When it comes to Tarot, there can be a lot of fear around certain Tarot cards. Even the most seasoned Tarot readers sometimes feel a sense of panic or unease where the more difficult archetypes come forward in Tarot readings.
The Tower, Death, The Devil, Judgement, the 8 of Cups, the 3 of Swords, the 10 of Wands, the 5 of Pentacles — since the Major and Minor Arcana of the Tarot explore the full spectrum of human experience and emotion, there are bound to be some challenges and scary archetypes.
And while it can be difficult to work with these cards individually, having them come up in pairs can be overwhelming. How do we even begin to unpack these more complex and difficult meanings? What do we do when facing “negative” Tarot cards that might scare us?
And when a negative Tarot card pairing does come forward, how do we find constructive advice and meaning in that Tarot reading?
Fortunately, the Tarot gives its wisdom freely, offering so many lessons to help us find truth and power even in the most challenging archetypes. The truth is that even when a Tarot card comes out that scares you, there is still a lot of wisdom to be found within — we might have to dig a little bit deeper to find it.
Below, we’ll explore several pairings that include some of the “worst” cards to see in a reading and will also look more closely at what is perhaps the most dreaded card in the entire deck: The Tower.
6 “Negative” Tarot Pairings Explained
6 of Swords & 8 of Cups
Both of these Tarot cards are about goodbyes. Intentional moments when we step away from the path that we’ve been on and give ourselves permission to imagine and pursue a new kind of journey.
The 6 of Swords speaks of the mental fortitude that it takes to walk away from something harmful, of the vision and intention that we often need to leave a bad situation behind. Similarly, the 8 of Cups urges us to examine how a relationship, dream, or community is broken beyond repair and to show ourselves love and grace by leaving it behind.
While one Tarot card speaks of the mind while the other speaks of the heart, these Tarot cards as a pairing ask us to carefully consider what is harming us, to look at the truth in a situation, and to create opportunities for freedom.
What are you ready to leave behind? What can you pursue that’s healthy, fulfilling, brings you a real sense of joy and personal power?
Make sure to also read: 6 “Scary” Tarot Cards That Are Actually Positive
Hermit & 4 of Swords
Each of these Tarot cards speaks of retreat but in different ways.
The Hermit is a Tarot card of intention and awareness, asking us to step out of our regular routines and turn our focus inward. And while we may be distancing ourselves from others, this is not a time for rest, not precisely. Instead, it’s a calling for deep internal exploration and examination, asking us to look within and pay attention to what is driving us, what we fear, what we long for.
The 4 of Swords, on the other hand, is a direct and clear call to stop movement and take a break, leaving work behind for a time and honoring our most powerful and basic needs.
As a combination, these cards encourage thoughtful, intentional distance from daily life, asking us to balance healing and recovery with self-awareness.
How can you pay attention to what has been coming forward for you? What do your mind and body need to recuperate?
5 of Cups & 10 of Swords
Tarot cards of heavy emotion and victimhood, the 5 of Cups and 10 of Swords, both ask us to examine our grief and to pay attention to where it is coming from.
The 5 of Cups is an authentic, valid reaction to difficult circumstances, the consequence of heartbreak or loss, and a call to sit in mourning for a time — but it also reminds us that all is not lost, that we still have community and support that can help us find our footing when we are ready to leave our pain behind and begin moving forward once again.
On the other hand, the 10 of Swords often serves as a call-out, acknowledging that things are hard but also asking us to consider how we have been refusing to take responsibility for our circumstances.
Are things really as bad as you think? Or are you just unwilling to do the work to fix things for yourself?
This “negative” Tarot pairing makes space for real grief as well as self-pity, asking us to examine our emotions and consider where we’re too hard on ourselves and where we may need to pick ourselves up and stop wallowing.
What options have you been overlooking? How can you make progress instead of choosing to stay stuck?
The Tower in Tarot Readings
When it comes to the Tower, it’s important to remember that this archetype of chaotic destruction is not always a world-ending force of nature that leaves us completely wrecked and without hope. This Tarot card often gets blown out of proportion in readings, seen only as a harmful act of the Universe rather than what it really is: the final crack in a broken foundation, the crumbling of something that has long been in ruin.
We may not have been able to clearly see the faults and flaws before (or, we may have been deliberately avoiding acknowledging them). Still, in retrospect, the Tower is almost always a wake-up call, a shift in direction, a chance to leave something damaged behind and find freedom in its place.
If the Tower comes up in a Tarot reading, give yourself space to breathe and process, look clearly at where you are and evaluate what hasn’t been working.
What have you been clinging to, unwilling to release? Why are you so afraid to let go? How could the rapid change of the Tower help you find something new, something better, on the other side?
The Tower & 3 of Swords
This “negative” Tarot pairing is one of necessity, and potentially painful, truths.
The Tower usually reveals something that has already been broken, and in the same way, the 3 of Swords forces us to recognize something that we’ve perhaps been blind to.
Where have you been in denial, unwilling to look too closely at a situation or pattern, a relationship, a revelation? What have you been afraid to face?
When the Tower and the Three of Swords appear together, it’s an urging to pay close attention to where you are and what you’re doing.
What are you putting your faith in? And how can acknowledging and sitting with specific truths help you move forward with grace, intention, and deeper awareness?
You might also be interested in: This is Why Your Tarot Reading Makes No Sense
The Tower & Death
Two of the biggest Major Arcana cards that focus on the topic of endings, Death and the Tower, both speak to leaving something behind.
But while Death is an inevitable, natural end, a conclusion that has been a long time coming, the Tower often feels more sudden, unexpected, dramatic.
Both Tarot cards can be painful, both can be difficult to process, and yet both also make space for deep, true liberation, creating opportunities for rebirth and evolution.
Have you been stuck, living in the past, or in a very specific narrative? How have you been holding yourself back, afraid to step into a new path or shift towards a new goal? When something breaks apart or falls to the side, what does it make room for?
The Tower & 10 of Wands
While the Tower feels like a catastrophe, a sudden breaking apart of foundations that we once believed to be solid and sturdy, the 10 of Wands is the result of endlessly taking responsibility for ideas, projects, and tasks.
Each of these Tarot cards is each overwhelming in their own way, but the 10 of Wands asks us why we keep picking up new burdens when we can already barely keep up with all that we have. In combination, the Tower and the 10 of Wands ask us to stop trying to push through to the next big goal or accomplishment and instead give ourselves time to breathe and process, to be realistic about where we are, and all that is happening.
How have your choices led you to this point? What can you release that will ultimately make things easier? How can you prioritize your comfort and choose to move forward in a way that makes space for rest and awareness?
Navigating “Negative” Tarot Pairings
The most important thing to remember when reading Tarot is to keep an open mind and to allow the Tarot cards to speak freely.
If a negative Tarot card pairing emerges in your spread, take your time in considering possible definitions or meanings. Scary cards can be hard to see clearly, to understand, yet in working with these archetypes we can find deeper layers of magic and power within both the tarot and ourselves.
What do these difficult cards have to teach us?
Related article: How to Effectively Formulate Questions for Tarot
This post features images from the Modern Witch Tarot.