top of page

How to Read Scary Tarot Cards without Fear

Even the most experienced tarot reader can feel their confidence deflate when they see a card in their spread that unnerves them. Many of us learned to interpret tarot through the aid of keywords found in the "little white book" that came with our cards. For some of the darker images of the tarot, the keywords provided were often bleak, such as: despair, destruction, and hopelessness! It's no wonder that spotting a frightening image immediately causes many readers to feel dread, especially when such a card appears in the "final outcome" position.

Often, we turn to tarot for healing and clarity. However, if you are left feeling hopeless about your situation because of negative keywords, the reading can feel like a tremendous letdown. Challenging cards that appear in a reading do not doom your hopes to end in calamity. If you are feeling disappointed with a reading's initial message, it may be that you just need to examine the image closer, allowing it to dialogue with your deeper awareness. Tarot is a language of symbols that can speak directly to the luminous spirit that resides deep within you. This awareness can be found far beneath the surface layer of your fears. To get the most from tarot imagery, you must look beyond the thin veil of your fears. Better yet go toward your fears so you can conquer them.

The Devil; When this card appears, it doesn’t mean you are trapped by the Devil! It means that you need to face things that you have repressed because you don’t want to deal with them. It’s a good time to look at habits that aren’t needed now, this card represents addictions and obsessions. It represents being seduced by the material world and physical pleasures. These are not things that will make you truly fulfilled as a person so put your energy into the things that will.

Also living in fear, domination and bondage, being caged by an overabundance of luxury. You have voluntarily not examined how you deal with your issues until now. Surrounding cards in a reading may indicate what those issues are. When this card appears it means that you may feel as though outside influences or forces beyond your control are restricting you, leaving you feeling powerless and victimised. However, this is the illusion The Devil creates.

Now you have a chance to free yourself from these voluntary bonds of your own making and make progress. Release victim mentality and take your power back. You are in control of your own destiny and are not bound by anything other than your own attitudes and behaviour. Don’t give up and don’t give away your power. You don’t have to tolerate negativity, criticism, manipulation or abuse from anyone. There are always options and there is always something positive you can do to improve your situation no matter how hopeless things may seem on the surface. Likewise be mindful of how you are treating others and make sure you are not trying to manipulate or control people in your life either.

The Death card; The King of scary cards, Death is probably the most feared card in the Tarot. The Death card generally does not mean physical death. As a rule you should never predict deaths as a Tarot reader.

The true understanding of the Death card is Transformation or Rebirth. It’s a death that happens to make way for something new; for without death you cannot be reborn.

This card is calling for a transformation that can’t occur for you without giving something away first. The focus in this card is on the transforming itself—the transforming of one thing into a new thing altogether.

The transformation or change that Death can bring can be difficult, unexpected, sudden or even traumatic but it will bring with it a new lease of life. Its best to try not to resist the change the Death Tarot card brings as resisting it will only make the transition difficult and painful. Instead try to embrace the change as a fresh start. This Major Arcana card can also signify the need to let go of old issues or beliefs when it appears in a Tarot spread. A Death card transformation can be a bit of a shock to the system but ultimately it’s a positive one. Getting rid of the old to make way for the new.

The Tower is about outside forces (God or the Universe) demolishing the old to make way for the new. The Tower is the one you really need to brace yourself for. The Tower Tarot card represents chaos and destruction. It is the Major Arcana card of sudden upheaval and unexpected change. This change usually is scary, life changing and often unavoidable. A negative Tower event can be akin to a bomb going off in your life. You don’t know how you will survive but somehow you will and later you will realise that while it was a tremendously difficult thing to go through, it has made you into the person you are.

The Towers destruction is usually because what you built was on a faulty foundation, which could be your belief systems, relationships or career. The things that need to be demolished are lies and deceptions, false pride and arrogance. This card can help reveal truths to you that you were refusing to see unless the building was on fire.

On the bright side, the destruction The Tower brings is always followed by renewal and creation. Prevailing after a collapse and seeing the need to rebuild, frees you from your previous falsehoods and you gain insight and truth. The Tower is for your greatest good, even if it doesnt feel like it or look that way while you're in it. Whatever was built before was clearly not going to last, for your life going forward, it needed to be destroyed so you can build a new tower that will ultimately be better for you and longer lasting.

