Reading Reversed Cards: "THE DIS-MIS SYStem"
by Michael Star

Teach Yourself Tarot series 4 in
STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine (c)1998.

"Teach Yourself Tarot" Series 4
How to Read Reversed Cards using "THE DIS-MIS SYStem".

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Reading Reversed Tarot Cards
Using "THE DIS-MIS SYStem"

"Teach Yourself Tarot" Series 4

(c)1998 by Michael Star

This page is copyrighted and may not be published, distributed, or sold without the permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Email Michael at: michael@astrologyzine.com
Internet Web Site: STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine http://www.AstrologyZine.com

Michael uses the popular Rider deck designed by Arthur Edward Waite in his classes, and highly recommends it to beginners as their FIRST deck, because it has many images on ALL 78 cards which help you see and remember the meanings. It is inexpensive and available at most metaphysical book stores.

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Reading Reversed Cards
in the Tarot Deck

Reversed or Upright?

First, let's define what is meant by reversed cards. A card is considered "reversed" when it appears with the image reversed from the point of view of the card reader. In other words, if you are reading the Tarot cards for a client and the numbers on a card appear upside-down, it is a "reversed" card. "Upright" is the term used to describe a card which appears in the normal fashion.

A Turn for Reverse

Not all card readers interpret a card differently when it appears reversed top-to-bottom, or upside-down. But if you are going to consider reversed cards as having a different meaning than upright cards, then be sure you turn the cards over in a way that does not change the way the client chose the card. The best way to do this is to be consistent in turning a card over the way you would turn the page in a book - from right to left or left to right, but not top to bottom or bottom to top.

Consistency Creates Clarity

If you prefer to turn them top to bottom, then be consistent in always turning the cards that way. Even though this does reverse the cards from their original position, if you know in advance you are going to be doing it this way - and do it consistently - the cards will be randomized and selected in a way which gets them into the appropriate position to send the message the client needs to understand.

In other words, if your intent is clear that you will be turning over the Tarot cards and reversing them as you do so, then the cards will somehow get reversed during the shuffling so that you will turn them back to the way they were "supposed" to appear. If you are giving the client the option to reverse the cards while they are still face-down and unseen, it will still work out if you are consistent in how you turn the cards.

It's a Mystery

This may sound kind of "mystical" or even "irrational" at first - but remember that we are using the Tarot because it has proven to give insights which rational thinking cannot provide. How the Tarot works is still a mystery, but somehow it does work. If we can trust it enough to be turning to the Tarot to get some useful information or advice, then I think we can trust that no matter how we actually conduct the Tarot reading, the appropriate message will come through. I cannot prove this to you, but you can try it and see for yourself.

Double Meanings

It's okay to ignore the difference between upright and reversed cards if you wish, and just interpret all the cards as if they were upright. Some readers turn all the cards upright even when they come out upside down. But "reverse" meanings can double the possible interpretations of the cards, and double the Tarot's effectiveness in giving clearer insight!


The system I use, which I have named "THE DIS/MIS SYS", is not a typical method of reading reversed cards, but has the great advantage of being a logical and easy-to-remember SYStem - so you can synthesize most reversed meanings by yourself when you know the card's key themes and how to apply the system to re-interpret them.

THE = THEmes:

THE stands for the key THEmes or principles the card symbolises, when used positively (or normally, if the theme is a negative theme). It is a sign of the need to USE the themes more positively.

Remember that each card can have several, even many, slightly different meanings which are what I call "variations on the theme". What I am referring to as a "theme" is one of the key themes which is not just a variation on another theme, but a unique concept or principle which is illustrated in some way within the image on the Tarot card. You can apply THE DIS/MIS SYS to any key theme, or to any of the variations on that theme.

DIS = DISuse:

DIS represents the key themes NOT being fully used or developed; a DIS-ability to DIScern or utilise the principle. Often a reversed Tarot card is a sign that the principle or action the card represents is being suppressed or limited.

For example, a reversed Sun card often means the person is not allowing himself to enjoy life to the fullest, or not allowing his creativity to be expressed to the fullest - as implied in the cliche "hiding your Light under a basket". Think of the phrase "self-limiting" when you see a positive card in the reversed position.

MIS = MISuse:

MIS represents the key themes being MISused or MIShandled through being MISguided or MIStaken (or maybe MISchievous or MISerable or MISanthropic, or a MIScreant?)

Think of the phrases "selfish use" and "self-defeating" when you see a positive card in the reversed position. For example, a reversed Strength card can mean that "too much" self-control in a certain situation may keep the person from achieving the desired goal. Or it could also mean the person is acting with "too much" assertiveness or aggression (too little self-control) in a certain situation - using his Will to dominate or force another in hopes of gaining his own selfish desires. The reversed card is likely a warning that this behaviour will backfire and prove to be self-defeating in the end.

DIS and MIS with NEGATIVE Themes

DISuse of a negative theme (e.g. The Devil card) may mean stopping, or trying to minimize, the attitudes and/or actions derived from the key principles; but it more likely means a DISinclination to notice situations created by a negative principle (or a tendency to DISmiss it) - and thus becoming unable to make necessary changes in attitudes or actions to avoid DIScovering the DIScomforting or DISastrous "hard way" what lessons could have been DIScerned and learned the easy way.

The Devil card reversed often means the person is resisting the temptation that has been enslaving, obsessing, or controlling him - and this sometimes simply means he is trying to quit smoking or go on a diet! I interpret a reversed Devil as resisting or setting oneself free from whatever is "pulling one's strings". Addictions, manipulation by fear or guilt, and tempting with sex or pleasure are usually the tools of the Devil - who has no real power over anyone, but his tricks and temptations that lure them into self-entrapment. (In truth, what we personify as The Devil is really a part of our own mind that keeps tempting us to choose things which are not the best for us.)

The reversed Tower card is more likely to mean the person is not even seeing the truth of the situation, or seeing it and refusing to acknowledge it - being caught up in an illusion or his self-delusion or wishful thinking. The reversed Death card may be saying that the person is not letting go of something that needs to go, or not letting something change that needs to be changed. Like the saying of "the Borg" in the Star Trek television show: "Resistance is futile." If you see a reversed Death card, start "letting go" the easy way, or you are likely to see it go the hard way.

With both these "scary" cards, the situation is likely to become more difficult or traumatic if the Truth is not seen and acted upon now, and the reversed Tower or Death card is usually a warning that some crisis is about to be created if you do not change your present attitude and start seeing things as they really are.

MISusing a positive OR negative theme may occasionally mean the exact opposite of the normal meaning; but do not assume it always means the opposite. Usually it means perverting the key principles into attitudes and actions which are selfish and self-serving...or self-punishing and self-defeating. A reversed Magician card could signify someone using their cleverness and skill to con people out of their money - and that often gets the con man some time in prison.


One Key Theme of The Fool card is risking. Positive or normal use of "risking" is "taking a calculated risk". DISuse might mean NOT taking chances at all. MISuse might mean taking foolish risks.

"Risking" takes Faith: DISuse can mean "lack of faith". MISuse can mean "blind faith" or "foolish faith". When someone has a misplaced faith in their own invulnerability, they take foolish chances and are called "foolhardy".

"Risking" also implies a "trust" in something unseen (like "a benevolent Universe") - something that will always work to make things turn out for your greater good (which may not look too good in the short term, but will be seen as "good for you" in the long run when you look back at it later). I like this saying a friend of mine uses to describe this kind of faith in an unseen power that will take care of those who trust in it: "It's like jumping off a cliff bare-ass naked without a parachute." In a symbolic sense, The Fool is like an innocent (a pessimist might say "naive") child who has not yet become aware that things might turn out badly (because they never have), so he always trusts that his choices will lead to things turning out well for him (this is the "Innocent Fool" meaning when it is the zero card; but as the 22nd and final card it is a "Wise Fool" who knows he can trust the Universe to support his greater good if he aligns himself with its laws, even though less enlightened folk may call him a fool for believing this).

MISuse of this "trust" can mean one thinks that the Universe will support him in fulfilling his own selfish desires at the expense of others (it won't, not in the long run); so he makes "foolish" choices such as participating in one of those "get rich quick" scams you see on the Internet, or thinking that he can take advantage of others without "paying the price" later on. This MISuse example is based on "MISplaced" trust or "MISunderstood" trust (that one can trust the Universe to favour one of us over another, when in the long run it really won't).

