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Aoife's Avatar
Join Date: 09 Jan 2003
Location: England
Posts: 1,467
3 of Swords

I'd really welcome some discussion of this card.

On one level it's pretty clear cut - cut and dried [sorry - couldn't resist the puns] but the deeper shades of meaning elude me. I suspect that the surrounding cards give the best clues to shades of meaning and whether it refers to past, present or future etc.

Leah Samuls defines the card in the Hudes deck as "perceiving how things fit together. Seeing all parts of an issue. Examining something in it's entirety" - which fits perfectly with the image of a woman looking at one of three swords in the ground close to her. There's no mention of sorrow or grief and indeed, L Samuls says "this is not a card of action or emotion or even intention, but rather of simple examination". Perhaps its got something to do with heart-searching?

Care to share your views?

Last edited by Aoife; 17-02-2003 at 01:44.
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Old 17-02-2003     Top   #1
Join Date: 08 Jun 2002
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3 Swords

I’ve got seven decks all up and all but two of them have different images to represent 3 Swords, The RWS and the Morgan Greer have the traditional heart pierced by three swords. The Old Path shows a scene of grieving, the Witches shows a woman walking through an archway of three swords, the Sephiroth shows three crossed swords locked to a deck in the midst of rain and clouds. The Shining Tribe renames the suite “Birds” and shows three crossed birds against the background of a red hand and golden sun. Other decks do different things.

The image of the pierced heart evokes feelings of grief, pain and some kind of trauma. It would be hard not to see it that way based on the image alone.

Apparently Crowley (or was it the Golden Dawn?) attributed titles to each card in each Minor Arcana suite. In Swords for example, the titles are these: 1. The root of the powers of air; 2. Peace; 3. Sorrow; 4. Truce; 5. Defeat; 6. Science; 7. Futility; 8. Interference; 9. Cruelty; 10. Ruin. (Element Tarot Handbook by Naomi Ozaniec).

I didn’t know this before this morning and it’s easy to see where sorrow and the pierced heart originate.

In terms of overall interpretation, I guess this where the elements, numbers and values of the individual decks come into play. Swords mean AIR which is associated with breath, spirit, mind. The number three represents expansion (more than 2) and understanding. Three also represents the higher intellect and is ruled by the planet Jupiter and the sign of Sagittarius. So I guess there are plenty of signposts for interpretation! This is where individual decks and their unique stories also come in.

So I can understand, Aoife, why the designer of your deck has a different interpretation from the one I’ve grown up with (sorrow)! It fits with the general scheme of things: the elemental and numerological associations.

We need some people now to apply their Swords intellects and incisiveness to this question.


Last edited by Moongold; 17-02-2003 at 03:03.
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Old 17-02-2003     Top   #2
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Join Date: 05 Aug 2001
Location: Virginia, U.S.A.
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Aside from the mundane meanings commonly associated with 3-Swords, its number of 3 is a key. 3 refers to beginning, continuity, ending; in short, the totality of a thing; its entirety.

3 pertains to the triune aspect--such as: physical/body; mental/mind; soul/spirit; Father, Son (Child), Holy Ghost/Spirit (Mother); Mother, Maiden, Crone; Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), Shiva (destroyer); past, present, future; faith, hope, charity/love).

Searching or examining the heart would be appropriate given its mental element (based on the correspondence of Air).

For example: 3-Swords can be an absence of faith, hope & charity, whence chaos would reign in the mind; the tension experienced whence harmony splinters. It refers to mental perception & the understanding or the *conclusion* arising from same.

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Old 17-02-2003     Top   #3
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Join Date: 03 Oct 2002
Location: Northern New England
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Whenever I see the 3 of swords, I figure that there is "another" in the picture somewhere. The other woman or the other man. It doesn't necessarily mean that one has a rival in love, but close. It means that there is a rival and if that rival wins out, you will lose out.

Very close to the traditional meaning and pretty negative I will admit. I use the RW and I have often seen that card come up when I've had a rival for someone's affections.

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Old 17-02-2003     Top   #4
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Join Date: 20 Mar 2002
Location: Upper Left-Coast, USA
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For me, it was always hard to resolve the disparity between the number three and the traditional ‘heartbreak – betrayal – despair’ of the traditional meaning of the Three of Swords..

