3 of Swords: Guardians of the Underworld

3 of swordsImage – The Wheel of The Year Tarot

In the in-between time between Autumn and deep Winter, between Day and Night, three crossed swords project, hilt up, from the hard ground. On top of each sits a bird – two owls on either side, a crow in the middle. In the sky behind them, a flock of birds fly into the fading sun. The bare, dry branches of Winter are entangled with one another on all sides.

In more classical decks, the three of swords is depicted by three swords thrust through a heart – often the “Valentine’s Day” sort of heart, occasionally a realistic human heart. In this deck, the three swords are thrust into the earth, words from a sharp tongue that strike true. The setting sun glows behind and through them, the “heart” that is pierced. The birds that perch upon them are traditionally guardians of the underworld, harbingers of death, and bringers of knowledge. The owls, hunters and symbols of deep wisdom, flank the crow… a symbol of mystery, transformation of carrion, emblem and sometimes tool of divination. The swords are a conduit from sky to ground, from the wisdom above to the mysteries of caverns below.

Meaning: The 3 of Swords

The 3 of Swords is traditionally the card of heartbreak. When you draw this card, it points clearly to difficulty and sorrow in the area of your life that you are exploring through your reading. This is a card of Shadow-work, of facing sadness and disappointment. Real, deep grief asks much of us…  it asks us to do the work of letting go, of accepting, and of healing.

In most interpretations this is a “negative” card, a “bad” omen. In a deeper way, though, this card is indicative of shadow work, putting in the time and effort to acknowledge, process, even embrace the pain and difficulties that are part of life and part of knowing ourselves.

The Three’s Advice for You

When you pull this card, there is inner work you need to do, and ritual can help. Explore the layers of the problem facing you, and make them concrete in the physical world outside yourself. Write, dance, sing, or speak your truth into the world. Write the things you need to let go of on a piece of paper and burn it. This is a card that advises you to do the inner work, then make a real change in the outer world.

The three birds, the keepers of the darkness, counsel attention, healing, and moving on from hurts – especially in a reading that includes more positive cards or few other swords.  No life is without disappointment or sadness. With maturity comes an acceptance that suffering and pain are part of life, even a necessary part. This realization doesn’t need to make us bitter, hard, or withdrawn. Rather, an understanding of this nature of our world can lead us to become people of compassion – teachers, healers, helpers. That is the calling of growing up… helping others to reach a place of understanding and balance in life, while staying students of our own experience and growth.

That journey begins with facing our own darkness – being willing to go into the depths of our own sorrows and wounds, so that we can come out the other side. Avoiding or sidestepping our own pain does not heal it, nor does it help us move forward. Avoidance is how we become stuck or stagnant, unable to move on from the thing we seek to deny. Acceptance is how we begin to take the next step in life.

So feel your sorrow. Acknowledge the truth that your heartbreak happened. Embrace all the emotions that come with that reality, and give them time.

The Three’s Questions for You

What’s the worst possible outcome of your situation? What’s the best?

How can your work of acceptance and understanding help you bring about the best outcome, and put to rest your fears of the worst?

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