Although there are no purely negative cards in the Tarot, the Three of Swords, at first glance, appears to be one. One of the most iconic images of the Tarot’s Minor Arcana, the Three of Swords card suggests heartbreak, sadness, conflict or financial loss.
On the flip side, the Three of Swords card encourages us to look for the silver lining in life’s dark and painful situations and to express and release our negative emotions so we can heal.
What does the Three of Swords Tarot card stand for?
The Three of Swords Tarot card is a picture of suffering and difficult emotions. It typically shows up in Tarot readings in the wake of a recent loss or after a painful breakup. The Three of Swords is a reflection of past hurts and their lingering effects.
When we face conflict, heartbreak or sudden loss, it is only natural to get swept up in powerful, negative emotions. Being able to fully experience the pain and allow it to course through us is key to then being able to release it.
When we either suppress our emotions or hold grudges, we get stuck in the pain of past traumatic events. The Three of Swords often appears in Tarot readings to tell us that it is time to let go of suffering and allow ourselves to move on with life. Even if you are the one who has been slighted, the best thing you can do for yourself is to let it go and focus on your healing instead of on your sadness.
In rare cases, the 3 of Swords may point to potential cardiac issues.
Numerological meaning of the number 3 in Tarot
According to Numerology, 3 is the number of change, progress, movement and innovation.
These are the qualities we must keep in mind when we encounter the of 3 of Swords, which at first glance looks negative and static. Knowing the inherent qualities of the number 3 helps us to see that the the Three of Swords does not reflect an immovable situation, but a process that can lead us to the positive meanings of the number 3.
If we look at the three other Minor Arcana cards also labelled with the number 3, we will see a number of parallels between them and the Three of Swords.
The Three of Wands signifies expansion, travel, exploration and new opportunities. The Three of Pentacles means teamwork, collaboration and learning. The Three of Cups brings us creativity, collaboration and celebration.
When we let go of the hurt and sadness of the Three of Swords, we become able to tap into the positive energies of the numerological number 3.
The Swords and the elemental air
Each of the Minor Arcana’s four suits represents one of the four elements; Wands for fire, Cups for water, Pentacles for earth and Swords for air.
Each element governs a different aspect of life. The Swords and the element of air regulates thoughts and communication, including internal thought patterns, mindsets, beliefs and self-talk. Swords appear throughout the Tarot, not only in the Minor Arcana’s Sword suit, but in the Major Arcana as well.
The Magician’s sword
The Sword is an important feature in the second Major Arcana card, the Magician. Here we see the young Magician practicing his mastery over the four elements and the life areas they govern. In his hand we see a wand, and on his altar we see a cup, a pentacle and a sword.
Like the Magician, we each need to learn how to master the elements that make up our lives. Encountering the Three of Swords is a perfect opportunity to practice and to develop our mastery over the element of air and all it represents.
Three of swords Tarot card description and symbology
Depictions of the Three of Swords vary from one Tarot deck to the other, but we can expect to find the same essential symbolism known from the Rider-Waite Tarot.
In the foreground of the Three of Swords card we see a floating heart pierced by three swords.
The heart is a symbol of feelings and interpersonal connections. The heart is also a vital organ of the body; if it is wounded or compromised in some way, we find ourselves in serious trouble. The heart represents the focal point, the center, the source of life.
The three swords
Thee three swords piercing the heart represent words, thoughts and beliefs.
The significance is clear; the heart has been fatally wounded by the swords, by words and mental constructs.
The three swords piercing the heart is symbolic of a loss of control and of unexpected hurt. The heart has only been wounded because it has been exposed. You may have placed your trust in a a person, relationship, job situation or pursuit, only have been led down or betrayed. If you had not trusted, if you had shielded your heart, this would not have happened.
The dark clouds and the rain
In the background of the Three of Swords card we see dark clouds and a heavy downpour.
The dramatic weather serves to emphasise the grief and sadness reflected in the card, and is also a sign of emotional release and its importance in the healing process.
Three of Swords Tarot card meanings
Here are the most prevalent interpretations of the Three of Swords Tarot card. Which meanings stand out will depend on the context and any surrounding cards in the Tarot reading where the Three of Swords appears.
The first and primary significance of the Three of Swords card is heartbreak.
The pain inflicted on our hearts if we are dumped, fired, rejected or betrayed cannot be overestimated. When we bravely and trustingly expose our hearts, we open ourselves up to experiencing the highest joy and the deepest pain that life has to offer. It’s a risk we need to take, but when it backfires, we may be crushed by the pain of it.
Mending a broken heart and learning to trust again is a key meaning of the Three of Swords.
Emotional pain, sorrow, grief, hurt
The Three of Sword card meanings include all kinds of emotional suffering, not only heartbreak in the romantic sense.
Sadness and grief can result from bereavement, job loss and any unforeseen negative events.
There Three of Swords can be a sign of negative mindsets and self-talk.
When the Three of Swords appears, you are being encouraged to pay attention to your inner dialogue and look at how your beliefs about yourself or others shape and limit your reality.
If you are carrying around a lot of negative and restrictive beliefs about yourself, whether they relate to your appearance, your skills or your possibilities in life, the Three of Swords encourages you to practice self reflection, find them and work on undoing them.
What you have been told you either can or cannot do does not define you – your past skills or abilities do not put a cap on how you can develop in the future.
Three of Swords reversed Tarot card meanings
When reversed, the Three of Swords Tarot card meanings become inverted or intensified. Here are the primary meanings of the Three of Swords reversed. Which ones stand out more depends on the wider context of the Tarot reading in which the reversed Three of Swords appears.
Emotional release, forgiveness, moving on
The Three of Swords reversed can be a sign of emotional purging and releasing pain. Just like the rain in the background of the card, you are shedding and releasing your anguish.
Expressing and voicing our hurt and grief is an important step in getting through them, eventually emerging at forgiveness or self-forgiveness and renewed trust and optimism.
When the Three of Swords appears in its reversed position, it can be a sign of having become stuck in grief and pain, unable to voice them and let them go.
Sometimes this happens when we initially repress our true feelings. Numbing ourselves to sorrow may bring temporary relief, but rather than a permanent fix, repression is a way of sealing the anguish up inside and leaving it to fester.
What the 3 of Swords means in a Tarot reading about love and romance
When the Three of Swords appears in a love life Tarot reading, it almost always means heartbreak and the pain inflicted by the crumbling of a current or recent past relationship.
Reversed, the Three of Swords points to the process of getting over a breakup or betrayal. Whether the card speaks of the emotional purging that is needed in order to heal, or about stuck or repressed grief depends on the surrounding and clarifying cards that appear in the reading.
What the 3 of Swords means in a Tarot reading about money and career
When the Three of Swords appears upright in a career Tarot spread, it is not a good sign.
Often, the Three of Swords can point to loosing a job, to being passed over for a promotion or an exciting opportunity, or simply not being appreciated and rewarded in accordance with your level of skill and experience. Either way, you are feeling slighted and are having a hard time letting go of it.
When the reversed Three of Swords card appears, you are near the breaking point in your current job situation. You might be finding yourself in a toxic or stifling environment, and it may be time for you to stop waiting around hoping for things to get better. Perhaps the best you can do is to leave and look for better opportunities elsewhere.