Look at Three: The Triangle. The spirit, the soul. The perfect number. The manifestation of 1 under 3 forms. The triad present in almost every religion. The 3 elements that make up man (spirit, soul, body). The three parts of Canaanite temples. The three points of the frontispiece of Greek temples that meant Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. Represents growth, creativity and expansion. Three represents groups and shared interests so it also reflects increased social activity.

Swords: Thought, intellect, reason, ego…

The Three of Swords to me represents self sabotage of our own situation, that we are our own worst enemy. That all the issues indicated, are by our own doing…

That’s my 3¢ woth…
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Old 18-02-2003     Top   #5
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I've just taken for granted that explanation I've read in books, and if one does not want to go so deep into the matter, it shall suffice. The heartbreak or pain is a possible consequence of facing truth without concern to protect one's emotions. That is represented by the "naked" heart of some decks. "Face the truth heart open", that's what 3 plus swords would signify. And the result of such is often... you know, a heartbreak."Rationalization", one psychological defense mechanism first described ,I think, by Freud, is a typical "mental" activity represented by the 3 of swords when reversed. Something like "if I don't twist reality here I'll have to expose my naked heart to those swords so I won't; cause I'm scared of the pain"

Betrayal is but one "truth" one sometimes compromise for a while, not to see. Despair as a result of facing the fact that one has been betrayed.

The emotions depicted or implied in the swords suit, to me, represent our emotions when confrontred with certain realities.

Originally posted by Umbrae
For me, it was always hard to resolve the disparity between the number three and the traditional ‘heartbreak – betrayal – despair’ of the traditional meaning of the Three of Swords..

I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up.
Tom Lehrer
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Old 18-02-2003     Top   #6
Karenwhe's Avatar
Join Date: 13 Nov 2002
Location: South Africa
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It is funny because I never saw the 3 of swords belonging to the suit of swords but more to the suit of cups...... but I guess you can't stab a heart with 3 cups

Karen Wheller
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Old 19-02-2003     Top   #7
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He, he

Karen, I think I could stab with cups if that's all I had available.

I wonder about these suits sometimes. I mean, can't reall separate these things so well in life as in the cards.

I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up.
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Old 19-02-2003     Top   #8
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Join Date: 20 Apr 2002
Location: Wigan, UK
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Taking up the issues of ‘Air and ‘Three’

Firstly the elemental interpretation of Air – some decks attribute Swords to Fire - the Witches Tarot is one - but clearly what is at issue here is an interpretation based on Swords as Air.

Air is concerned with ideas and mental activity in a positive sense ideas may manifest as hopes, plans, rational thinking. In a negative sense they may manifest as worries or fears – what we have here is probably a fear of heartache or a worry that action might lead to sorrow, rather than the emotion itself. An over-emphasis on air in the personality can mean an inability to adjust quickly to new ideas, leading to nervous tension and in the extreme this can lead to physical illness. So it is possible to see Air/Swords as symbolising fears, worries and physical or nervous illness.

Secondly on the numerological interpretation of ‘three’ Three is also the number of communication and analysis (as in the third House in Astrology and the third sign of Gemini). The negative side of this can be trying to be a perfectionist in communication, trying to communicate too many things at once, not finishing one communication before starting another, or lacking an understanding of why others cannot communicate as well.

Thus we could derive a meaning for the three of Swords which is based on an attempt to be creative and to harmonise which due to miscommunication or misunderstanding give rise to worries and fears that produce nervous and or physical reactions. In a real sense it could lead to sorrow or heartbreak – not necessarily for the subject of the reading.

As someone who believes that each card carries a spectrum of meanings, I recognise this is not a complete or perfect answer - and we need to look at the development of the interpretation of the card to see why this should be the primary meaning of the upright card.


Wer meines Speeres
Spittze furchtet
durchschreite das Feuer nie!

Wotan, Die Walkure, Act III, Scene 3

Last edited by Minderwiz; 19-02-2003 at 20:24.
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Old 19-02-2003     Top   #9
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Join Date: 26 Apr 2002
Location: mont clare, pa.
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i have generally read the three of swords as seeing something you don't want to see. it relates to what others have said about completeness. it's as if everything has fallen into place and what was once hidden is now revealed, and the truth hurts.
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Old 19-02-2003     Top   #10
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