It’s a heart-sinking feeling when, dealing out a tarot spread, one or more apparently negative cards show up. Yet, we tarot readers really need to understand and accept that ALL cards can be positive and ALL cards can be negative. It depends completely on context. What does this mean? Read on to find out what to do when bad cards turn up in a tarot reading.
What Are the Negative Cards?
There are certain cards that most readers don’t want to see. They broadly include Death, the Tower, several of the Swords and possibly the Hanged Man. Even when the reader is not bothered by the cards, she knows her client will experience a heart-stopping moment if she sees skeletal Death trampling across a corpse-strewn battlefield, or the Hanged Man, dangling as still as a lifeless pendulum from his branch. We can include the heartbreaking Five of Cups as well — it’s not a card we readers welcome.
Initial Reaction to Bad Tarot Cards
Your first instinct when a tranche of negative cards turn up in a tarot reading is to hastily shuffle them back into the deck, like they never appeared. Do it fast enough and the universe might not notice. We all feel this way at times, especially when doing a one-card reading. Imagine, you are dealing out cards as the entertainment at a party and a young lady asks you where her new relationship is headed. You smile, as you shuffle, and turn over the Ten of Swords. Ugh. How do you get past that?
Turning the Negative to Positive
Be careful here. It’s easy to put a positive spin on a negative card, but if the meaning is plain, as in the example above, you sometimes have to tell the message as it is. If the young lady tells you she’s just got over a bad relationship the Ten of Swords means that it got as bad as it could get, but now the sun is rising on a new improved future. If that’s not the case then the card clearly refers to the fact that her new relationship is going nowhere. So you’d tell her this as gently as possible, reminding her that if this was meant to be, then it’s better that it happens sooner rather than later. That the distant sunrise shows that life will improve and she has a whole lifetime to find her perfect love… and so on.
Negative Tarot Cards: Good and Bad
Let’s take a look at the cards we all assume to be downers and see how it is possible to transform a negative into a positive. And by that, we don’t mean change the interpretation at all, but to explain why those bad cards may well be a good thing.
The Hanged Man
It looks bad to your client, but when you point out that the Hanged Man is hanging from his foot, not his neck, and that he is clearly alive and relaxed, they can also relax. It’s a shame, in a way that this card has been named in this way because it is simply a message to let problems go, to not push for results, to stop trying so hard. Go with the flow.
The Death card in a tarot reading generally means a transformation. One thing ends; another begins. It could well point to an actual death, but unless there are other cards to support this, then it’s a rarity. In many cases the death of someone is a release from pain, so once the client understands that his grief is the other person’s relief from a debilitating condition or an unhappy life, they begin to come to terms with it. Strangely, often they can assimilate this from a tarot reader better than from a friend or a counselor. If it’s ‘written in the cards’ it must be true.
Generally Death points towards an inevitable, inexorable change. It may seem to be an unwanted change: losing your job, the end of a relationship, the death of a pet. Yet all these seemingly negative events can open doors to a new freedom, a new opportunity to choose. The tarot Death card indicates a chance to heal and grow. It’s up to you as a tarot consultant to offer hope without making false or wild promises.
The Tower is another card that causes a sharp intake of breath. Its message of doom clearly shown by destruction and disaster as the building burns and figures fall to their death on the rocks below. It’s enough to make anyone shudder with fear.
Yet the Tower is another transformational card. It shows that energies have become so stagnant, so toxic, so negative that the only way for change to happen is to blast through the situation with speed and force. It’s bad. It seems like the end of the world. Until, months, maybe years later, the seeker realizes it was the best thing that could have happened. It changed their perspective completely. It made them take a different path. They coped. They dealt with it and came out of it a better person. The Tower event is the catalyst that causes change.
The Devil is an amazing card. It holds so much meaning, and it completely depends on the client’s situation and outlook. The Devil shows how someone keeps repeating the same cycles of behavior or thinking. That they are willing participants in their own negativity, that they are addicted to drama, passion, sex, food, alcohol, or drugs. They may be stuck in a toxic relationship, job, home, or other situation. They are going round in circles, saying they are looking for a way out, but too afraid to step outside of their comfort zone.
The Devil is a wake-up call, to make the changes they yearn for, but are secretly hoping will happen without any action on their part. Or perhaps they enjoy the drama? Or they allow their addiction to define who they are because what would they be without it? As a reader, you can take this card as a message to tell the truth. Be as blunt as necessary to get the meaning across to your client. It’s very likely, that if the card relates directly to them, they aren’t listening anyway.
The Suit of Swords
Several cards in the suit of Swords appear to be very negative. We’ll cover them briefly, but may return to them in a future post.
You have to remember that Swords are all about what goes on in our heads, the words we speak and hear. They are about communication first and foremost. Communication with others and with our deeper self.
This means that the Three of Swords, commonly interpreted as heartbreak, may mean no such thing. The Three of Swords is about misunderstanding and miscommunication between two or more people. That’s it. Of course it can lead to heartbreak, but it can lead to other things too. Remember, also, that tarot has a sense of humor–the Three of Swords might show up prior to a dental appointment or minor surgery.
The Five of Swords is an intellectual challenge. All the fives are challenges of one sort or another. It means that the client needs to get their head around a situation. It might be uncomfortable but there are truths that must be faced.
The Seven of Swords can be negative in that the client may be undermined, both practically and otherwise, but mostly it means taking their courage by the scruff, and their fears by the throat, and making their own decisions.
The Eight of Swords is a little like the Devil, in that the seeker hold her fate in her own hands. That she can choose to remain trapped or she can choose to walk.
The Nine of Swords is about negative, repetitive thinking. Usually anxiety about something that may never happen.
The Ten of Swords indicates that the worst has happened and the only way is up.
The Five of Cups
The Five of Cups is a difficult card. Again it is a challenge, but this time of the emotional kind. It is a card of permission. That it’s okay to feel pain and grief, but remaining in that pain to the exclusion of everything else, is not an option. That sooner or later the seeker must pick up his pain and face life again, step by small step.
So we hope that alleviates any fear when bad cards turn up in a tarot reading. That there is both black and white, good and bad, positive and negative in every card.