Tarot 101, My Way – Minor Arcana: The Threes

In esoteric number theory, the Three represents growth, progress and opportunity. Geometrically, it is symbolized by the triangle, the third point of which provides a new perspective by mediating between the other two; thus, “understanding” is also indicated. Another thought is that it implies “getting off the treadmill” implied by the cyclical motion of the Two and seeking a new frontier. It represents the plane, which has both length and breadth but not yet depth; that comes with the solid figure of the Four. It also suggests the Child of the Father (One) and the Mother (Two), in other words, creating something unique from original principles. Reconciliation of opposites is one of its key virtues, as is expansion of existing boundaries. Other concepts are fertilization and fruition. In the Golden Dawn system, the Threes are broadly defined as “action definitely commenced for good or evil.”

The Minor Arcana: Three of Wands

Titles:

The Lord of Established Strength (Mathers); Virtue (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Sun in Aries, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Established force and strength. Realisation of hope. Completion of labour, success of the struggle. Pride, nobility, wealth, power, conceit. Rude self assumption and insolence. Generosity, obstinacy according to dignity.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“He symbolizes established strength, enterprise, effort, trade, commerce, discovery; those are his ships, bearing his merchandise, which are sailing over the sea. The card also signifies able co-operation in business, as if the successful merchant prince were looking from his side towards yours with a view to help you. Reversed: The end of troubles, suspension or cessation of adversity, toil and disappointment.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

(General) “In each of them is expressed the symbolism of Understanding. The idea has become fertilized; the triangle has been formulated. In each case, the idea is of a certain stability which can never be upset, but from which a child can issue.”

(Specific) “The Three of Wands is accordingly the Lord of Virtue. The idea of will and dominion has become interpreted in Character. Represents the establishment of primeval Energy. The Will has been transmitted to the Mother, who conceives, prepares, and gives birth to, its manifestation. It refers to the Sun in Aries, the Sign in which he is exalted. The meaning is harmonious, for this is the beginning of Spring. For this reason one sees the wand taking the form of the Lotus in blossom. The Sun has enkindled the Great Mother.”

Discussion:

The Waite-Smith (RWS) version of this card is perhaps the least expressive of its Golden Dawn roots. Its strength is more provisional than established, since the enterprise is just setting sail. The man in the image is a merchant watching his laden ships sail off to trade in foreign ports, bearing his hopes for success. Waite’s idea that the “merchant prince” is “looking from his side toward yours with a view to help you” doesn’t bear up under scrutiny On careful consideration, just the opposite seems to be true; the man is looking away from the viewer, thoroughly absorbed in his own affairs and oblivious to what is going on behind him. Thus, he could be easily “blindsided” by circumstances (perhaps a storm at sea or the Spanish Armada). One of the most useful interpretations of this card is “patience” (or the need thereof) while waiting for one’s “ship to come in.” Crowley’s title of “Virtue” squares well with this conclusion.

The “metaphorical euphemism” for this card is “The ‘patience is a virtue’ card,” and several additional keywords are self-respect, integrity, strength of character, firmness, enthusiasm.

The Minor Arcana: Three of Cups

Titles:

Lord of Abundance

Astrological Correspondence:

Mercury in Cancer, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Abundance, plenty, success, pleasure, sensuality, passive success, good luck and fortune. Love, gladness, kindness and bounty. According to dignity.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“The conclusion of any matter in plenty, perfection and merriment; happy issue, victory, fulfilment, solace, healing. Reversed: Expedition, dispatch, achievement, end. It signifies also the side of excess in physical enjoyment, and the pleasures of the senses.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Three of Cups is called the Lord of Abundance. The idea of love has come to fruition. There is here the fulifiment of the Will of Love in abounding joy. It is the spiritual basis of fertility. The card is referred to the influence of Mercury in Cancer; this carries further the above thesis. Mercury is the Will or Word of the All-Father; here its influence descends upon the most receptive of the Signs.

At the same time, the combination of these forms of energy brings in the possibility of somewhat mysterious ideas. This card requires great subtlety of interpretation. The pomegranate was the fruit which Persephone ate in the realms of Pluto, thereby enabling him to hold her in the lower world, even after the most powerful influence had been brought to bear. The lesson seems to be that the good things of life, although enjoyed, should be distrusted.”

Discussion:

Led on by the RWS image, tarot readers commonly see this card as a “love triangle;” since three people are portrayed and the subject is emotional fulfillment, the interplay of personalities comes to the forefront with a potentially negative connotation. A more universal idea is that of “friendship” and the harmonious enjoyment thereof. There is no hint of adversity in the card, except perhaps in Crowley’s observation that it isn’t advisable to be too sanguine about our good fortune, which may be fleeting; Waite’s mention of sensual excess; and Mathers’ suggestion of undue passivity while waiting for success to arrive. This is a very good card to see in most contexts since it promises pleasant developments and effortless cooperation among like-minded souls.

