Increasingly, I realise what I really want to do is go back to a time that is pre-Christian, when symbolism was not tied to Christian belief, and if you wanted to write about the number three, you wouldn’t be required to discuss distractions like the Holy Trinity.
Discussing the symbolism of numbers as they relate to tarot wisdom and lore is a rather pagan act, after all. Tarot and anything to do with the occult (studying astrology, for one thing) has long been seen as dipping one’s toe into Satan‘s icy-cold waters. And yet we persevere, determined to unlock the mysteries.
The overarching theme of the number 3 in the tarot is that of ‘opening.’ The symbolism of opening, of being open, of including others, and of communicating (sometimes very broadly interpreted) comes up repeatedly in the Threes. This makes sense when we consider the influence of the symbolism of the Empress on the minor arcana Threes, for the Empress tells us to be open to the birth that is to come.
If you’ve ever had a child, you know that the metaphor of ‘being open’ is crucial at all stages of the pregnancy, and ultimately, this is the ‘deeper mystery’ of the Empress, in my experience.
Interestingly, the number 3 in the tarot has much to do with what happens for us after we have begun a project (or a new course of study, or a relationship, or a business, or a piece of art). The process of development that leads to manifestation requires that, at some point, we start to show our progress to others. This is where the Threes come in. You will notice in most Tarot Threes that the unifying idea behind the picture is to show us that now a group of people is involved in our life, our plan, our project.
During this process, you know you have been talking to others about your decision, about your difficulty and pain.
This Three indicates that not only is something very difficult or painful for you, but that you have opened your heart to something or someone, and have been severely disappointed or hurt.
As everyone knows, this process of experiencing pain in relationships of all kinds involves talking to others about your feelings. You’ll see the Three of Swords in readings where you can no longer live with the pain, and must discuss it with others (or write about it, make a film about it).
The key to all the Threes is that no matter what you’re experiencing, you are also involving others in your life. Especially when you’re in pain (as the 3 of Swords indicates) it’s healthy to tell someone.
The point to the Three in Tarot, therefore, has everything to do with communication: networking, reaching out, asking for help, getting assistance, guidance; working with a mentor. Since the three represents a small group, it takes us beyond the secretive nature of the tête-à-tête that is found in an intimate relationship of two people.
The nature of communication in the Threes is not necessarily less personal, it’s just that it’s shared with more people. It doesn’t have to be communication with a group all at once; think in terms of telling different people you know the same thing. There’s the communication of a secret in the Twos, but now the secret is more widespread. Even if you don’t talk about it at the same time with everyone in a group, the fact is, you’re telling more than one person about your problem or issue.
With the Threes, think in terms of the group setting of going out to dinner with friends in the Three of Cups, or sitting down to work with your creative team in the Three of Wands, or reaching a stage of development in the Three of Pentacles. It can represent working with a small group of people in harmony. As we will see with the Fives, where the theme of group work comes up again, the Threes have to do with unified thinking as a group, rather than adversarial relationships within groups.
It’s common wisdom these days that each numbered minor arcana card “belongs” to a Major Arcana unifying card. In the case of the Threes, of course, we’re talking about the Empress card. When we apply the metaphysical truth of each Major Arcana card to its minor arcana subset, we see what the Threes can mean in our lives, in our psyches, and in our souls, if we are paying attention to Empress themes.
As I will discuss later on in this series, the Empress is a card of fruitfulness and abundance. This is her purpose, as a pregnant woman who is about to give birth. As you know, of course, since you study this stuff, being ‘pregnant’ is a metaphor for connection with one’s creativity and fecundity.
When Threes come up in a reading, therefore, be on the lookout for ways in which you are being asked to join a group, become more open (thinking again of the pregnancy theme of the Empress); be creative, express yourself more openly, allow others into your life; find a mentor within a group you belong to; get more education.
You get the idea. The point of the Threes is to open yourself to the ‘birth’ process. What is the birth process? For men and women, being closed to new opportunities, especially opportunities to experience an earthier side of reality that would, at one and the same time, ground you and make your life more fertile, is a waste of the gift of humanity, if you ask me.
The cool thing about being alive is being able to go out into the garden and plant runner beans, or begin a poem, and call up all your poetry friends to tell them about it; or to give birth to a new idea and then promote it.
Without the Three influence, you wouldn’t have creative groups. When you think about what groups of people can accomplish together, it’s amazing. My holy trinity, broadened to give it greater applicability to today’s world, would include something like the group of people who made space flight possible, or Gertrude Stein‘s Paris salons, which encouraged the artistic/creative abilities of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Picasso; or the Aristotelian Unities, wherein Aristotle relied on ancient Egyptian wisdom about the triad/triangle metaphor of the number 3, applying the metaphor to dramatic theory.
When you see a Three come up in a reading, then, ask yourself, am I being creative? Am I open to what comes my way? If I got an offer from some stranger to paint or take his picture right now, would I take it? If not, why?
I’ll tell you why not: because it’s far too easy for us in our rushing here-and-there thither and yon society clutching a cup of Starbucks to ignore this side of our lives. If you see reversed Threes in your reading, it’s likely the cards are trying to tell you that you are denying, limiting, or restricting this feminine, fecund, open side of yourself.
I work with creative people, and when I get a reversed Three for one of them, I get worried, because it means to me that their creativity feels as barren as an infertile womb to them. Writer’s block, inability to focus, emotional misery due to a lack of love in your life… all of these can be found in the unexpressed, disallowed Three experience.
When we get to the Fours, it will be clear that most people live out their Emperor much more easily than they live out their Empress, in Western society. This comes with a price, at least it does if you are, by nature (another Three word) creative—and we all are, in differing ways.
Do yourself a favor and listen to the what the cards are, with the subtlety and silence of incubation in the womb, trying to tell you. It’s only a whisper in the Threes.
Here, watch this youtube presentation of a relatively new deck based on Albrecht Dürer’s artwork. I am acting out the purpose of the Three of Wands by disseminating this artistic and creative information!
- Introduction to the 22 Major Arcana cards of the Tarot Course (contemporarytarotassociation.com)
- Review – Destined (pipmiller.wordpress.com)
- Meet the Cards: The World (raelynbarclay.wordpress.com)
- What is Tarot? (fullmoontarot.com)
- Karyn Crisis Tarot Art (submerina.wordpress.com)
- The World (deelaytful.wordpress.com)
- Afternoon Thoughts- The Pagan Tarot Part 6 (revmorgan.wordpress.com)
- Tarot Talks Plumbing (katieellentarot.wordpress.com)
- Tarot Twos: How to Attain Symmetry, Balance and Duality Without Losing Your Mind (beyondthestarsastrology.wordpress.com)
- Ace of Pentacles: The Sacred Geometry of Chance (beyondthestarsastrology.wordpress.com)
- A www test: What Tarot Card Are You? (cyndamoore.wordpress.com)
- Pithy Tarot meanings – Three of Swords (jamesricklef.wordpress.com)
- What would you like to know more about the Tarot (contemporarytarotassociation.com)
- The Essence of the Ace of Cups: Inception of Creativity and Spirituality (beyondthestarsastrology.wordpress.com)
- Heart of Tarot- Book Review and Tarot knowledge (thepurplebroom.wordpress.com)