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The 3 of Swords as Opportunity

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The 3 of Swords as Opportunity


This is one of my favorite cards to pick apart because it provides such a dramatic diversity of impressions. Rather than ask the usual questions, I'm going to offer a few answers.

In an affirmational culture obsessed with the mantra "It's all good," it's too easy to see this card as simply meaning "Oh, you're healing." It does in fact suggest an old-fashioned blood-letting or leeching to let out the "evil spirits." But I think it's more complex than that.

Right off the top, what's a card in the unemotional suit of Swords doing so blatantly portraying upheavals of the heart, the usual province of Cups? Furthermore, why does it show such a dire state of affairs when the numeration of the card (Three) typically expresses growth, progress and opportunity? Finally, why are there four elemental emblems in a card intended to show "three-ness?"

At least part of the answer lies in the three swords as a curb on runaway emotions. They pierce the heart like push-pins holding a butterfly specimen to a mounting board. The image also reminds me of a bounty hunter relentlessly pursuing a fugitive criminal. Then there is the logical assumption of examining one's feelings under a microscope. (Never mind that the RWS version also looks like a Mr. Coffee machine on "drip.") The idea is that the rational mind holds sway over the vagaries of feeling. The Thoth title of "Sorrow" seems to convey the understanding that the heart doesn't much like to be told by the mind what it can and can't do.

In the system of Elemental Dignities, Air and Water are considered neutral and mutually supportive; I like to call them "complementary opposites." One provides what the other lacks. In this case, there is an overabundance of Air to dominate and suppress the tendency of Water to flow wherever it wants, without regard for boundaries. This is why I often see the 3 of Swords as suggesting a minor and temporary irritation rather than a total collapse of personal happiness. The three swords aren't dismembering the heart, they're like sutures holding it together through force of Will until it can mend itself! See, it's "all good" after all.
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The 3 of Swords as Opportunity


I've been thinking this through today. I wonder if the card detects the mental suffering rather than the original pain? It reminds me of the Buddhist sutra of the two arrows. The first arrow thrown represents the actual hurt/pain itself, the actual "thing" that happened that caused us the pain- ie the break up or the physical wound or as the sutra might say the "unavoidable pain that life just brings us". What happens that brings the initial hurt. The next arrow represents the suffering that we then load upon ourselves - i.e. "Why has this happened? Oh woe is me, if I hadn't done this I'm so clumsy blah blah" so the pain is worsened by that second arrow of suffering that we add fuel to the fire as it were-perhaps continuing even when the initial pain is long gone.
Some western writers refer to a third arrow - which is the arrow that affects and pains our core selves- self esteem and so on. Three arrows to represent the three swords through the heart?
So maybe it's the mental suffering the card alludes to ...that which follows the original pain so it doesn't matter if it's physical (pents) or emotional (cups) ? It also would explain why the 3 can represent a minor situation or full on heart break- it's all the internal suffering we are piling on top...
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachx View Post
I've been thinking this through today. I wonder if the card detects the mental suffering rather than the original pain? It reminds me of the Buddhist sutra of the two arrows. The first arrow thrown represents the actual hurt/pain itself, the actual "thing" that happened that caused us the pain- ie the break up or the physical wound or as the sutra might say the "unavoidable pain that life just brings us". What happens that brings the initial hurt. The next arrow represents the suffering that we then load upon ourselves - i.e. "Why has this happened? Oh woe is me, if I hadn't done this I'm so clumsy blah blah" so the pain is worsened by that second arrow of suffering that we add fuel to the fire as it were-perhaps continuing even when the initial pain is long gone.
Some western writers refer to a third arrow - which is the arrow that affects and pains our core selves- self esteem and so on. Three arrows to represent the three swords through the heart?
So maybe it's the mental suffering the card alludes to ...that which follows the original pain so it doesn't matter if it's physical (pents) or emotional (cups) ? It also would explain why the 3 can represent a minor situation or full on heart break- it's all the internal suffering we are piling on top...
Thank you for this.....I have been receiving this card in all of my readings lately....now I understand what it means.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachx View Post
I've been thinking this through today. I wonder if the card detects the mental suffering rather than the original pain? It reminds me of the Buddhist sutra of the two arrows. The first arrow thrown represents the actual hurt/pain itself, the actual "thing" that happened that caused us the pain- ie the break up or the physical wound or as the sutra might say the "unavoidable pain that life just brings us". What happens that brings the initial hurt. The next arrow represents the suffering that we then load upon ourselves - i.e. "Why has this happened? Oh woe is me, if I hadn't done this I'm so clumsy blah blah" so the pain is worsened by that second arrow of suffering that we add fuel to the fire as it were-perhaps continuing even when the initial pain is long gone.
Some western writers refer to a third arrow - which is the arrow that affects and pains our core selves- self esteem and so on. Three arrows to represent the three swords through the heart?
So maybe it's the mental suffering the card alludes to ...that which follows the original pain so it doesn't matter if it's physical (pents) or emotional (cups) ? It also would explain why the 3 can represent a minor situation or full on heart break- it's all the internal suffering we are piling on top...
Sounds like Hamlet's "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." I still feel compelled to reconcile it to the esoteric nature of the number Three, though. Call it the "hidden benefit" of the card. I sometimes see it in a reading as "no pain, no gain."
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachx View Post
I've been thinking this through today. I wonder if the card detects the mental suffering rather than the original pain? It reminds me of the Buddhist sutra of the two arrows. The first arrow thrown represents the actual hurt/pain itself, the actual "thing" that happened that caused us the pain- ie the break up or the physical wound or as the sutra might say the "unavoidable pain that life just brings us". What happens that brings the initial hurt. The next arrow represents the suffering that we then load upon ourselves - i.e. "Why has this happened? Oh woe is me, if I hadn't done this I'm so clumsy blah blah" so the pain is worsened by that second arrow of suffering that we add fuel to the fire as it were-perhaps continuing even when the initial pain is long gone.
Some western writers refer to a third arrow - which is the arrow that affects and pains our core selves- self esteem and so on. Three arrows to represent the three swords through the heart?
So maybe it's the mental suffering the card alludes to ...that which follows the original pain so it doesn't matter if it's physical (pents) or emotional (cups) ? It also would explain why the 3 can represent a minor situation or full on heart break- it's all the internal suffering we are piling on top...
That's kind of the way I'm seeing this card too.
"Suffering" in Buddha terms refers to the suffering of our mind (Swords) over attachments (Cups).

