Tarot cards and, more recently, oracle cards are outstanding tools for psychological and spiritual work. Each year they become more and more a part of the common vernacular and readily available in mass-market venues, especially the online retailer, Amazon. The number of decks available in and out of print is mind-boggling, easily in the thousands, especially if you go do a search for decks on eBay.
Once shrouded in mystery and a “tool of people with questionable character, dark intentions, or acolytes of heathen beliefs”, tarot and oracle cards are enjoying widespread, if still hesitant acceptance. In this article, I will write about one of the most challenging cards to draw, the 3 of Swords.
78 Archetypes to Awareness
When people seek me out for a reading, they will often ask me, “what are tarot cards and how do they work?” Over time I have developed a consistent response, which is, “each tarot card represents a common archetype of the human experience. All 78 cards are happening in your life right now, in one way or another. When you sit down and draw cards for a reading, you are ‘bringing to light or awareness’ specific archetypes for you to think about in the moment.”
Life is a constant ebb and flow of positive and negative experiences, in varying degrees of intensity. The Two of Coins or Two of Pentacles represents daily change, the normal flow of energy moving to make things happen in life. The Death card represents a dramatic transformation through a profound ending, which will create space for a significant new beginning.
The cards of the Minor Arcana represent the processes we experience with our emotions (Cups), our thoughts (Swords), material actions (Coins/Pentacles), and our creative or spiritual actions (Wands). The cards of the Major Arcana represent major life energies and events: The Fool is the experience of life itself, The Magician represents the most significant decisions we make in our life journey, The High Priestess represents the hard lessons we have to go through to grow spiritually, and so on.
One of the most difficult cards in the deck is the 3 of Swords, which represents sorrow, cognitive dissonance, and frustration. We all face or cause moments of sorrow. An important person in our life has to leave; we get our perfect job, but our boss is horrible. We hurt someone we care about with our selfishness. Most often, the 3 of Swords shows three swords piercing a heart.
Depending on our life circumstances this card shows us mental anguish caused by getting something we want that also harms us. We feel a painful intersection with our hearts and minds. When the 3 of Swords appears, we must face a disconnect between what we want and what we know. We are not trapped in the 3 of Swords energy unless we choose to hold on to the pain or stay in an unhealthy situation. Like all energies in life, there is a range of expressions and many different degrees of intensity, as well as nuances that help us understand this card and why it shows up.
It is possible that the card represents a current difficulty or past issue still taking up psychic space in your life. Having the card appear may be just what is needed to address and release the sorrow it represents so you can grow emotionally. You will need to pull out the swords in order for your heart to heal.
Below are some examples of the 3 of Swords from various decks:
Receiving The 3 of Swords in Your Reading
No two ways around it, this card is not easy to face; most sword cards represent the negative energy that comes from doubtful or anxious thinking. The cycle of the swords reads something like this: idea (1), decision (2), sorrow (3), truce (4), defeat (5), logic (6), futility (7), interference (8), cruelty (9), and ruin (10).
If you receive this card in your reading, do your best to wait to hear and process the interpretation. It is okay to be concerned since this card is about sorrow and loss. Unfortunately, the hard part of the card is knowing it is meant to be a message that is helpful to you in some way now.
Like the Tower, 8 of Swords, and 8 of Cups cards, this card is one that immediately forces you to face not only negative feelings but the cause of the negative feelings, which could be something immediate or deep in your past. Understanding the origin of the negative feelings and realizing there are processes and therapies to help you escape them will give you a chance to move in a positive direction.
Reading the 3 of Swords Card for A Client
If you happen to be a professional or practicing reader, who reads cards for others, then you want to train yourself to be ready to address this card in a helpful way for the client. Most people who have just the vaguest of notions about Tarot cards will usually say, “I just don’t want to draw negative cards”. Often, when I am reading in public, I will select a deck that has the essence of the card without images that will overwhelm a first-time client.
Consider the difference between the 3 of Swords from the Haindl Tarot, which shows three swords and a teardrop, with just the keyword “mourning” and the one from the Crow’s Magick Tarot, which shows three swords, a heart split by lightening, icicles, and the keywords: pain and grief. The Haindl tarot card shows the “mourning” with the tear. The Crow’s Magic shows the pain of the heart split in two by a sudden shock (the lightning bolt).
Oddly enough, the Happy Tarot mimics the traditional design found in the Rider-Waite Tarot, with three swords piercing the heart. The Mythic Tarot card is packed with meaning since the figure being stabbed in the heart is Agamemnon. The swords suit in the Mythic Tarot tells the story of Orestes, who is not in this image. His mother, Clytemnestra is one of the figures stabbing Agamemnon, who she despises because he sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, for fair winds to sail to Troy. Plenty of pain, grief, and sorrow to go around in this card.
If a client tells you that they do not immediately know what the card refers to in their life currently, then you need to ask them where they recall sorrow or loss from their past. Is there a trigger event that happened recently? If there is no immediate pain or grief, then now might be the best time to work on a past loss with renewed focus to heal?
The 3 of Swords, like any negative card, calls our attention to the significant and serious moments of our lives; and the better and more willing we are to face this card or the others like it, the better we will enjoy and appreciate our life journey.
I am a spiritual adviser located in Cary, North Carolina. I earned my PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1996 and had a career in academics until 2007, when I retired to become a stay-at-home father. In 2013 I “hung out my shingle” starting my business Black Unykorn Enterprises, LLC. I provide spiritual guidance using different tools: astrology, tarot/oracle cards, numerology, and past life regression (using muscle testing). With a home office, Zoom, WeChat, and WhatsApp, I work with local clients in person and distance clients from around the world. You can read about my practice and contact me through my website: https://www.blackunykorn.com.
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