The “metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘three’s a crowd’ card (aka the ‘lovers’ triangle’ card),” and a few additional keywords are fulfillment, fruition, plenty, good fortune, liberality.

The Minor Arcana: Three of Swords

Titles:

Lord of Sorrow

Astrological Correspondence:

Saturn in Libra, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Disruption, interruption, separation, quarrelling, sowing of discord and strife, mischief-making, sorrow, tears, yet mirth in evil pleasures, singing, faithfulness in promises, honesty in money transactions, selfish and dissipated, yet sometimes generous, deceitful in words and repetition. The whole according to dignity.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Removal, absence, delay, division, rupture, dispersion, and all that the design signifies naturally, being too simple and obvious to call for specific enumeration. Reversed: Mental alienation, error, loss, distraction, disorder, confusion.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The idea of division, of mutability, the idea of the airy quality of things, manifests itself in the Three of Swords, the Lord of Sorrow. But this is not any vulgar sorrow dependent upon any individual disappointment or discontent. It is Weltschmerz, the universal sorrow; it is the quality of melancholy. This card is dark and heavy; it is, so to speak, the womb of Chaos. There is an intense lurking passion to create, but its children are monsters. This may mean the supreme transcendence of the natural order. Secrecy is here, and Perversion. The symbol represents the great Sword of the Magician, point uppermost; it cuts the junction of two short curved swords. The impact has destroyed the rose. In the background, storm broods under implacable night.”

Discussion:

As a Three, this card should carry the assumption of expansion and advancement, although it is difficult to envision through the haze of dire pronouncements made by all three primary sources of esoteric tarot wisdom. The best that can come of it is probably the acknowledgement and acceptance of a “no pain, no gain” scenario, a “prickly situation” at best that may require a disheartening degree of compromise. The pierced heart in the RWS version seems like a “red herring” since as a Sword this isn’t a card of emotional distress, it has more to do with mental anguish. A better notion might be the breaking down of mental barriers to progress, with the associated sense of being adrift in a sea of irreconcilable thoughts and ideas as a new perception of reality takes hold, creating more of a philosophical dilemma than an emotional one. The “bright idea” of the Ace of Swords is beset with hardships as it struggles toward realization of its initial promise. Since the Three is a transitional number seeking its fulfillment in the stable foundation of the Four, this state of mental trauma should be a temporary one.

The “metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘no pain, no gain’ card (aka the ‘wrestling a porcupine’ card); additional keywords include disruption, interruption, separation, discontent, discord, tears.

The Minor Arcana: Three of Pentacles

Titles:

The Lord of Material Works (Mathers); Works (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Mars in Capricorn, 10°— 20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Above and below are symbols of Mars and Capricorn. Working and constructive force, building up, erection, creation, realisation, and increase of material things, gain in commercial transactions, rank, increase of substance, influence, cleverness in business, selfishness, commencement of matter to be established later. Narrow and prejudiced, keen in matter of gain. Modified by dignity. Sometimes given to seeking after the impossible.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Métier, trade, skilled labor; usually, however, regarded as a card of nobility, aristocracy, renown, glory. Reversed: Mediocrity, in work and otherwise, puerility, pettiness, weakness.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Three of Pentacles exhibits the result of the idea of Earth, of the crystallization of forces; and so the Three of Pentacles is called the Lord of Work. Something has definitely been done. The material establishment of the idea of the Universe, the determination of its basic form. It is ruled by Mars in Capricornus; he is exalted in that Sign, and therefore at his best. His energy is constructive, like that of the builder or engineer.”

Discussion:

This is a purposeful card that amply rewards constructive effort. The expansiveness of the Three yoked to the resolve of Mars in its exaltation spells success in material terms. It is a card of turning creative potential into concrete reality, ultimately giving the impetus for growth inherent in the Three a practical outlet in the solid structure of the Four and bringing the nascent changes inspired by the Two to fruition. However, the common interpretation of the RWS card as a “master craftsman” is unsupported by the image, which shows teamwork between what appears to be an artisan, an architect with a blueprint and a client (the onlooking monk); it looks like an adjustment to the plan is underway, so this comes across more as a journeyman taking direction than as a master craftsman making decisions about the project. Planning rather than execution is emphasized by the scene, since the task has been paused while the team consults. There is an old business aphorism that goes “Plan the work and work the plan,” which captures the essence of this card.

The “metaphorical euphemism” for this card is “The ‘plan the work and work the plan’ card,” and several additional keywords include endurance, disciplined effort, material gain through ambition.

 

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