To me it's not a case of "The heart not liking to be told by the mind what it can and can't" to quote BarleyWine.

It's the tension and pressure one suffers through wanting what they can't have (anymore) and that tension needs to be released.

So yes, it is a growth and opportunity card and a "no pain, no gain" one!
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The 3 of Swords as Opportunity


Yes both growth And opportunity. No pain no gain but also learn not to suffer the pain and suffering twice or three times over through mentally rerunning the agony. [emoji23] I think that's why something relatively minor can carry the same agony and pain that a major trauma may have - depending on the persons attachment to the thing that brings the pain. For example someone losing a treasured possession may carry the same pain as maybe losing a person. (Sorry bit extreme but just need to use an example and it will be different for everyone) It's about the attachment we have to said "thing" . I like Barleywines pushpins holding down the butterfly analogy of this. The greater the attachment to the "thing" the greater the hold of the pain and suffering. The tighter the pushpins hold the butterfly in place. By loosening the attachment we loosen the pins and there fore loosen the suffering - hmm maybe?! X
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barleywine View Post
The idea is that the rational mind holds sway over the vagaries of feeling. The Thoth title of "Sorrow" seems to convey the understanding that the heart doesn't much like to be told by the mind what it can and can't do.
That's how I see this card as well! The sorrow comes from disillusion and the realization of truth. As much as we, especially in the Tarot community, like to talk about having the truth and integrating our shadow sides, it should not be forgotten that this is a very painful process full of grief, guilt and shame. The possibility therein lies in leaving a place where we just limit ourselves and damage our lives.

I also love the depiction of this card in the Deviant Moon Tarot, where a woman touches the blades piercing her heart. It's like she's carefully checking the sharpness of the swords as a first step to realization.
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Personally, I think putting a heart on the RWS 3 of Swords was something of a mistake. The Sola Busca 3 of Swords shows a head being pierced by three swords, which seems more to the point for the suit of Swords. It implies having a severe migraine and an abscessed tooth at the same time, and puts it on a footing similar to the 9 of Swords but more penetrating. For that reason, I usually read the 3 of Swords as mental distress rather than as emotional heartache.
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This is a great thread. Love the insights. This card has been coming up for me a lot lately too. For me it's the truth (swords) causing my heart or someone elses heart pain. So yes in reality it's mental and in the mind. Another factor is there's always a third person involved. Someone using someone to make their partner jealous, someone cheating, still being attached to a past love who has moved on with someone else.

It definitely requires a healing of the mind to conquer that ache in your chest but sometimes it's not your pain to begin with but someone else pulling you into their three-way drama causing three people agony when they all discover the truth.
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The idea of "three people involved" for any of the Three cards is another convention I'm leery of since it seems too prescriptive. I usually think of a two-person relationship as holding three entities: the two individuals and the relationship itself (the "middle ground" and sometimes "battle-ground" between them), which requires a certain type of care-and-feeding to thrive. This is why I created my "Feeding the Elephant" spread, which is based on the premise that a failing relationship is like the invisible elephant in a room: everyone else knows it's there but nobody wants to mention it, so the clueless couple goes right on happily feeding it whatever gave it indigestion in the first place. (Come to think of it, "emotional indigestion" might be a good way to think of the 3 of Swords if we must yield to the "heart" imagery.) I like this concept much better in most cases than the stressful menage a trois scenario.
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