Oh dear. Are you feeling alone? Abandoned? Betrayed? Have irreconcilable differences divided a once healthy relationship? The Three of Swords is a card that represents your pain. But this is also a card that appears to warn you that you may be inflicting cruelty upon others. Are you prepared to accept a neutral opinion of your contributions to an abusive or volatile situation?
A symbolic red heart floats before us. It is pierced by three swords, two on either side of it making an X as the blades go in at the top and penetrate through the bottom, and one stabbing from the top straight through the center and exiting out the bottom. All of this takes place with a backdrop of a cloudy gray sky; sleet streaks from the clouds with nowhere to land.
This card is defiantly dour with no apparent upside, save for the fact that it confirms the reality of your misery. The pierced heart stands alone, symbolic of love and not attached to any grounding – far greater than any physical damage, it is a concept that has been permanently altered. Swords represent words, ideas and attitudes that we express. It is important that the heart is a symbolic shape and not representational of the human heart muscle. Because words can pierce and hurt, the altering of the symbolic heart is a rejection of someone’s view of love in the world. Someone has set the heart out and someone else has pierced it. The sky behind it assures the Tarot reader that salvation will have to come in another card spread out somewhere on the table. The Three of Swords exists beyond redemption.
Meaning in Past, Present and Future Positions
Every Tarot reading sets cards out in locations representing your past, your present and your future. The meaning of each card is different depending on where it lands in your reading.
If the Three of Swords happens to land in the past position of your Tarot reading, you can look back on a foundation of sadness that may have led to your current situation. Many people still recovering from heartbreaking loss see the Three of Swords land here even years after the passing of what was. The card here reminds us that the emptiness lingers. Often, people in prison find this card here to remind them that their cruelty to another person in the past is inextricably linked to their present incarceration. But you do not need a jail to imprison you for some of the deeds out of your past that were insensitive and have come to bury you in guilt.
The present position is a somber place for this card to land. Seeing the Three of Swords appear here as confirmation of your current heartache is not the worst thing. What does it mean to see this card when you are feeling stable and emotionally satisfied? The Three of Swords indicates that you may be oblivious to the cruelty you are inflicting on someone. Your life may be going great but perhaps you have no comprehension that playing your loud music late in the night is ruining the health and well-being of a neighbor. You are obliviously accruing much bad karma and the Three of Swords is demanding that you take a deep personal inventory of all aspects of your daily behavior that could be causing pain to others directly from your unintentional actions.
The future position is not where you want to see the Three of Swords. The best-case scenario of this card appearing in the future position is that your reading serves as a wake up call to analyze your relationships. You can work to ensure that nobody is capable of delivering heartbreak to you. You can scrutinize some possible cruelty toward someone regardless of your intent and mitigate it now before it does any karmic damage. Do not let the presence of the Three of Swords in the future position ruin your reading. It is fundamentally a weak card and can be influenced by the presence of other cards in your reading.
Every Tarot reading is like an orchestra where no card dominates, just as no instrument dominates the performance of a symphony. The Three of Swords belongs in the Tarot’s Minor Arcana and is subordinate to the two cards in the Major Arcana which carry the number three: The Empress (Tarot card #3) and Death (Tarot card #13). The Empress represents love and the power that desire has to control us even as it comforts us. The Three of Swords echoes this sentiment as an exact opposite: the complete absence of love only reminds us of its infinite, awe-inspiring power. The Death card represents the finality of complete transformations that are impossible to fight against. The Three of Swords confirms the loss of love as a permanent situation. If either of these cards appears in a reading with the Three of Swords, these themes dominate the reading. Learn more about the connection that the Three of Swords shares with the other cards numbered three in the Tarot deck.
If The Magician card accompanies the Three of Swords in your reading, your are more in control of the destiny of the betrayal or loss of love than you may realize. The Magician assures you that you are not a passive victim. If the Justice card is drawn in a reading with the Three of Swords, the pain of loss will be administered by outside forces, be they law enforcement or the courts.
When The High Priestess is involved in a reading with this card, someone who was manipulative and responsible for the pain of this situation will avoid having to take responsibility. Likewise, The Tower card indicates that innocent bystanders may suffer more than the parties directly involved in this absence of love.
One card that mitigates the sadness surrounding the Three of Swords is Strength. This is a card that allows you to recover from the cruel actions of people in your life and to befuddle them with your ability to go about your daily business. Stay strong; the Three of Swords, too, shall pass.