Imagine this scenario, you’ve gotten yourself all psyched up for a tarot reading - after all, it’s one that’s all about understanding your potential and what you can give the world. You’ve done all your homework; you’re asking the right questions, you’ve cleared your mind to accept the messages that you will be given.
You wait with anticipation as you flip over the card - and suddenly, your hopes are dashed. It’s the 10 of swords, a card with particularly disturbing imagery. Now you’re supposed to make the connection between what your greatest value is, and one of the most traditionally negative cards in the deck. How do even interpret this? Alongside being just confusing, you may find that your hopes and expectations have been dashed.
A Note on Tarot & Mental Health
Depending on where you are in life, tarot may not be something you should explore on your own. Just like everything that involves going into your psyche, sometimes a helpful companion and advocate is needed. As an example, if you find yourself triggered or particularly sensitive to some of these cards right now, it can help if you work through the images with a licensed therapist (this is not meant to be an insult, or an implication that you're crazy, it's an acknowledgement that some cards are difficult to digest, and always will be - there should be no stigma to getting help). Access to mental health is a whole other topic, and I know that this can be hard to find.
Many people go to tarot to find stability in unstable times. If you're doing a reading to find reassurance, the cards may not always give you what you need - they may in fact push you in the opposite direction (often as encouragement to face your fears and grow). But if you're not ready, you don't need to force yourself to be ready. Knowing your limitations is power, not weakness.
The cards will always be there for you when you need it. Take your time, step away if you need to. The rest of this article will be dedicated on exploring negative cards when you're ready.
Negative Tarot Cards: A Common Fear
One frustration that I consistently see others have is getting traditionally negative tarot cards in their tarot reading. Nobody likes getting these cards; they are much less welcomed than the happy sun or star tarot card. And if you’re getting a reading with the preconceived (and we think, harmful) notion that tarot is predictive and foretells ones destiny - these cards can cause a mild panic attack.
I’ll preface this article with what I tell everyone that asks me about negative tarot cards. It’s not about the card that you draw, it’s about how you interpret the cards that reveal your relationship with the world around you. Although it can always be tempting, don’t place blame on the cards that you draw; learn to take the initiative and try and learn from them. Like with life, we can’t choose what happens to us, nor the cards that we are dealt; we can only learn how to make the best of that draw. If you delve deeper into each tarot card, you’ll learn that each one has its own lesson. How we live our lives is determined not by what happens to us, but by the stories that we choose to tell ourselves.
Finally, I do see some people deal with negative cards by redrawing until they find something they like. I would try and discourage you from doing that. There is no way to erase negativity from our lives, to do so would destroy the balance, and wipe our lives of meaning. Challenges bring us chances to expand and grow, and turn bitterness into beauty.
In This Post: The Seventh Sphere Marseille
Full color plastic Tarot de Marseille deck with rose gold details. Companion app included.
Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards
The following list of interpretations below is not meant to be exhaustive, but offer some insight into how you can transform traditionally negative interpretations into meanings that are much less scary.
If there was ever a perfect example of changing ones perspective about a tarot card meaning, this would be it. Of course, this card can mean the ending of a cycle and loss (it almost never means actual death, despite what the movies tell you), but it also can mean transformation and the crossover to a new beginning. It’s best to think about this card as “crossing a threshold” of sorts; you can choose to understand it as an ending, but sometimes, it can also bring you freedom and a blank slate to start over.
Read More About the Death Tarot Card Meaning
What is going through transition in my life? What thresholds am I crossing? Where can I start over?
If you’ve been raised in a traditionally religious community, getting this card can be frightening. Even in the tarot, the Devil card is associated with addiction and enslavement - especially the material world. Personally, the devil for me has always been a symbol of open rebellion, challenging traditions (especially patriarchal ones), and of pleasure. For some reason or another, some religious traditions have a habit of devaluing the material world (which includes nature!) in favor of the spiritual and celestial, but our earthly plane is also one that is meant to be treasured.
Read More About the Devil Tarot Card Meaning
What dark side of myself needs to be integrated? What assumptions do I have about pleasure, sex and enjoyment can I set aside?
The image in the tower tarot card is not one that is easy to ingest, which is why it is commonly associated with disaster. But the card also is generally associated with a foundational change. It is the breaking of illusions, which though is never easy to experience, can also mean a chance to shift towards a better future. You can consider this card an awakening to a higher truth.
Read More About the Tower Tarot Card Meaning
Where in my life am I experiencing a breakthrough? What illusions have been shattered?
Three of Swords
While your first impression of this card may make you jump immediately to heartbreak and grief, you can also pause and consider that this card has the suit of swords. Cups are usually associated with emotion, while swords are associated with thought and ideas. Whatever it is that is causing us pain, if we think about that situation logically, perhaps we understand that we needed to feel this pain. Truth is also associated with the suit of swords, and sometimes, it can hurt. We may need to cut away things that no longer serve us, but that can be painful.
Read More About the Three of Swords Tarot Card Meaning
What painful choice do I need to make? What is painful to lose but must be faced for me to grow?
Nine of Swords
The nine of swords is commonly associated with anxiety and fear; something is keeping you up at night that you don’t want to deal with. For me however, this card is also a card that reminds me that whatever I am fearing is never as bad as the picture I paint in my mind. You can take this card as a nudge to have courage and peek into what you are fearing the most.
Read More About the Nine of Swords Tarot Card Meaning
What is the worst that can happen? And what is most likely to happen? How does fear and anxiety change the way I act or block my progress and growth?
Ten of Swords
The image associated with this card is perhaps one of the most scary to appear in a reading - and this is probably one of the scariest cards I could draw for myself personally, out of all the ones listed here. This card is associated with violence, backstabbing and betrayal - one that you won’t see coming. However, it also means that there are no more secrets. What was hidden is now revealed, and the worst of it is over. Though the truth is painful, you can now confront it head on.
Read More About the Ten of Swords Tarot Card Meaning
What have I confronted? Was it as awful as I thought it would be? How can I progress towards healing from this?
Five of Pentacles
Financial troubles are always something that are really hard to deal with - let alone even talk about, meaning this card can have a strong effect on a tarot reading. In general, it can also symbolize hardships and adversity. However, this card also reminds us that if we are resourceful enough, we can find a way out. The next card in the pentacles series is the 6 of pentacles, which implies getting help from outside sources. Oftentimes what binds us is our inability to express our needs, and the shame of suffering.
Read More About the Five of Pentacles Tarot Card Meaning
Where can I find help? How can I overcome my shame to find community?
Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards Infographic