Inspiring Enchantment & Illumination with Tarot & Intuitive Guidance

Tarot Card of the Week – Sept. 1-7, 2014: Three of Swords

Three of SwordsOur sorrows and wounds are healed
only when we touch them with compassion.
– Gautama Buddha

Alas, this week we receive one of the simplest, most obviously unhappy cards in the Tarot. It is with admitted misgivings that we are visited by the Three of Swords.

As one of the very few Tarot cards with no human figure depicted, there is not a lot to describe. Even a child can see that this is a card of tears, strife, and hurt. Three swords pierce a heart. Against the background of storm clouds, rain falls.

(Because so many new folks new to the Tarot have asked, I will also point out that the odd-looking symbol in the lower right corner is not part of the card’s meaning. It is a “chop” of artist Pamela Colman Smith’s initials, and is found in all of her illustrations).

The Three of Swords sometimes relates to love triangles; but remember this is an Air card, meaning that its energy focuses on words, thoughts, ideas, communication, and intellect. So there may be sorrow and pain because of misunderstanding, gossip, false beliefs, or making a wrong choice. There could be a betrayal, or grievous words exchanged.

As the recent suicide of Robin Williams has recently highlighted, there are many people who may appear to be fine, even to have it all.  But below the surface, a toxic combination of depression, stress, and loneliness may be coming to a crisis point.

If this is the case for you, please reach out to someone, or allow others to come closer to you.  Although the Swords can convince our intellect otherwise, the truth is, you need not suffer alone.

Breaking Open Our Hearts

I often think of this card as a reminder that heartbreak can be a message from our Higher Self to open our hearts more. The Wisdom within us may break our hearts, in order to widen our perception, cultivate our compassion, and claim our priorities.

Instead of the wounding itself, it is how we examine and process our pain.

You might begin by considering, then, from the detached viewpoint of the Swords, if there are emotionally volatile memories that are in need of your consideration.

What relationships (current or past) need healing? In what ways might your emotional pain be in danger of taking over, resulting in the temptation to hurt or control those around you?

What wounds need to be understood? What is the core cause of your deepest heart’s suffering right now? What healing rains might bring cleansing, compassion and forgiveness?

Sometimes, the only way to move past our preoccupation with our own pain is to serve others, binding the wounds of those in greater need. Who else in your life might be grieving, and can you help?

What tenderness are you in need of? What kindness can you offer?

Acceptance and allowing sorrow to teach us is sometimes the only way forward. Let this week be an opportunity to touch with compassion the heart that needs you.

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  • September 1, 2014, 1:43 pm Ziva

    I’ve always been bothered by how negatively the swords (air, mind) are depicted and interpreted in this deck, which is the only one I seriously use. Knowing that all cards have both a “negative” and “positive” interpretation and there’s only room for one picture on a card to represent one of these many possibilities, I would like to offer how I see this card (and remember this is just how *I* see it). It is a 3, so is the result of the suit (air, mind) to “create” something or to result in something tangible. In this case, I think of it as a mental choice or decision that has been made and is now set in motion. The “sorrow” might come from the fact that after you make a choice, you leave behind ALL the other choices or possibilities you had. But making a choice and getting off your butt is often a good thing. That’s why I almost never think of this card as sorrowful — unless you think of “buyer’s remorse” or “path not taken” or something like that. The 2 of swords to me is about thoughts, choices, and possibilities in balance and harmony such that there is peace in your mind (or even a way back to being able to change your mind?). But in the 3 of swords, you’ve moved beyond that. You probably will never find my interpretation in any book, but, because I also use numerological progression in my interpretations, this makes sense to me in the overall story I have about the cards of each suit going from 1 to 10.

  • September 1, 2014, 4:57 pm Beth

    Thank you so much for your thoughts, Ziva. I like that you see each suit in terms of telling a story.

    I believe most Tarot folks do apply numerology to their interpretations; at least I certainly do. 😉

    The Threes all refer back, ultimately, to the Major’s Three — The Empress. She is the synthesis of the Magician (1) and the High Priestess (2). So, I like to think of the four Minor threes as her gifts to us. Her Swords gift is lessons learned the hard, painful way.

