Upside Down Tarot: How Reversals Add Depth to Your Reading, by Joan Bunning
Red Wheel Weiser, 9781578638420, 176 pages, July 2024

When I saw the book Upside Down Tarot: How Reversals Add Depth to Your Reading by Joan Bunning, I knew I just had to have it. I’ve been reading tarot for about twenty years and was taught to “ignore” reversals by my first two teachers. What could this book teach me?  How could these principles strengthen my own understanding of tarot and bring a new light to my readings? I brought these questions to my review of this book. 

Bunning graduated from Cornell with a degree in social psychology and worked as a computer programmer and bookstore manager before becoming an author and editor. She has written five other books on tarot, including The Big Book of Tarot, which I also have in my library. In 1995, Bunning created a website to teach tarot basics:  Through the website, she supports thousands of people as they learn tarot. Bunning currently lives in Virginia with her husband.

This book is divided into two parts: “Part One: The Hidden Meaning of Reversals” and “Part Two: Reverse Card Descriptions”.

In her Introduction, Bunning carefully explains a little about the 78 cards in tarot, some of her experiences reading tarot, and her approach to reversed cards. She discusses the “energies” in reverse cards. She explains that these energies can be “absent, early phase or late phase.”1 She goes on to explain:

“Upright cards stand for energies that are strong and well developed. They have a clear, active presence…. Reverse cards stand for energies that are absent, weak or undeveloped…. They are not clear and obvious…. An energy does not become its opposite when reversed. A card’s essential nature stays the same no matter what its orientation.”2

This makes so much sense to me!  For years, any teacher I encountered who taught reversals said that a reverse card meant the opposite of the upright card, and I knew on a deep level that this was just not true! Bunning says that when we understand the “energy phase,”3 we can better interpret or intuit the meaning of a reversed card within a spread.

The best clue to identifying the energy phase will come from an awareness of timing. A reversed card is in the early phase if you haven’t really experienced its energy  yet. It may be new or tied to some upcoming event; a reverse card is late if you’ve already experienced its energy. It has been active in the situation in a way you can easily recognize but is now past. In the next section, she shares examples of both of these phases. 

Bunning also discusses “absent” energy.  “Its level is so low that, to all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist. . . . The energy may be so new that you can’t perceive it yet.”4 She goes on to share that she is also including information on this “absent” energy for each reversed card, as well. 

Next, Bunning goes into more detail regarding early phase and late phase, including questions to ask to figure out in which phase your reversed card may be found.

“Knowing that energy tends to repeat helps you appreciate the subtle shifts that occur at the reversed card stages.”5

Finally, the author provides seven concrete steps to take to evaluate a reversed card. She follows the description of the steps with an example of a question about a problem at work. Bunning ends this discussion with stating, “These steps offer one way to discover the meaning of a card’s energy. The benefit of a strategy is that it helps you avoid floundering during interpretation.”6  I appreciate that she also adds a note about how this system may seem “analytical.”  However, she adds a reminder that the steps will become routine as you allow your intuition to guide you.

The next section includes two pages on each card in the Major Arcana. There are also black and white drawings of each card for reference. The deck featured is a standard Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  However, the book will complement readings for any deck that uses similar symbology or archetypes. Next, Bunning features commentary on each card in the Minor Arcana.  Some cards include two pages and others include only one page of notes.

Note that each write-up also includes the Upright meanings for each card. From this description, Bunning pulls one to four key words or key phrases, listing them along with the Absent, Early, and Late meanings for each card.  

To give the book a test drive, I devised a spread for learning more about a job offer that a friend of mine was awaiting (She texted me earlier in the day to inquire about this situation). I drew 3 cards for a spread I use often called “Mind, Body, Spirit”.  I drew all 3 cards in reversed placement!  (As my husband always says, “You can’t make up this stuff!”) The cards landed in this order for my spread:

  • Mind:  The Magician – Reversed
  • Body: 4 of Cups – Reversed
  • Spirit: 10 of Wands Reversed

Following along with Bunning’s notes for each card, I created the following reading for my friend:

Your mind wants to “do” something, but you can’t take action right now.  It’s time to withdraw and focus on your inner life. No need to struggle, because at this point, the struggle is with yourself.  Allow your Spirit to guide you and take this time to rest and recharge.

I did a FaceTime with my friend, and she was smiling as I shared the message.  She thanked me for confirming what she was feeling about being patient and waiting on the job offer.

It was interesting to me how the right key words seemed to leap off the page and I knew how to combine the notes for one cohesive reading. 

Bunning’s writing is very easy to read and the book is easy to navigate. After reviewing the introduction and section on the concepts of the three phases of the energy of the cards, I was equipped to use the data for informing my readings. While I initially felt that there was a lot to cover for each card, my real-life experience showed me that when I used my intuition with the notes, the answers came easily.

The book is printed in black and white, including the card graphics. I feel that by using the black and white drawings, the card images take a secondary role and help the reader to remember the cards, rather than overshadow them. I like the fact that Bunning used visuals of Rider-Waite-Smith, which is one of the more widely used tarot decks. 

I recommend Upside Down Tarot for tarot readers of all experience levels.  A new reader will really benefit from the information to support any of their readings that contain reversals. Bunning explains reversals in an easy-to-understand style that takes a lot of the drama out of the equation. And for the more seasoned reader, the notes will add another layer to the guidance that they share. I highly recommend this book for tarot lovers and look forward to using it for my client readings.


  1. page vii
  2. page 4-5
  3. page 7
  4. page 7
  5. page 10
  6. page 15