When you’re in the middle of a tarot reading and you pull one of the negative cards, it can feel like a terrible omen. You might begin to worry about bad news or scary changes on their way in your life.
But really, we’re here today to take a look at the so-called 10 “bad cards” in tarot and why they’re not really as terrifying as you might think. (I promise!)
A Note About Interpretation of Tarot Cards
It’s important to note that every tarot reader is different and uses their intuition to determine additional meanings of cards. What might be consider bad or negative in one context might be a good sign in another depending on the context and surrounding cards!
Any good tarot reader will tell you there’s always a silver lining to any any card. Make sure you find someone who doesn’t make you spiral in order to hook you so you keep coming back. Try to find a reader that is realistic about the positives and negatives about any card and reminds you that we all have free will. How your life turns out is only determined by you!
Nicholas Ashbaugh, one of my favorite tarot readers on YouTube, says:
“I really don’t see tarot cards as bad or good, they’re just messages, and it’s what you do with the messages that matter most.”
So here are the 10 most feared tarot cards as well as the ways you can find the good aspects to any card you draw.
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The 10 Worst Tarot Cards to Draw in Order
1. The Death Card
For obvious reasons, the Death card is often considered the worst tarot card of them all. It has gotten a bad wrap in pop culture for predicting literal death. (It hardly ever means this, unless the person is terminally ill or perhaps 100 years old!)
In tarot, the Death card is card number 13 of the Major Arcana. It’s represented by the Grim Reaper on horseback, riding through a town, a dead person beneath him. Others around him are crying and making offers to Death, but there is a tiny child who reveres Death.
The white lotus on the flag the Grim Reaper carries represents purity and perseverance, as well as new beginnings. In addition, the sun is rising over the mountains in the background, symbolizing a new dawn that is better than what came before.
Hopefully, by the imagery on the card, you can begin to tell that the Death card is not about actual death.
The Death card symbolizes the end of a cycle and subsequent new beginning. A transformation.
Here are some challenging events the Death card could point to:
- a breakup / ending of a relationship
- quitting a job
- moving house
But the Death tarot card could also point to some really great things, including:
- a fresh start
- releasing negative patterns
- spiritual rebirth
- bittersweet endings like graduating high school, college, or retirement
Hopefully you can see that when you take a new look at the Death card, it can give clear good news and good things coming your way.
READ MORE: The Best 20 Tarot Decks for Beginners
2. The Tower Card
If Death is the worst card, then the most feared card of the tarot is the Tower. The Tower card represents sudden change, often perceived in a bad way like chaos or a sudden stroke of bad luck.
On the Tower tarot card, the imagery is quite violent. The tower or structure is being struck by a flash of lightning, and people are diving from the top of the tower to escape the flames that are pouring from the windows.
While it feels like this card can certainly predict bad luck or massive changes, the Tower experience is one of rebuilding. The Tower card tells you that something in your life was built on a shaky foundation in the first place–perhaps a relationship, a job, or even just your own self-image and self-worth.
When you draw the Tower, it symbolizes a breaking down of old, faulty structures so that you can build something anew.
Here are those positive aspects of the Tower card to look out for:
- clearing the path, a breakthrough in a situation that may have felt stagnant
In one of my biggest Tower card moments, I drew the Tower during a weekly reading and was fearing the week ahead. But one afternoon as I was washing dishes, I came to the realization that I was actually not serving myself by playing small and that I deserved to take calculated risks in one of the endeavors I was considering. That realization struck me like lightning, and I stopped washing the dishes just to think about the Tower moment that had happened.
Literally, the Tower card can be as small as that–but that decision to not play small any longer has had major implications on my life!
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3. The Devil Card
When it comes to bad tarot cards, one of the scariest tarot cards can easily be the Devil. While it is not the last of the Major Arcana cards to be considered “bad”, it is the last of the Big Scary Cards.
The imagery on the Devil tarot card is a horned creature who has two people (the same two people on the Lovers card) enslaved and shackled. There is an upside-down pentagram on the devil’s forehead.
There are obvious negative implications to this card in a tarot reading, including:
- feeling trapped
- unhealthy habits, relationships, or thought patterns
Yet, there are so many positive ways to look at the Devil card.
- release of shame
- being passionate
- very focused on a goal
- acceptance of something you’ve previously ignored
- need for self-acceptance and self-love
Don’t automatically assume something bad when the Devil card comes flying out!
4. The Ten of Swords
The first minor arcana card of this list and one of the darkest cards is the Ten of Swords. This is the card of “dead, done, over with.”
On the Ten of Swords, there is a man laying face down with ten swords sticking out of his back. His hand is in a mudra of enlightenment, and although it is nighttime, dawn is breaking in the distance, beautiful and clear.
