Rider-Waite Tarot

The Suit of Swords

  • Ace of Swords -- Restraint, patience. Writer’s block. Conception. Violation. Surgery.
  • Two of Swords -- Torn in two directions. Victim of lies, betrayal, duplicity. Ready to make a decision.
  • Three of Swords -- Fast recovery after break-up or hiding the true extent of your pain.
  • Four of Swords -- Unwanted isolation. Insomnia. Lack of self-care. Strange dreams; out of body experience.
  • Five of Swords -- Weakened or magnified energy of the upright card. Funeral. Mourning for situations or people.
  • Six of Swords -- Wanting to leave but unable. Travel delays or cancellations. Floods, storms, power outages.
  • Seven of Swords -- Shame after trying to steal or deceive. Returning that which doesn’t belong to you. Community service. Giving back or paying forward.
  • Eight of Swords -- A new vision of the future. Able to see a way forward. Hard but rewarding work.
  • Nine of Swords -- Recovery from depression. Open to new ideas. Ready to explore possibilities.
  • Ten of Swords -- Rebirth, recovery, relief. The end was not as bad as it seemed. New horizons.
  • Page of Swords -- Slanderous, salacious gossip. Difficult childhood. Personality disorders.
  • Knight of Swords -- Fanatic. Fundamentalist. Delusional. Cruelty. Bad news arrives by text or email.
  • Queen of Swords -- Manipulative, self-centered woman. Narrow-mindedness, bigotry, intolerance.
  • King of Swords -- Dangerous, ill-intentioned man. Controlling and manipulative. Sadistic, perverse, inhumane.

Pentacles, reversed
Pentacles, reversed

The Suit of Pentacles

  • Ace of Pentacles -- Exaggerated energy of upright card. Treasure, wealth, fortune. Prosperity without happiness. Obsessed with making money. Corruption. Easy come, easy go.
  • Two of Pentacles -- Paperwork/to-do list overload; too much to deal with. Data crashes. Learning difficulties. Student struggles with making ends meet, meeting deadlines, understanding the work.
  • Three of Pentacles -- Job or career related problems. Disputes with coworkers or boss. Mistakes, mediocrity, poor quality, shortcuts. Job shortages.
  • Four of Pentacles —Resisting letting go of resources. Uneasiness outside of comfort zone. Blockages both mental and actual. Writer’s block. Hindrances and delays. Late payment.
  • Five of Pentacles -- A turning point. Slight improvement in situation. Access to help and support. Or things go from bad to worse. The unthinkable happens. Loss of everything.
  • Six of Pentacles -- Taking advantage. Claiming under false pretenses. Greed, jealousy, disputes over money. Insurance refusing to pay. Lack of insurance. Unpaid debts or paying off a debt.
  • Seven of Pentacles -- Unemployment, lack of skills. Feeling let down by the system. Dissatisfaction with pay. Lack of ambition. Lazy and tardy.
  • Eight of Pentacles -- Stuck in a dead-end job. Working on a factory line. Undervalued skills. Over-qualified for the job. Boredom and tedium at work and life in general.
  • Nine of Pentacles -- Goals attained but not as satisfying as expected. Trapped in a gilded cage. Looking for a way out. Needing a challenge. Lack of exercise. Lack of company.
  • Ten of Pentacles -- Rejecting family. Disputes over inheritance or property. Family quarrels. Feeling like an outsider. Elderly relative needing care. Equity and savings devalued or lost. Gambling losses. Material insecurity.
  • Page of Pentacles -- Lost interest in school or college. Underlying and hidden issues. Hating your choice of course. Preoccupied with material possessions and appearance. Stress and exhaustion caused by overwork.
  • Knight of Pentacles -- Workaholic or its opposite; work-shy and lazy. Obsession with one person or topic. Weight issues, lack of exercise, chronic fatigue. Bore. Socially inept.
  • Queen of Pentacles -- Extremely house-proud, or extremely slovenly. Possessions mean more than people. Hoarder, or fixated on designer goods. Helicopter parenting. More concerned with children’s attainments than their well-being. Doubt, mistrust.
  • King of Pentacles -- Exploitive, mean, or ineffective employer. Misuse of power and money. Abuse of people for gain or personal gratification. Corruption. Overeating, indigestion, gout, rheumatism. Careless of the wellbeing of others. Unloved by family.

Please feel free to use these lists for your personal readings. You can ask me anything regarding the content article, but I can’t do free readings or interpret your cards for you. That’s your job. I'd really love to hear your interpretations of individual cards and add them to mine.

Questions & Answers

© 2018 Bev G

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    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 

      10 days ago from India

      Very informative and helpful hub...thanks for sharing!

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