One-to-one with the Three of Disks

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By Sarah Taylor

Before I get going with this week’s article, I have been asked by Eric and the Planet Waves team to write something about my own experience of Planet Waves and why it is that I have been a subscriber for some years now. Being terribly English, and subject to the unwritten law of self-deprecation and understatement, the only trumpet-blowing you’ll typically find here is on the Judgement card. Having said that, I am passionate about those things that I value, and I value Planet Waves — what it stands for, what it offers, and its level of professionalism in a medium that often seems to want to prove everything to the contrary.

Three of Disks -- Thoth Tarot deck.

The Three of Disks from the Thoth Tarot deck, co-created by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris. Click on the image for a larger version.

I came to Planet Waves through Jonathan Cainer several years ago — clicked on an article written by Eric, found the Planet Waves site, and kept coming back. As someone deeply interested in psychology and self-development, Planet Waves provided something I had rarely found before: the opportunity for inquiry and insight. It has provided support and validation. It has also been provocative and challenging, provoking and challenging me to start widening what were then all-too-narrow horizons. My life has changed immeasurably since I started reading it, and writing for it, and in no small part due to our meeting.

Having been a Web writer and content manager in my previous professional life, I know what it takes to publish online in terms of time, resources and manpower. The subscriber editions rival little else that I’ve seen in terms of content and production values; and I know first-hand that they have the ability to catalyse and effect change. If you feel at all moved to become part of something that can support, validate — and, yes, provoke and challenge — then click here to become a subscriber.

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On a whim earlier this week, I decided to pull a card from the Thoth Tarot and use that as the basis for today’s article. I work with the Thoth for most of my own readings, and it felt timely to go back to it. Yes, it tends to polarise people into ‘love it’/’hate it’ camps — most frequently due to one of its creators — but most people would be hard-pushed to refute that it is visually striking. I consider it one of the most beautiful tarot decks I have seen — and there are a lot out there.

More important to me, though, is that the Thoth doesn’t fuck around. I use that language deliberately: often this deck delivers a similar jolt to the one you might get reading the word “fuck” from a writer who seldom cusses in her tarot column. Sometimes you have to choose your words, and your deck, so that they cut to the chase. Sometimes tarot cats, fairies, and 50s housewives won’t deliver the goods. Today, that chase-cutting is gentler, given that I picked the Three of Disks (the Three of Pentacles in the Rider-Waite Smith tarot), which is more measured in the way it reveals itself.

The Thoth Tarot was co-created by occultists Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris, the latter’s work on the deck, as artist, incorporating Projective Synthetic Geometry. It has become one of the most well-known of the Golden Dawn-based (or perhaps ‘Golden Dawn-influenced’, given Crowley’s break from the Order in the late 19th Century) tarot decks, which generally embody a synthesis of, among other things, elemental, Qabalistic and astrological imagery. As with many of the Golden Dawn decks, the cards’ symbols unlock meaning layer by layer. I am limited to my own knowledge, but the following is what does come to me when I look at the Three of Disks.

At first glance, the card is deceptively simple: three wheels sit under the corners of a triangular pyramid, this structure surrounded by jagged clouds behind which is a blue background. The three wheels are red, and they form a solid and equal foundation for the pyramid, as if not only anchoring it into the centre of the card, but holding the planes and edges in place, all equal.

On each of the wheels is a symbol, denoting salt (often referring to the ‘body’) on the left, sulphur (to the ‘soul’) on the right, and mercury (to ‘spirit’) at the top. These are the three core substances in alchemy, many forms of which had as their aim spiritual transformation. This ‘three’ is repeated in the pyramid’s edges, which are reinforced in triplicate (with three lines at each edge). Together, wheels and pyramid form a formidable team, creating a stability that transcends the power that each brings individually.

There is a visual emphasis on the careful balancing and correspondence of each element. A question forms: what is it in you that asks for balance? To what do you over- or under-attend? If you were a pyramid, what would the pyramid look like? What would you look like?

