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Dealing with Negative Tarot Cards - The Scariest Tarot Cards and What to Do

By Tina Gong


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.


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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.

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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.


Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards - Death Tarot Card

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

Ask yourself:

What is going through transition in my life? What thresholds am I crossing? Where can I start over?

The Devil

Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards - Devil Tarot Card

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

Ask yourself:

What dark side of myself needs to be integrated? What assumptions do I have about pleasure, sex and enjoyment can I set aside?

The Tower

Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards - Tower Tarot Card

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

Ask yourself:

Where in my life am I experiencing a breakthrough? What illusions have been shattered?

Three of Swords

Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards - Three of Swords Tarot Card

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

Ask yourself:

What painful choice do I need to make? What is painful to lose but must be faced for me to grow?

Nine of Swords

Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards - Nine of Swords Tarot Card

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

Ask yourself:

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

Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards - Ten of Swords Tarot Card

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

Ask yourself:

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

Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards - Five of Pentacles Tarot Card

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

Ask yourself:

Where can I find help? How can I overcome my shame to find community?

Reframing Negative and Scary Tarot Cards Infographic

Reframing Negative Tarot Cards and Scary Tarot Cards - Full Infographic

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  • Sarah
    I recently did a reading for myself. I asked why I was seeing 333 everywhere and what I needed to know from it. I pulled ten of swords and death. That made me super nervous, so of course I went to Google. A lot of people were saying it was a strong indicator of physical death in my life. Please help! This has ruined my week lol and my anxiety is through the roof
  • Jason
    I have went around a corner when it comes to the Death card, what I used to consider one of the most iconic and powerful symbols of doom. Last year, twice when inquiring about the future, I pulled Death. No joke. It freaked me out so badly that I put my cards away for months. As the year progressed, I obviously did not die, but instead I went thru some major life changes. I got out of a bad relationship. I got out of a terrible financial situation. I left a hobby that I was not enjoying anymore, but felt like I was too deep in to just drop. Well, drop it I did, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I believe this was the “death” that the cards foretold. Ever since then, my relationship with a card that used to chill me to the very core has changed, completely. Look beyond the scare factor and ‘face value’ of a card, and really step back and think about a card before you stress yourself out with knee-jerk assumptions. Step away from it, and come back later if you need to.
  • Meg
    I recently got death, tower, and seven of swords all reversed. I’m kinda freaking out because the reading was about my health.
  • Tina
    @Annie Shay – I wouldn’t say that you’re doomed at all! I would say that maybe you’re going through some intense situations right now, that all have the potential to deeply change your approach to life. Whether you deal with them well or have a lot of difficulty is mostly dependent on whether you choose to to accept or embrace foundational changes (Death, Tower) or deny them and cling to negative patterns (Devil). I really can’t say more without knowing the details of your spread. I believe in you! Take care of yourself during this time.
  • Annie Shay
    What does it mean if I got The Devil, Death, and The Tower in all my readings? Am I just doomed?

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