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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Universal Waite: 3 of Swords

Universal Waite, US Games 1990
What is the deal with the 3 of Swords? It's a curious card, no matter how you look at it, and not what you'd expect in the swords suit. Nearly every RWS deck uses the image of a valentine heart pierced by three swords, with some sort of rain or dripping around it. And of course it's traditionally seen as indicating heartbreak. Well, that doesn't seem quite right to me, somehow. I associate that sort of abject 'heartbreak' with the cups suit, the suit of emotion; I think a card meaning heartbreak would fit in better there, though none spring to mind at the moment. The swords I associate with thinking. So while these swords pierce the heart in the image, it is a false piercing of the heart. It's a false heart (being a valentine, after all). And it's even a false piercing, there being no blood in evidence. So this card doesn't read to me to be 'heartbreak' so much as 'making yourself miserable by what you're thinking about a situation.' You THINK you're heartbroken. But your heart is neither broken nor pierced, in reality. It's something you are doing to yourself. Or prolonging, or intensifying, in yourself. You keep stabbing YOURSELF in the heart.  You can stop. And just like the pain wouldn't go away instantly if you stopped poking yourself in the finger with a pin, the pain in your 'heart' won't stop instantly when you realise you're doing it to yourself. But it will stop, eventually. You have to stop stabbing yourself first, though. And stop believing that you're the victim of someone or something else. You're in control of how long you let this 'stabbing' continue.

Sandra A Thomson's excellent 'Pictures from the Heart' suggests: 'A major question to ask yourself concerns your personal symbolism of rain. Is this rain a light, healing, renewing, fertilizing shower--the release of tension? Is it about to become a deluge, suggesting a sense of being overwhelmed?' Looking at the card, there isn't a lot of rain actually falling, and the clouds, while ominous, certainly don't appear about to burst. So maybe this 'heartbreak' is needed, or at least temporary. Well. It's certainly temporary, no doubt about it, even if those clouds may actually be about to bring a flood.

The first reaction when you turn this card over is 'Oh no!' because the image is quite striking, and all you can think is-- 'stabbed through the heart'--betrayed. Broken.  But when you make a study of it, it's actually quite a cold card, the big valentine heart hanging there in complete isolation in mid-air. It's like an abstract concept rather than a genuine emotion. Hanging in the air, the symbol of thought, pierced by swords, also symbols of the workings of the mind. The valentine heart shape itself a symbol of a kind of emotion that many people consider nebulous and temporary, or at least the result of that fickle old hormone, pitocin--here today and gone tomorrow. 

That's enough rambling for this morning, I'm off to work now. May come back and add more later. For me personally, I think this card is about the walk through the rain I am about to have to do get to work this morning! :D 


  1. Yeah, I really like the thoth title - sorrow - for this card better than heartbreak. even with the rsw image, i've never really thought of its quite like that, for the reasons you mention....that's more cup-ish level of feeling...

  2. I agree with your take on this card, completely. I've always felt it was more of a state of mind type of card.

    Where when you think of heartbreak, you (I) think of the physical pain of the emotions. Which in truth that pain is a mentally inflicted pain, so...