In the Tarot and in many mystic and religious teachings, the number three is considered to be an exceptionally powerful number. There are numerous examples of various trinities at work: The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the Mother, Father and Child, the Mind, Body and Spirit or Power, Intellect and Love. Three represents the union of two parts or forces to create a third, more dynamic power. Manly Palmer Hall, the mystic and author of The Secret Teachings of the Ages, described the number three as being ‘the equilibrium of the unities.’ In the Tarot, the number is thought of as the access point to greater power.
Symbolism of the threes
In general terms, the threes deal with finding the right balance between the two foundations of our lives, to create a third, dynamic action or force. The triangle is recognised by science as the strongest geometric shape in nature and the same is true in more philosophical terms. Spiritual growth can be seem as triangular in that we climb the lateral sides to reach the tip, using two sides of our nature in equilibrium. Three reminds us that we are all connected and that only by working together can we achieve unity.
The 78 cards of the Tarot are broken down into two sub-groups: the Major and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana deals with the grander forces at play in our lives, those that are common to all of us. The Minor Arcana acts as a focus for those energies, making them pertinent to our individual existences. The cards are broken down into further suits; the Wands, the Pentacles, the Cups and the Swords. Each suit has its own associations and, as you break the suits down into their constituent parts, you will find that each card has its own qualities, although governed by certain aspects of its suit.
Three of Wands
The Three of Wands shows a man standing with his back to us, observing something from afar. In his hand, he holds a staff which appears to have greenery growing from it. Another two staffs appear to be growing from the ground around him, creating a triangle in which he stands. The man has travelled a great distance to get to where he is and, although he knows that others will come here in the future, no one can take away the fact that he has made the journey himself. The staffs that surround him and support him represent the idea that your own virtue and accomplishments are things that can never be taken away from and that they will always be there when you need them.
This card also reminds us that, once you have discovered enough about yourself to decide just what it is that you have to offer the world, you can then begin to put those wheels in motion. The Three of Wands is often used by readers to remind querents that as long as we are prepared to learn by our mistakes, there can be no such thing as failure.
Three of Cups
The Three of Cups depicts three women raising a toast with golden goblets. One of the women has her back turned to us, but the other two are smiling, suggesting a celebration of some sort. They all have flowers in their hair and are standing on ground that is rich with vegetation, whilst the sky behind them is clear and cloudless. From the way in which the women’s feet are positioned, we are led to believe that they are dancing in a circle and that the occasion is a joyous one. Each of the three women is equal in status and is enjoying each other’s company.
This card reminds us that there is often safety and comfort in groups. It can a time when we allow our emotions to blend and create a united sense of recklessness or revelry. However, there is also a warning hidden in this picture; the cups are the highest objects in the scene, suggesting that they are the most important. In addition, there are no clouds, which are used to symbolise creativity, intellect and ideas. The warning is that if we get caught up in a swathe of emotions, we often forgo the thoughts and plans that we rely on to make sense of our lives. However, it also suggests that there is a time and a place where it is only right to indulge our emotional sides.
Three of Pentacles
The Three of Pentacles reminds us that in order to complete a task to the best of our abilities, we must employ thought and reason, before committing to the job in hand. We see a stonemason, with a chisel in his hand, standing on a platform. A monk and a nun stand by him, under the stone arch that the mason is to be working on. In their hands are the plans for the work he is to undertake.
There are two possible meanings to this card. The first is that the querent is part of a group that are getting ready to complete a task. Before the task can get underway, it is important that everyone is allowed to have their say and has the right to be heard; everyone must have their input. However, if the querent is working alone, it means that he must pay attention to his rationale and planning abilities before getting things underway. The Three of Pentacles reminds us that planning and careful thought are as vital as the work itself; they are all equal parts of the same process.
Three of Swords
The Three of Swords shows a symbolic red heart, pierced by three swords, the blades of which cross as they pass through and exit at its base. This peculiar depiction takes place against the backdrop of a grey and cloudy sky, which is thick with rain. The Three of Swords indicates that the querent is experiencing personal pain of some sort. However it also warns that we might unwittingly be inflicting pain on others around us. Swords represent our powers of communication and, more specifically, words.
In drawing this card, it is likely that words have been spoken that have pierced the querent to the core. Alternatively, it can suggest that words spoken by the querent – either in jest or in haste – have had a far more pronounced effect on someone than was originally intended. However, the oncoming rain, issuing from the clouds suggest that, as long as the querent is prepared to consider what has happened, their pain or the pain they have inflicted will be washed away.