    For in truth, loss is often more typically how we get it; pleasure and ease, being closer to just the status quo, less so.

    As to the negativity of the Swords in general, I do have to say that as much as I honor the Element of Air, and realize there are many cheerful aspects to the mind, it is usually the nature of the Tarot Swords to represent conflict and challenge. Because, after all, that’s pretty much all a sword is used for.

    (Keep in mind, too, that Swords are not always associated with the Element of Air. In some decks, for instance, they are Fire. So I’m speaking strictly of the R-W-S traditions here).

    Many wisdom paths teach that our self-aware consciousness is a two-edged sword: capable of great art, beauty, and communication; yet it is also the source of humanity’s greatest tragedies.

    So, the Three of Swords is not the action of the wounding, or even the emotional pain. Instead it is the gift of self-awareness, that enables us to reflect and process our sorrows.

    But to me, there’s just no ambiguity here – sorrow is integral to this card, especially the simple, unequivocal way that Pixie Smith has depicted it. Even Waite says of its interpretations, “Removal, absence, delay, division, rupture, dispersion, and [my emphasis] all that the design signifies naturally, being too simple and obvious to call for specific enumeration.”

    Again, thanks for lots to think about. Hope this makes some sense!

  • September 4, 2014, 9:47 am Viola

    Dear Beth

    Just read that you are a Reiki healer too so thought perhaps I might share this with you…

    I had been reading this article on the Reiki spiritual blessing ‘reiju’ when I saw this card.

    So I immediately saw your ‘message from our Higher Self to open our hearts more’ as being about opening my heart (the swords look to me like the claw 爪 element of Ju 授) to the rain 雨 of Reiki 霊.

    Many blessings. _/\_

  • September 4, 2014, 12:22 pm Sharri Gaines

    My…this card offers much. I appreciate the dialog around it this week. A few thoughts as I personally find myself facing a ‘letting go and loss of the old’ stage: we spend so much energy trying to run from sorrow, pain, sadness, grief…yet these are just as much part of the WHOLENESS of the human experience and the joy, light, laughter, pleasure, etc. In fact, we cannot be whole without BOTH and ALL. That’s what we got when we ‘ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil.” The journey of consciousness. I have loved the “Tarot of the Spirit” for years (by Pamela Eakins). I share this from her interpretation of the 3 of Wind/Swords:
    At the 3, you have attempted to unravel paradoxes in your life. Your passion to create has been sparked. Your basic grounding internal elements of fire and water have united and given birth to Air/Wind….which carries the message of liberation, but you must throw off the old…the social conditioning, the safety and comfort of the known…you may feel ‘up against the blade’ as the old and new clash. This is a moment of Recognition (her name for this card) that can lead to sanctifying intelligence…ask yourself ‘is my motivation pure?” Then surrender to the new flow of Self to complete your transformation and your new thinking can take flight.

    So….there is great value, in my view, of acknowledging, feeling, the ‘pain’ of the past…but for the purpose of releasing it to the NEW and the NOW.

    Thanks for letting me share…and thank you, Beth.

  • September 4, 2014, 5:30 pm Beth

    Oh my goodness, you two! These are such powerful gifts of wisdom and insight. “Recognition” and reiju. Wow. Thank you SO much for posting and sharing..

    It’s not fun, but I do believe discomfort accompanies growth … every time. And the more urgent the need for change, the more uncomfortable things may become. Growing pains. Thus, heartbreak must be met with honesty and understanding.

    I am fond of the Osho Zen Tarot’s version of this card: Ice-Olation. When we hide our suffering, or freeze our feelings, we become cut off from those who love us and from the very Source of our healing.

    Which breeds more pain, more inaction. We become used to low-grade, chronic sorrow. No healing is possible until we come to grips with the truth of our hurt, our vulnerability, and our humanity. It’s a very simple, but very rich view of this card’s challenges and potential for healing.

    Once again, thank you so much for continuing to spark illumination regarding this card.