Understanding Tarot: The Threes of the Minor Arcana

minor arcana threes
Cards Pictured are from the Rider Waite Tarot Deck

The Understanding Tarot series is written by Claire Chilvers. If you would like to read more of Claire’s articles or book a tarot reading, please visit www.clairechilvers.com or follow her at – @ClaireChilversTarot

The Maturity of Threes

We have now reached the third stage of our ten-part Minor Arcana journey, and by looking at the pictures that accompany them it is clear that the respective journeys of our Swords, Cups, Wands, and Pentacles have overcome the duality of the Twos and propelled us onto pastures new.

In numerology, three signifies growth and this can occur in many different ways-

  • For the Swords, growth is primarily within our own mind, thoughts, and belief system.
  • For the Cups, we are given the opportunity to experience new emotions and feelings.
  • For the Wands, our creative adventure and passions are being pushed further outside our comfort zone, and growth.
  • For the Pentacles, we can see our plans for our future beginning to take place. 

It is interesting when the number cards are placed together how we are instinctively are drawn to the happier, safer looking cards. If I asked you to choose between the Swords or Cups by looking at these two pictures, I doubt many would pick the pierced, painful heart of the Swords.

Similarly, comparing the safety of the solid foundations shown in the Pentacles card may seem a safer place than the treacherous water crossing of the Wands. These journeys are starting to spiral off in very different directions!

However, within our lives we will, more than likely, experience all four of the cards, and when we do it is always important to remember that they all offer us opportunities to grow within our mind, body, or spirit.

The Three of Swords

The Three of Swords is a harsh card to receive, the pain it signifies is laid bare and unflinching. All three swords are shown piercing the heart, and with heavy rain pouring down around it the day is very bleak indeed. However hard we look there are no silver linings in the dark, grey clouds.

No one would willingly want to put themselves in this position, and when we see how quickly the swords have progressed to a place of misery and gloom, it puts the card which preceded it in context.

If you remember the Two of Swords showed a blindfolded woman who was in doubt as to whether she wanted to move forward on her journey or stay where she was. Now we know where her next step takes her, it makes her indecision understood. If you knew the next step in your journey would bring you here would you have continued?

This card brings a painful truth that is bought to the surface of our minds and when it appears it gives no choice but to face what it shows us and there is nowhere for this painful heart to hide. But, when we look at the card, it could easily be assumed that the heart has only just been pierced, but, this may not be the case.

We all carry pain and suffering in our hearts and carry on as if there is nothing wrong. We humans are experts at putting on a mask and pretending we are ok. We ignore warning signs that our physical health needs attention.

We close our mind to the idea that our relationships are failing by smiling politely next to a partner who we do not feel connected to and many can ignore unsaid truths or learned behaviour in our families that we just accept as normal. Sometimes it is easier to pretend. But, this never ends well, and eventually, the swords piercing our heart become impossible to ignore. 

When this card appears it gives us the opportunity to face up to what needs to be done – even if this means a lengthy stay in hospital or hurting people that you love or even causing yourself anguish.

In order for this painful heart to grow and heal the swords need to be extracted. But the promise is that eventually the pain and suffering will go away. Even the worst storm gives way to better weather.

Unfortunately, the swords do have a tendency to give the harshest lessons, but, it is always with the promise of making your life more content.

If this has led you to think of a part of your life which resonates with the Three of Swords, take a moment to think how it would feel if that issue was satisfactorily resolved and you could move on with your life. 

There is no denying that this card is not a great place to be, but, the positivity is it is urging you to grow and put the experience behind you. 

The Three of Cups

In comparison, the Three of Cups seems like the perfect antidote for the difficult message of the Three of Swords. A celebration is underway and a sense of occasion and joy are reflected in the happy faces, the dancing, and the cups held aloft (presumably full of something nice to drink).

The dilemma of the Two of Cups was whether or not it would be prudent to allow love and friendship into one’s heart. And the Three of Cups is now showing us the wholesome feeling of happiness that it can bring. It is often said that when you are omitting a certain vibrational energy, people with the same vibration appear in your life.

One of the nicest experiences we can have is to connect with people who are enjoying and celebrating the happiness in your life with you and adding to the experience.