From the perspective of astrology, the Three of Disks represents Mars in Capricorn. (The symbol for Mars is at the centre top, the one for Capricorn at centre bottom.) So we have the directedness and energy of Mars in a sign that corresponds with “tradition” and “reserve”. Capricorn is ruled by the planet Saturn, which is to our inner world what the skin — which Saturn rules — is to our bodies. To work with Saturn well is to understand the notion of limitation. Therefore, what Mars in Capricorn describes might be a controlled moving forward, or a sense of dedication and discipline that can deal with energies that might otherwise derail plans and projects.

And now to the clouds with their sharp leading edges, and that have the ability to overrun the sky (which they have done in the Three of Swords). Here, however, there is a clearing formed by the disks. Among the clouds that have the ability to obscure, something remains strong and constant.

There is something very active about the clouds — as if they are playing a role in the energy of the structure, rather than simply being repelled by it. There is a tension between cloud and structure, the regular planes of the wheels and pyramid ‘denting’ the leading edges of the clouds away from it, turning them into blade-like serrations.

Another point of enquiry offers itself: without a sense of contrast in your life, would you apply yourself with the requisite dedication? Do you really want to venture back into the mist when you have the opportunity to develop such an aware presence of what is at centre, of what is available and also at stake?

There is a pathetic fallacy to the encroaching clouds. They could be ferocious, yes, but what if that ferocity could be harnessed to be your ally — shadow-cheerleaders on the sidelines, showing you what the alternative is to embodying the “Lord of Works”: a return to something that covers over rather than reveals, and does so in a way that is uncompromising. And if you went back into the murk, Mars in Capricorn energy, when aspected well, does not let you stay there for long: it is too busy sizing up the next obstacle to negotiate, gearing up for the next uphill climb, looking for the next mentor or inspiration to keep at it.

So we see commitment to the card’s alternative title: Works. That’s plural, not singular: it is coordinated, multi-faceted effort. Look at the Three of Pentacles in the Rider-Waite Smith deck. There, we see, from left to right, worker (perhaps an apprentice), friar and architect. The latter two are experts, and themselves builders — of the physical and the spiritual realms. Another way to see this is that the apprentice is elevated, with his two teaching guides at his feet, forming that three-sided, three-pointed base, just as mercury, pointing upwards as our connection to spirit, would be nowhere without salt and sulphur.

There would be no chemical reaction; there would be no alchemy; there would be no transformation. This card indicates the ideal conditions for this to take place: balance, mutual activation and contrast.

And the ability lies within you. Capricorn is a cardinal sign, and as a cardinal sign, it is an initiator. You are the initiator; you are the initiate, striving upwards. Do the groundwork first, and you have the foundations to build something enduring.

If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread.

Sarah Taylor

About Sarah Taylor

Sarah is now taking applications for her online tarot training - a five-week course starting in the fall. Find out more on her website:
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One Response to One-to-one with the Three of Disks

  1. stormilarue stormilarue says:

    i’ve always liked this card but mostly because of the symbol/triangle, which used to be the logo for my alma mater. and of course, that is no ordinary triangle. through my affinity i found out it’s actually an inverted dragon’s eye;

    “The Dragon’s eye used to be a favorite shape for cutting magical stones, especially transparent or translucent crystals that might resemble the popular mind’s imagining of a dragon’s eye. The figure has an illusory quality. Steady gazing at its center can develop the illusion of three dimensions, so that it appears to be a tetrahedron seen from above or from one corner. Certain minerals naturally form crystals of this shape. Whenever such crystals were found, they were usually regarded as foci for magic powers.

    The Dragon’s Eye also forms a triple triangle, sacred to the ancient Goddess in some of her ninefold forms, such as the nine Muses or the nine Morgans. This figure and certain of its variations appeared often in medieval books of magic to invoke the protection of female spirits.”

    Walker, Barbara G. (1988). The woman’s dictionary of symbols & sacred objects. NY: Harper & Row.

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