Stepping away from the mirror – the Threes in tarot

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Editor’s Note: 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 tells you how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc

By Sarah Taylor

Following on from the article two weeks ago on the Twos, this week we take a look at the Threes in tarot.

I find the Threes an interesting bunch. Collectively, they bring up an initial reaction for me that’s hard to define. Perhaps it is ambivalence, and perhaps that comes from the fact that they appear contradictory: two of them seem relatively mundane, while the other two seem less so. Two are outwardly harmonious; one is a study in expectancy, action suspended; while the imagery in the fourth is uncompromisingly violent.

Three of Wands and Three of Cups - RWS Tarot deck.

The Three of Wands and the Three of Cups from the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck.

Or can each be summed up quite so straightforwardly? Is there perhaps more to the Threes than first meets the eye?

If we view the cards in a suit as a progression from the suit’s potential (Ace) to its balanced expression in humanity (King and Queen), it follows that the Threes are a logical progression from the Twos. In the Twos, we saw potential incarnate in the balance of opposites: duality — although there was already the indication that the notion of true balance is subject to compromise. After all, we may strive for an ideal, but life is such that we rarely, if ever, attain it.

In the Threes, we bear witness to what happens when a third element enters the picture. Each suit shows us a different result of that. This is in keeping with the Threes’ major arcana equivalent, The Empress. Contrary to the notion that The Empress is simply about creation in its life-giving sense, the card is concerned with all aspects of the cycle of life, from birth and beginnings, to consolidation and endings. Joy, sorrow, movement, stasis — the things we can encounter when we choose to strike out in a particular direction. You want the human experience? Welcome to the Threes. Pick a card, any card.

Three of Wands

As the least ‘physical’ of the suits (Wands being associated with spirit and creativity), it seems apt that the Three of Wands is also the least concrete in terms of the experience it is portraying. There is a feeling of things being ‘up in the air’ here.

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Sarah Taylor

About Sarah Taylor

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8 Responses to Stepping away from the mirror – the Threes in tarot

  1. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    it was really amazing to watch it in action (or rather, feel it while watching) the first time. totally organic.

  2. awordedgewise awordedgewise says:

    FIrst I’d heard that – so you get all the credit! :)
    Really useful tool, that observation of tension on/off! Thank you!

  3. Sarah Taylor sarah taylor says:

    Amanda, that is a *great* analogy. Inspired. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    — S

  4. Len Wallick Len Wallick says:

    Actually, it seems as though you make a very good point. You have this knack for thoughtful comment that persists in the mind of those who heed your words. Thank you again.

  5. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    my first thought in reading the article was to remember a simple demonstration from a college acting class. without any dialogue or action, the teacher had first one person sit on stage. they were then joined by a second. then a third, then a fourth & a fifth, some sitting some standing in a grouping.

    after each arrival, he asked us simply to note how we felt observing the grouping. his point was that odd numbers of people automatically imply or create a feeling of tension and apprehension; of uncertainty and some sort of inevitable action. each time a person was added to form an even-numbered group, the tension resolved.

    the threes seemed to be bearing this out perfectly (even the three of wands carries the tension/apprehension of releasing the ships to the wide world, fate unknown) except for the three of cups.

    “harmony?!” i thought. “harmony doesn’t jive with the tension theory!”

    and then i thought of music: of three-part harmony, specifically. that seems a more functional equivalent to the three of cups. it’s not tension in a negative sense, but a functional tension akin perhaps to the tension that makes a triangle a stable geometric shape.

    but i maybe stretching things here… just some thoughts! :)

  6. Charles says:

    Third time’s a charm.

  7. Sarah Taylor sarah taylor says:

    Hey, Len – I felt your silence over the past couple of weeks. Please let me know how I might better line up the breadcrumbs so that it’s easier to make progress through the woods, as it were. Any and all suggestions welcome!

    Regarding your question about predisposition and certain cards … I haven’t considered that specifically, but I am almost certain that certain cards speak to some people more than others, depending what is in their psychological makeup. That’s my point of view, anyway. If a card doesn’t resonate, then perhaps it isn’t activating anything in you right now. Perhaps that’s the difference between getting a serialised explanation of the cards, and having a reading. In a reading, all cards will resonate because they are hand-picked for you. In a series, that might not always be the case – so a learning experience might sometimes be more intellectual than intuitive, and hence will not ‘stick’ as well. I’m thinking on my feet here, if you hadn’t guessed! :)

    A lack of resonance is not the same as ambivalence, by the way – which was my reaction to the threes. Ambivalence is just as valuable an indication that there is something going on as a strongly positive or negative reaction. I read today that threes are problematic for many people – more difficult to interpret – and that was definitely my challenge. I’ll be very interested to read any other intepretive contributions about them in the comments.

    And what a compliment you pay with your suggestion about the articles! I had absolutely no plan to publish them in any other format — there are so many worthy sources that exist in book form already.

  8. Len Wallick Len Wallick says:

    Thank you. For a while it felt as though i was losing the trail of breadcrumbs as your series progressed. Now, with the threes, i am getting it again. Please, have you found that some people are predisposed to get some cards more than others? Also, is here a plan for you to publish the Planet Waves installments as a book?

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