For some reason, three's seem a little hard to grasp in Tarot. From the delightful Three of Cups to the painful Three of Swords, what do they have in common? It helps me to imagine a three-legged stool. From the tenuous decision-making and pondering of the two's, something begins to manifest in the three's. While a two-legged chair wouldn't support one's weight without tipping over, the addition of that third leg allows the seat to support something as solid as your posterior. While the type of manifestation is dependent upon the suit, what is common among the three's is that first manifestation of something real, supportive, and true.
The Major Arcana each of the three's echo is The Empress. This is related to her procreativity and abundance. She is the generative force behind bringing life and creation to fruition and the three's each show a manifestation of that creative energy by the coming together of various elements in due measure. Astrologically, Jupiter and Venus are represented by the number three and Venus is the planet of The Empress as well. Venus rules our feminine side as well as relationships and the things we desire. Three's also represent manifesting that which we desire through working with others, bringing things into relationship with one another to produce and create something.
Jupiter is numbered three in Vedic astrology and rules the balance of past karma, religion, philosophy, knowledge and issues relating to offspring. Interesting then that the theology of many major religions is dependent on the number three: Judaism boasts the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Christianity has the Trinity, the union of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost into one Godhead. Hinduism has Trimurti and the Ayyavazhi Trinity. A devout Muslim tries to make a pilgrimage to all three holy cities in Islam: Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. There is the Wiccan "Rule of Three," the "Triple Goddess" of pagan religions, and the Greek concept of the "Three Graces."
Speaking of that, three's in tarot do represent a trinity. The word "trinity" comes from "trinitas", a Latin abstract noun that means "three-ness", "the property of occurring three at once" or "three are one." Therefore three's convey the concept of three distinct entities coming together and working or operating as one.
The Three of Swords is often seen as one of the "bad" cards in tarot, and with cards such as the Robin Wood, a derivation of the Rider-Waite-Smith version, it's no wonder. There's an overriding atmosphere of sadness and pain to this image that seems more compatible with the cups suit. However, in the non-scenic pip decks where one will often see a design of curved pairs of swords, when an odd number of swords is present, the final one is often drawn straight, piercing the design created by the curved pairs. Symbolically, this suggests a decisive thrust that breaks the stalemate seen in the Two of Swords. Therefore, the Three of Swords may signify a decisive, perhaps aggressive or painful, resolution to a dilemma. Swords, being of the realm of communication and thought, do affect our feelings and as such the image of the pierced heart on the RWS versions of the card show this coming together of three statements, arguments, issues, or ideas that reveal a, sometimes painful, truth. However, I have also seen this card to bring out that other notion of three: resolution and reconciliation. The third sword is the necessary third element that makes the truth real to the seeker and the heart can now reconcile itself to the reality and truth of the situation. The third sword actually brings a sort of relief this way, a breaking of the tension created by the opposing truths indicated in the two so that healing and wholeness is possible.
The Three of Cups seems to be quite the opposite of the Three of Swords, however the trinity aspect can be clearly seen in both. The Three of Cups often pictures a delightful scene of three women enjoying one another's company and the abundance of the work of their hands. This card often reminds one of the Triple Goddess and Three Graces iconography and as such brings to mind the wholeness of creation and the joy and happiness of human interaction and charity. It reflects the Empress in the feminine aspect as well as in the natural abundance of the earth. The union of the three figures evidences the trinity as they are one together in spirit and in the dance. There is another similarity between the Sword and Cups three's in the reconciliation concept. Cups, symbolizing emotions, can represent difficult emotions as well as positive ones. Therefore, when difficulties arise between two people, be they romantically involved, business associates, or friends, sometimes a third party can be extremely useful in bringing them together. Also, this card can represent the stage in a new relationship where the couple begins to socialize as a couple with others, bringing their relationship to a new level and making it more solid and "real" as others recognize them as a distinct entity together. It's the recognition and affirmation of society that creates the more fleshed out identity of the couple as a unit.
The Three of Wands, especially in the RWS based decks, can sometimes confuse as the image is often of a sole figure on a hilltop with three wands looking out to sea. The energy of the three's is not so readily seen in the imagery. Wands represent creative energy and the action to produce results. With this in mind, and remembering the planning efforts of the Two of Wands, the figure in the Three of Wands is evidencing the results of both the planning of the two and the putting energy and action behind those plans resulting in an outcome of success. It also suggests the creative cooperation of a small group of focused individuals toward a common goal, even though only one man appears on the card. The efforts are represented by the three wands. He is leaning on his, and the other two show the combined efforts of others. Together, all three lend the energy and support needed to see the "ship come in." Therefore, the Three of Wands evidences those attributes of the three's of creativity, trinity, and manifestation through that singular quality of the wands suit: creative visualization and energetic effort.
The Three of Pentacles shows the results of the energetic balancing of the Two of Pentacles through which the seeker is able to achieve mastery over at least one field of endeavor that brings tangible reward. While the juggler in the Two may be burning his candle at both ends for a time, it brings about the accomplishment of the Three where others now seek out his expertise and skill for cooperative work. Many decks picture this card as a Master Craftsman at work, often with others, but just as often he or she is featured alone at work. However, the building blocks of his success are seen in the time spent trying to balance, say, work and school, or money and time, depending. This three brings in a tangible third element that brings financial or structural stability to one's efforts. It's by no means a time to relax on one's laurels, however. This card indicates, as a three, a "first completion" from your efforts, not a final accomplishment, as if there really was any such thing. Even the Major Arcana XXI The World which suggests a major accomplishment can be reduced to three. This indicates that we're never really done learning, creating, growing, succeeding, and accomplishing. Keep at it as success breeds success.
Robin Wood Tarot by Robin Wood Copyright 1999 Published by Llewellyn Worldwide
Morgan Greer Tarot copyright US Games.Victoria Regina Tarot copyright © 2000 Sarah Ovenall