In-Depth with the 3 of Swords

Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing.
— Elizabeth Gilbert

Last month's In-Depth had us exploring the Page of Pentacles, and when I posted about the article on Instagram, I received a request to cover the 3 of Swords next. Since I have just about zero agenda as it comes to these pieces, expect for the hope that I can produce them at a rate of one a month, I was open to the suggestion.

So here we are, my third In-Depth and in it we'll be taking a deep dive with that sometimes dreaded and often difficult 3 of Swords. I say sometimes dreaded and often difficult, because rarely do you pull this card to a rave reaction or sigh of relief. No, 3 swords piecing a heart doesn't exactly conjure up those warm and fuzzys. But, that's not to say there is nothing positive to be gleaned from its presence, but we'll talk more on that later.

Before we get too far into possible interpretations, lets first pick apart the imagery on this minor arcana. While there are many decks that may depict the 3 of Swords in various ways, I'm going to focus specifically on the Rider Waite Smith. It is my observation that even with many independently produced decks, this card is often depicted in a similar fashion; a close up of 3 swords piecing a red heart. Sure, artists have their own interpretation, but it more or less goes just as that.

3 of Swords from the Pagan Otherworlds Tarot

3 of Swords from the Pagan Otherworlds Tarot


What is so interesting about this depiction, is that it is a clear departure from many of the other arcana (both Major and Minor). Where most cards showcase people, or at least animals, the 3 of Swords is void of this. Instead, it grabs your attention by zooming in on the main focus or theme of this card, being pain. And by removing people or other living beings from that equation, it suggests that we cannot distract or be swayed from that which we must face. No, we must acknowledge the pain that is right in front of us (or deep within us) and understand the ways in which it keeps us from healing or moving forward.

There is also something strange that I experience when I pull this card, and that's this temporary confusion regarding which suit it belongs to. I know it's a Sword, but the heart makes me think Cups, and this is the only Sword card that carries this vibe for me. I honestly can hardly untangle the Cup from the Sword here and when I draw this card, both energies and elements appear very interrelated. To me, this suggests that matters of the mind, especially where pain is concerned, cannot exist and leave the heart or body unscathed.

And then there is the matter of the weather pattern occurring in the background. I talk a lot about weather and what's happening in the sky when trying to interpret a card or spread at large, and here the message is crystal clear. And no, the skies are actually far from being clear, but the point is well made. The rain pours down and the clouds close in, and we know that these feelings are not necessarily neat and tidy. They may be messy or uncomfortable at best, or down right destructive at worst.

So the focus on the pieced heart, gloomy weather, and absence of bodies tells me that whatever is happening for the seeker who pulls this card, must be examined on one's own. These are our emotions, hurts and disappointments to unpack and we mustn't rely on anyone else to do the work. That doesn't mean we can't call on help - but the real journey belongs to us. If I pull this card in a reading, I know spirit is asking me (or the person I'm reading for) to face and acknowledge what is still hurting that is yet to be healed. It could be a previous relationship, a devastating loss, a broken friendship, a troubled childhood, a poor decision or anything else in-between. 

But, that doesn't mean the 3 of Swords doesn't come with a bright side too. If we can seize the opportunity to face and work through our pain, then we stand to come out the other side having experienced a breakthrough, massive release and potentially a lot of deep healing.

At the end of the day, this card is one about feeling. Whether that feeling is something you are currently dealing with, past feeling that has yet to heal or future feeling that you are being forewarned of - the point is to examine the pain and its source. While the key may be apparent in the other cards that fall around it, your higher self and inner knowing likely already has answers. Don't be afraid to face this head and heart on. 

Well, that wraps another in-depth feature. I hope you've enjoyed these insights into the 3 of Swords and if you have a request for future in-depths, let me know in the comments below, and until next time...