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The Meaning of
the "Three of Wands" Tarot Card

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What is the inverted meaning of
the "Three of Wands"?

The Meaning of the "Three of Wands"
Tarot Card

The Symbolism of the Three of Wands

A well dressed man looks out at a harbor from the top of a cliff. Sailing out into the waves are three ships — probably his own.

His dress suggests that he is a merchant and not a general, so we gather that these ships are part of a commercial venture.

Beside him are three wands which are firmly staked into the rocky soil. The soil has streaks of green within it, indicating the possibility of fertility — but one not without challenges.

The color of the water suggests an early sunrise. Across the water we see grey mountains rising on the horizon, symbolizing challenges ahead.

The man is stationary, and his hand rests firmly on one of the wands, as if to say: I am here. I have staked my claim.

NOTE: Observant students of Tarot may notice that the red cloak and white headband of the man, look extremely similar to the Magician card of the Major Arcana. It's also worth noting that the Magician holds a wand-like scepter in his right hand. The visual connection is intentional, indicating that the Three of Wands is striving for the masterful execution represented by the Magician. He is not quite there yet, but his ideal is everything the Magician represents. The man in the Three of Wands is taking risks — but what he hopes and yearns for is a level of Magician-like absolute mastery over his ventures.

How to Interpret the Three of Wands

The Three of Wands card represents a time when plans have been completed and are now underway.

The planning phase is past, and the first steps of actual progress are taking place.

Like the merchant pictured on the card, deals have been struck, preparations made, and now boats are setting-off across the water. The planning phase is past, and the first steps of actual progress are taking place.

The Three of Wands card carries a certain level of excitement and enthusiasm as a result of these initial steps occurring. After a long period of stillness, the ice has thawed and movement begins.

At the same time, unlike the Two of Wands card which presents a man planning his future from the safety of home — the Three of Wands shows a man alone and outside on a cliff.

As with all ventures, there is an elemenet of risk here.

Responsibility and prudence will yield success in his business. The ships are his, and the only thing that he can do after making all of his arrangements and seeing them off, is to wait for the results.

Generally speaking, the Three of Wands is seen as a positive card. But it's important to remember that it does not indicate outright success. It portrays the first steps towards success after a period of careful planning, but not the actual achievement.

The card also carries overtones of strength in character, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial spirit.

The Three of Wands Inverted

The reversed Three of Wands carries a message of warning, but it's important to note, it does not reference failure.

Where the upright Three of Wands represents the first steps down the road after a period of careful planning — the inverted position represents a disconnect between planning and forward movement.

We all know what it's like to begin something and realize that we've made some poor assumptions. Or to realize too-late that we're a little unprepared for the task at hand.

... it's usually a gentle warning that somebody may have leaped before they looked ...

When the inverted Three of Wands appears in a tarot reading, it's usually a gentle warning that somebody may have leaped before they looked to some extent.

The card may also be an indication that too much risk is being taken; Maybe the potential winnings just don't measure up to the amount wagered — in terms of money or personal time and commitments.

In either case, there's a diconnect somewhere.

Is success still possible? Yes. But the appearance of the reversed Three of Wands suggests that planning was insufficient — and some difficult surprises may be in store.

... Or the risks and the rewards just don't match up somehow.

Common Symbols Found On the Three of Wands Card

Tarot cards often use a a symbolic language to convey additional hints about each card. The Three of Wands makes use of at least three common, repeating Tarot symbols. Each of these symbols which repeat throughout the deck can add additional dimensions of interpretation to the card.

The symbols which appear on the Three of Wands card are:

  • Water

    Water symbolism appears on the Three of Wands card:

    In Tarot illustrations, water comes in multiple forms — ranging from sacred pools, to meandering rivers and streams, to wide oceans and seas. While each of these representations of water may carry a more specific meaning, water in broad strokes symbolizes nourishment, emotion and our intuitive nature. Interestingly, water is more common in the Minor Arcana cards, and is very often (but not exclusively) found in the Suit of Cups.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Water" in Tarot  

  • Boats and Ships

    Boats and ships symbolism appears on the Three of Wands card:

    Historically, boats represent not only safe-passage overseas, but also commercial venture, exploration and business risks. In Tarot imagery, boats shown in the distance typically point to a business risk or something ventured.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Boats and Ships" in Tarot  

  • Mountains

    Mountains symbolism appears on the Three of Wands card:

    Mountains in the background are one of the most ubiquitous symbols which appear in the classic Rider Waite Tarot. In most cases, mountains indicate challenges which need to be passed, and hardships which need to be overcome. Depending on the Tarot card where mountains appear, these challenges may either reference future circumstances which lie in wait along the current path, or they may remind us of past challenges and hardships which have already been completed prior to arriving at this time.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Mountains" in Tarot  

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