Obvious examples of this are joyous occasions that become cherished memories which stay with us forever; weddings, birthday parties, christenings, bar mitzvahs are all signs that we have grown as an individual and other people are happy for us. 

This card also appears when a birth is announced which is the most literal sense of two growing into three and is often announced with the type of impromptu dancing and celebrating seen in this card. 

The three of cups is a wonderful reminder that there are times when it is perfectly fine to live in the moment and be happy. And, of course, as we have only just touched on the pain of the Three of Swords it is a poignant reminder that when we see happiness within our lives or the lives of the people we love we should raise a glass and be thankful for it. 

Of course, we cannot drink and dance forever and this happy scene and its events will eventually be only memories. But, for now, enjoy!

The Three of Wands

The Three of Wands sees our intrepid explorer reach the first obstacle within his adventure. We last saw him in the Two of Wands, looking out over the walls of his castle to the big wide world, holding a very small globe in his hands. He obviously made up his mind to leave the safety of his home and I often wonder if this card represents the time when we take a big breath and think, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?’

Has this adventurer bitten off more than he can chew? Has he stepped a little too far out of his comfort zone?

He seems to have reached a point where he needs to summon up the courage of his convictions and find a way to get around this difficult terrain he has reached. The river is a torrent of molten lava and the ships sailing within it do not seem to be fairing too well. If ever there was a card to invoke our flight or fight instinct this is it.

What would you do?

The positivity in this card is that the man is standing still. He is not rushing in, nor is he turning back. He is facing the problem with a determined stance. He is standing tall, with his wands standing firm alongside him.

This is not the first time he has overcome a challenge and achieved something. He left his castle with only one wand (if you remember one of the wands was fixed steadfastly to his castle wall). Yet, along his travels, he has accumulated another two.

Wands relate to our passions and creativity and turning these into a reality is one of the hardest journeys that we all face.

Being passionate about our chosen art, craft, or skill and wanting to take this gift further in our lives can be quite an ordeal.

Many actors, musicians, dancers, or writers have felt the pain of rejections in their chosen profession or the torture of self-doubt as they learn their trade. And for those who want to pursue a career that involves years of study and financial constraints this card is a reminder of how sometimes it is our passion and desire to succeed that keeps us going. 

There have been warnings in both the Ace and Two of Wands that this would be a physically demanding journey, but, for anyone who has already come this far, the message is that there is always a way forward and they have the fortitude to find out how.

The Three of Pentacles

Our last card is the Three of Pentacles, which is showing growth in a far more pragmatic and sensible way. There seemed no way out for the man in our Two of Pentacles card who was using all his energy juggling. But, as is often the way, it would seem that asking for help seems to have been the way out from the predicament for him. 

Admitting that help is required is a mature approach that we often do not take, but, once we do the progression in our lives can be life-changing. 

The card is showing one man standing on a bench talking to another two interested parties. There are plans in view, which signify what could become – rather than what is happening at that precise moment.

The three pentacles are not being thrown in the air repeatedly, but, have found their place into the solid foundations of the bricks and mortar of the building. This is grown-up thinking the type seen when applying for a mortgage and purchasing a home of your own, or taking part in a meeting with a bank manager to discuss a new business – how sensible! 

But, of course, these are long-term plans and ones that we do not always see the benefit of right away. Again, the pentacles slow us down and bring us back down to earth with a bump. This is the first step for the future and the only thing to remind us of the goal is the plans that are still only written on paper. 

However, the positivity within this card is the stillness of it. The building is in the similar style of a church; a place of sanctity and safety. The promise of this card was security and that the hard times of trying to juggle so much at once are finally gone. 

Growth comes in many different ways and, as we can see in the threes, whether it is accompanied by pain or pleasure, adventure or stability it will teach us a new aspect of ourselves and help us determine what we see as important within our lives.

But growth can also be a little exhausting and as we approach the fours we will see that each suit will give us the opportunity to rest and regroup from the experiences so far.

If you would like to read more of Claire’s articles or book a tarot reading, please visit her website www.clairechilvers.com

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About the author

Claire Chilvers

Claire Chilvers is a writer and tarot reader and lives in Essex, UK. She offers tarot readings to clients in the UK and around the world via video calls (Skype usually), if you would like a reading please contact her at clairechilverstarot@yahoo.com.