DISuse of this "trust" can mean that one does not sufficiently trust in the Universe to support his greater good, so he sees himself as a potential "victim" whose choices will always lead to unwanted consequences. Or he tries to blame others (or God) for the negative consequences of his own foolish choices. Or he is simply afraid to choose at all, believing that he cannot trust himself to make the choices which will create the best consequences for him. These DISuse examples are all based on "DIStrust" or "too little" trust (that the Universe always seeks provide the greater good for all concerned).

Triple Translations of Tarot Cards

Now that we are assuming a reversed card signifies either a DISuse or a MISuse of any of the card's normal themes, how do we know which way to interpret a particular card which appears reversed in a Tarot reading? It could mean "DIS" - or it could mean "MIS" - and there is quite a difference in what we would say to the client, depending on which way we choose to interpret the meaning.

The big difference is what makes it easy to know which way to read the reversed card. Just let an idea come to mind, and if it feels right then go with that one. If disuse feels appropriate, then misuse will probably not be the appropriate interpretation. They are so far apart in meaning that you should be able to intuitively know if "too much" or "too little" applies to the situation. Once you learn how to read the cards this way, you will find that each card's theme can now be interpreted in three ways:

THE stands for the normal use of the theme,
DIS stands for disuse of the theme, and
MIS stands for misuse of the theme.

These three acronymns describe three sets of meanings for each of the themes of each card - and thus this SYStem can triple the number of meanings you can get from one card!

Little, or A Lot

I find it helps to first tell the client what the "normal" theme of the card would be, and then talk about what it means when there is "too little" or "too much" of that thing being used in the situation. Try this a few times, using your friends as willing clients for a practice reading, and soon you will find this comes naturally. And it tends to get you thinking in new ways, and discovering new ways to look at the issues which concern the client. Looking at the issues from opposite sides can give you some useful insights you might otherwise miss!

Coins and cards may have two sides;
but one Truth within each lies.

A Final Example

The Strength card in the Tarot has several key themes, but let's say you are reading this card in its reversed position and get the feeling it has something to do with "courage" in the context of the reading. That is one of the "normal" themes or concepts for the Strength card. Now, ask yourself what it would be like if there were "too much" courage being applied in the situation. In that case, the card might be saying it is inappropriate to take steps to confront whatever is requiring an act of courage. It might mean the client is (or has been) acting too aggressively to accomplish what is desired.

Then, ask yourself what it would be like if there were "too little" courage being demonstrated in the same situation. It might mean the reversed card is saying that the client (or someone else who is interacting with the client) is not being brave enough to face a challenge, or is avoiding a conflict when confrontation might be more appropriate in that situation. It might mean the client is (or has been) too passive when he would be better off acting more aggressively in achieving his goals.

Courage is only one of the key themes of the Strength card. Try applying THE DIS/MIS SYS to these other concepts illustrated in the Strength card's image: self-control of one's animal instincts (such as anger or lust); inner strength (such as "intestinal fortitude"); or gentle strength (such as "calm courage" - or "gentling" a horse as opposed to "breaking" a horse).

Try It, You'll Like It

I hope you'll try THE DIS/MIS SYStem in your Tarot card readings and see if it can open up a wider range of meanings for your cards, and provide some new insights about the meanings you already know. By using this system, I have found that I can use just the 22 Major Arcana cards for many readings, and yet get highly detailed and useful interpretations from even a three-card reading. With, say, five key themes for each of the 22 cards and at least three ways to interpret each of those 110 themes, you can have at least 330 different ideas being expressed in just those 22 cards!

And then there are all the variations on each theme - which makes the Tarot capable of "speaking" with a VERY large "vocabulary" to translate the client's subconscious or super-conscious thoughts into plain language. The nice thing about working with key themes and THE DIS/MIS SYStem is that you don't have to memorize all those meanings - you can work them out yourself by seeing the themes in the card images, and applying the system to add many new variations on those themes.

Michael Star

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Author and Address

First published MAY 11 1998. Last Update July 21 2008 21:00 EDT.

(c)1996-2009 Michael Star (World-wide rights reserved.)
81 Lakeshore East #51, Mississauga ON, Canada L5G 4S7

Email Michael at: michael@astrologyzine.com

Internet Web Site: STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine http://www.AstrologyZine.com

This entire page is copyrighted (c)1996 by the author, Michael Star. Permission is freely granted to retrieve and store this material for personal use only. It may not be published, distributed, or sold in any media without the express permission of the author, Michael Star. All rights reserved.

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