The Meaning of
the "Three of Swords" Tarot Card
Tarot Quick Info
What is the inverted meaning of
the "Three of Swords"?
The Meaning of
the "Three of Swords"
The Symbolism of the Three of Swords
One of the most iconic and memorable images in the tarot deck, the Three of Swords features three silver swords piercing a large heart, and crossing each other somewhere within.
With very few exceptions, most other Minor Arcana cards (aside from the Aces) depict scenes with people, places and actions. The Three of Swords however is distinctly abstract, reminding us that what is being reflected here is a concept, not a scenario.
Above the heart, storm clouds gather. There is no background visible, other than sheets of falling rain.
When we are grieving, nothing else is apparent. Only the pain matters.
The lack of any background detail on the Three of Swords speaks to the experience of grief: When we are grieving, nothing else is apparent. Only the pain matters. Everything else which surrounds us is momentarily inconsequential.
The downward direction of the swords is also intentional. Contrasted with the enthusiasm and energy of the upward-pointing Ace of Swords, the Three of Swords has a finality and downward motion which suggests a temporary loss of energy and momentum.
How to Interpret the Three of Swords
The Three of Swords is a card of setbacks, pain and disappointment.
While the literal definition is "heartbreak", it is only likely to have that meaning in a specific type of relationship reading — or during periods of personal crisis.
For most everyday readings, the Three of Swords ... is not likely to be that negative.
For most everyday readings, the Three of Swords while negative, is not likely to be that negative.
Setbacks and disappointments are part of every aspect of our lives. Business setbacks, legal setbacks, planning setbacks and scheduling setbacks are just a few examples of the types of less heartbreak-y things that may be represented by the Three of Swords.
The lack of any background in the card suggests that this setback or loss is the sole focus of the moment. When bad things happen, it may be tempting to jump back in the saddle and move forward right away. But the Three of Swords suggests that we pause for a moment and take a personal accounting of what was lost and how.
Only by understanding pain and loss do we understand how to avoid it in the future.
The Three of Swords Inverted
The Three of Swords reversed has several possible meanings, but they all revolve around a single central theme: Grief is somehow disconnected from the actual loss in some way:
... someone is sad or heartbroken, but they wear an external mask of sunshine and smiles.
In some cases, the inverted Three of Swords might reference an outward display of emotion which is at odds with pain felt internally. Perhaps someone is sad or heartbroken, but they wear an external mask of sunshine and smiles.
In other cases the opposite may be true: Perhaps someone's externally-communicated grief is in fact, only superficial.
It would be easy to assume that both of the above scenarios are a form of intentional acting or deception, but in many cases our expected emotional responses do legitimately differ with what's going on inside.
The Three of Swords reversed doesn't suggest why this disconnect between external and internal feelings is happening — only that it is happening.
For more insight, try drawing a clarifying card.
Another possible meaning for the reversed Three of Swords is that a loss is poorly understood in some way. Perhaps someone is still coming to terms with a recent loss, or perhaps a setback happened, but the causes are poorly understood.
Common Symbols Found On the Three of Swords Card
Tarot cards often use a a symbolic language to communicate hints about how the card should be interpreted. The Three of Swords makes use of at least two well-known, repeating Tarot symbols. Each of these symbols which repeat throughout the deck can add additional layers of interpretation to the card.
The symbols which appear on the Three of Swords card are:
Water symbolism appears on the Three of Swords card:
In Tarot symbolism, water comes in multiple forms — ranging from small pools, to bubbling rivers and streams, to expansive oceans and seas. While each of these types of water may carry a more specified meaning, water in all situations references nourishment, emotion and intuition. In the Tarot deck, water is more common in the Minor Arcana, and is more often (but not exclusively) found in the Suit of Cups.
Grey skies symbolism appears on the Three of Swords card:
The colors of the sky in Tarot imagery often hide small hints as to the interpretation of each card. Grey-colored skies typically reflect a degree of unpredictability. This neutral colored sky is not foreboding, nor necessarily positive.
NOTE: The rainy grey sky in the 3 of Swords card serves as a reminder that this disappointment may be temporary in nature, and a reversal of fortune may still be possible.
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