Find the good in every situation, the more you can embrace change and all it entails, the less this event will hurt. The tower is a life lesson that will make you a stronger person and better off in the long run.

Minor Arcana:

In the case of the Eight of Swords we see a despairing woman whose hands are bound. This card is the minor arcana representation of the major arcana card which is the Devil. At first glance, her situation looks hopeless. But we can't stop there. In the case of the Eight of Swords, thoughts of hopelessness may be keeping you bound and paralyzed. By replaying past traumas in your mind, you could be reinforcing a belief that you are a helpless victim to whatever circumstance has been unfairly thrown at you. However, look even closer at the woman on the card. There doesn't appear to be anyone with her. She is all alone. Although she is tied tightly with bindings, she could so easily use the swords that flank her to cut herself free. The Eight of Swords could be interpreted to mean that although you may feel defeated, bound up, and abandoned in your mind, you must repurpose your thoughts (swords) to your advantage. The very same thoughts that are limiting you can be redirected to liberate you. However, you may need to open your eyes and see the opportunity right before you. The Eight of Swords can be interpreted in a manner that is empowering you to act, rather than making you feel that you are doomed to a bad end. Bad things can happen in life, but we still get to choose how we are going to respond in the moment. This is the power you wield, no matter what is currently happening around you.

Another "scary" card that we often loathe to see in a reading is the Nine of Swords. Here we see an individual trapped in shadow thinking. The imagery is dark, and we can't help but remember feeling that same way, when our mind was overrun with past worry, grief and nightmares. This card could also indicate that we are submitting to the attacks of the saboteur within. The Nine of Swords has been called by some, "the worst card in the deck." It represents the power of mental shadows, which can shatter your perspective. When stuck in this dark place, it can be so hard to see the light. The woman on the card is clutching her eyes closed. She is overcome with despair. But look closer at the image. She is not really in danger. She is safe at home in her bed. The battle is being played out in her mind. Blankets are symbols for the comfort and protection that is available, even in your darkest moments. The Nine of Swords can remind you that your spirit also has great purpose, regardless of what your inner saboteur tells you. The Nine of Swords may advise you to stop mentally catastrophizing and speak your worst fears out loud and into the light. The Nine of Swords can also advise us to stop isolating.

In a general context, the Ten of Swords doesn't look good as it can represent backstabbing betrayal. It can also represent hitting rock bottom or being in a dead end situation. It can also be a warning to be on the lookout for people in your spiritual circle that may be disloyal or dangerous.

But not to worry since I am here to give you a positive outlook on this card. Ten of Swords shows that the pain has already happened, the worst is over. Ten in numerology means a completion, the end of a cycle. The background of this card shows the sun is rising again after a dark time, as in the saying "It's always darkest before the dawn". Now you can pull the swords out of your back, heal yourself and move forward. This card’s meaning of hitting rock bottom means there is nowhere to go but up.

The Ten of Swords can also indicate someone playing the victim or martyr, being overly dramatic, attention seeking or exaggerating. Since the cards that come before it is the 8 and 9 of swords which both cards represent your fears are only created in your own mind. Change your mind and you change your world. Progressing through these sword cards, of your own mental torture, to finally arrive at the 10 indicates that you may be severing ties with your old belief system.

Final Thoughts

If you go beyond the initial knee-jerk reactions to the cards you see, you can deliver much more profound readings for yourself and others. Dialoguing with the dark cards can become a cathartic experience, where old hurts are finally healed and released, rather than being interpreted as harbingers of disaster. You get to choose in what context you want to view your current situation. Will you choose empowerment or fear? You also get to choose your future by changing your choices in the present. If you show up in life as a victim, you will most likely continue to get victimized. If you shift your energy to be empowered and courageous, you are more likely to succeed.

Armed with a new perspective, you can transcend the hopeless fears that may have been preventing your breakthrough. Your tarot deck is a peerless tool for dialoguing with your resilient spirit. It can provide a therapeutic salve for soothing our deepest wounds.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page