Sure, this might feel like one of the scariest cards, but it is yet another that represents rebirth. In the long run, you are going to be so happy this ending took place, because that new sun that’s coming up will shine its golden light on you!
This is a card of beautiful new beginnings!
5. The Three of Swords
Another of the negative cards, the big keyword for the Three of Swords is “sorrow.” This particular card has a red heart that has been pierced with three swords symbolizing sorrow and heartache.
While it does have a heart on it, Swords is actually the mental suit. Because of this, the Three of Swords has a hidden meaning of being more related to over-thinking or mental torment.
If you draw this card, you might think heartbreak is coming your way. But here are a few positive aspects to the Three of Swords:
- knowing when it’s time to move on
- healthy grieving
- it’s okay to not be okay
- it’s okay to be sad about cutting things out of your life that don’t serve you
- cleansing rain, washing away the tears
Hopefully you can see the good in this card.
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6. The Nine of Swords
Yes, another card in the suit of Swords! The Swords, or Air suit, is the card of the brain, thought, and mental pursuits.
On the Nine of Swords, there is a person sitting up in bed with their head buried in their hands. The nine swords represent mental challenges such as worries, anxieties, insomnia, and the like. Because of this, the Nine of Swords is typically thought of as the card of mental health issues.
This card serves as a reminder that most of our problems are of our own making. This can feel tremendously heavy. It can also serve as a reminder that when we’re plagued with anxiety, sometimes staying in our comfort zone (represented by the blanket) can do more harm than good.
Here’s a few more positive aspects to the Nine of Swords:
- moving on from stagnation
- letting out your emotions when you need to
- it’s worse in your head than in real life
- the only thing to fear is fear itself
So make sure you look at all angles with this card before you decide it’s a bad card.
7. The Eight of Swords
Another mental suit card, the Eight of Swords often represents feeling trapped in a prison of your own making.
In this card, a woman is blindfolded and bound about the arms, trapped in a prison of eight swords sticking out of the ground. There is a castle in the background and water at her feet.
If you’re feeling stuck in a bad situation, you might draw this card, but there are a lot of positives when it comes to the Eight of Swords!
- you think you’re stuck, but you’re not!
- when you move past this, there are great things waiting for you (the castle)
- you have the keys to release your negative feelings
8. The Five of Cups
Although I was unable to find a picture of the Five of Cups, it is another card with a potentially bad or negative meaning.
The Five of Cups has a man in a black cloak standing with his head hung low. There are three cups at his feet which have spilled over, yet there are still two cups standing up behind him. In the distance there is a bridge and a castle.
This card represents disappointment. You have lost something (the 3 spilled cups) and you’re upset.
However, if you take a close look at one of the three cups, one of them has spilled something toxic green all over the ground.
Sometimes our disappointments are blessings in disguise–the thing we wanted was tainted and the Universe stepped in to stop us from drinking the poison!
Also, once the man turns around, he not only has two full cups, but he will see the bridge leading him to the castle (achievements and success)!
At first glance, this card seems awful, but when you look closer, the only thing standing in your way is holding onto your disappointment!
9. The Five of Pentacles
Another of the “Five” cards in the Minor Arcana, the Five of Pentacles typically represents being left out in the cold.
On this card, there are two people, lepers, walking just outside a church. It’s snowing and they are clutching their cloaks about them. They lack money, resources, good health. Just inside is warmth, but they think they don’t belong there.
Yet, there are many positive ways to read this card!
- finding a friend through trials and adversity
- you’re worried you don’t belong, but you actually DO
- partnership or marriage
- no matter what the outside looks like, the inside is what counts
10. The Hanged Man
Last is the Hanged Man. This card shows a man suspended by his ankle, purposefully hanging upside-down. His head is surrounded by a golden glow, showing his enlightenment. He has put himself in this position.
This card can feel like torture when you’re feeling impatient or you don’t want to wait. It can symbolize the Universe forcing you to pause and observe rather than moving forward.
But again, there are plenty of positives to note:
- the knowledge you acquire during this time of waiting is essential and will take you farther in the long run
- you gain a new perspective
- you gain enlightenment
A few runners-up:
There are a few other cards that have some potentially negative connotations, including:
- The Wheel of Fortune (potential bad karma coming to collect)
- The Moon (emotions that sneak up on you or that you’ve kept hidden)
- The Five of Swords (fighting and conflict)
- The Seven of Swords (lying, cheating, and stealing)
- The Ten of Wands (burdens, carrying a heavy load)
Some people say that the High Priestess can also be a bad card, but I do not find that to be the case.
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Don’t forget that there are two sides to every card and that any card needs to be taken within the context of the the tarot spread. The whole reading needs to be taken into account to determine if this card is a negative one or a good one in this situation.
You’re the only one who can say how these card are going to affect your own life!