I’m here to answer this commonly asked about reading tarot cards:
When it comes to four-sided, or square-shaped tarot cards, how do you tell which direction the card is facing with these new left and right directions?
Traditional tarot cards are read upright and reversed.
An upright card is in its original position. The picture is oriented. The top is at the top and the bottom is at the bottom. Conversely, a “reversed/upside-down” card is just that: upside-down.
A card is reversed when it’s upside down as you look at it.
Things get a little trickier when there are two more directions available to the cards, as is the case with an oddly shaped, or in this case a square Tarot deck.
To tell if a card is pointed right, you may wonder, is it pointed right when the top of the card is pointed right?
Or, is it pointed right when the card looks as though the figure or image would be looking toward the right if you stood the card up?
Think of the top of the card as the point of an arrow, and the bottom as the tail.
If the top of the card is on the right as you look at it laying down flat, then the card is indicating the right direction.
If the top of the card is on the left as you look at it laying down flat, then the card is indicating the left direction.
At this point, you'd like to know how to interpret the direction of a right or left-facing card.
An upright card is taken at face value.
Sort of how you'd imagine an honest conversation or a clean, unobstructed view. The classical meaning of the card, or even the initial gut reaction to the card should be regarded as that card's highest truth.
A reversed Tarot card, or one that lands with the figure or image looking upside down, can indicate the need to read further between the lines, potential not yet reached, a breakdown in integrity, even denial or dissonance.
A rectangular card only lands upright or upside-down/reversed in a reading. A square card doesn't feel reversed in the same way that a rectangular card does.
There are two ways to look at a square card: the pendulum method and the compass method.
The pendulum method looks at the square card as you would a rectangular card, with the upright meaning being clear and the reversed meaning being more nuanced.
In this method, when a card points right, it leans towards the masculine side of the body, indicating forward motion, action, giving, extroversion, and yang energy.
When a card points left, it indicates the feminine side of the body and thus emotions, receiving, sensitivity, consideration, rest, and yin energy.
For example, if a card were to land pointing right, I could assume that I'm leaning into the energy of that card with a lot of energy, or perhaps I'm devoting a lot of myself to the topic that card is bringing up, and that can help me to see where I'm placing a bit too much of my energy.
If a card were to fall pointing left in the pendulum method, I might try to notice where I am hesitating, taking on too much, feeling fear or lack of confidence. There are many ways to see feminine energy in an image or interpretation. It can also mean that I'm "almost there" or that I'm working towards that energy.
The second method for reading square Tarot cards is called the Compass Method.
In the compass method, to know if this method works best for you, look at the card like it's a compass pointing North, East, South, or West. There are seasonal and elemental associations that match these directions. Each culture and every witch is different in their interpretations of the elements and their associations to the directions and seasons.
Here is how I (personally) orient myself:
Lunar phase: Dark/new moon
Lunar phase: First quarter
Lunar phase: Full moon
Lunar phase: Last Quarter
When reading a Tarot card that falls pointing in any of these directions, if you are using the compass method, you can apply the energies or clues that you see in these associations to the energy of the image.
(Note: Many witches see these elements differently, so if you feel misaligned with these associations, feel free to make your own!)
Which method to choose?
If you're used to reading rectangular Tarot cards, the pendulum method might come the most easily to you. By simply applying the yin/yang energy to the left and right pointing cards, you can evolve your readings without having to work in a dramatically different way.
If you are tired of seeing reversed cards in your readings, try reading them like compasses instead. A reversed card that gives full moon, summer, and fiery energy is easy to apply to a reading, and relieves reversed cards of any initial negativity.
If you're just getting started, try just working with the cards without taking their orientation into account. When a card lands, turn it upright, so you can see it more clearly. When you feel more comfortable, then try either the compass or pendulum method to add extra layers to the meaning you discover in the cards.
Remember, use your imagination to listen for the answers.
Your imagination is a portal to the divine within you. Look at the card first. Look to see what details stand out to you, and ask them what they mean. I recommend using a journal to capture these thoughts. There is something magical about the way words flow out of us an onto the page.
Many blessings in all of your readings!
Check out my two square Tarot decks: