Three of Swords Rimble Ramble

Daily Draw March 12th, 2011

I am not keen on outright divination because it feels meaningless to me. I am too much a fatalist I think–what happens, happens; yet reflecting on things appeals to me without divining the future.

Yesterday I wanted to soak up card decks and art, fueled by the depth and interest of the Portable Fortitude Playing Cards. I went to and picked a random card to examine across decks randomly.

I picked the International Icon Tarot which I don’t own. I got the 3 of Swords.

As I’ve mentioned before, three swords stabbed through a heart shape is not an inspiring archetype for me. That is a Rider-Waite image, which came from the old Sola Busca deck. (I would like a copy of the Sola Busca, I wish Lo Scarabeo would reprint theirs.) The fact that this image has a long history of association does not improve my disappointment whenever I see a deck with three swords in a heart.

My little ramble here is about augmenting the idea of the 3 of Swords, and how artists do that and thus provide greater depth to their work and the archetype in general.

There was an unfortunate meme at the Jump the Shark Tarot Forum a few years ago where a supposed expert and various cronies decided that it was politically incorrect to collect decks and that one couldn’t be a good reader unless one used a single deck for what they termed “intensive deck study.” Nonsense, where do people get this silly sort of dogma? And why do people jump on this correctness stupidity instead of thinking for themselves? Beats me, but it never kept me from buying more decks, enjoying my deck collection, and continually learning.

1. Whimsical Tarot – Hansel and Gretel are lost, anxious, and frightened of the strange place they are and the strange sounds surrounding them that they can’t identify. Yup, these two are definitely spooked, and Gretel seems to have given herself up entirely to despair. We know this feeling, and having grown up spending summers in northern woods and lakes, I really identified with this example of being lost and not recognizing where you are. The metaphor being that “lost” can mean lost in emotions as well as physical situations. If you lose your home or relationship you have no way to get your bearings, at least for a time.

2. Tarot of the Imagination – The always different imagery in this deck is why I bought it. Soldiers, looking Russian, who remind me of gulags and getting pricked by dear old Uncle Joe and loaded on a railway car to Siberia. It can also mean going into battle and leaving for the front in the middle of the night. How unsettling in any case. The cold, the worry, trying to contain your emotions among strangers.

3. Celtic Tarot – This one comes close to the original archetype, but the raggedy despair is very hard, very compelling. Dreams up in smoke, the desolate landscape before you. I liked the comment in the booklet that this card is about guilt. Yes, we put the Wayback Machine on continual rewind and let that guilt and desolation eat us alive. This figure literally looks like he’s clawing chunks from his face, eating despair.

4. Housewives Tarot – This was the most conventional of the random imagery I picked. Perhaps a bit too much emphasis on infidelity in this deck. I loved the line about how you can’t let him have his cake and eat it too if he’s cheating on you. The focus on an individual relationship and cutting the person out of your life because they give you chronic heartburn was clever but somewhat restrictive, which is probably how the original stabbed heart image seems to me. Still, it’s a nice, fresh image and very, very clever and charming.

5. Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA – This odd deck can really come at things in a new way. That figure reminds me so much of a Rockwell Kent woodcut. Pardon me for mentioning my favourite illustrator again, but he does seem to influence people in a Blakean way, as he himself was influenced by Blake.

There is a wonderful poem in the book to go with this, that I shall copy:

Dim shades of former lives have troubled you.
Fierce violation of your sanctuary.
Fleeing in grave despair, you crouch alone.
You feel defenseless, and you’re vague and wary.
Accept the fact–most people are defective–
and bow to time in bitter compliance.
For in the scheme of things we cannot fathom
suffering itself creates experience.

Notice how well this reflects some of the things I can see in the other cards? Julia Turk nailed it, and gave it greater depth. “Nail” being an apt word with regard to this card as we tend to crucify ourselves.

The birds are condors await carrion and brood in an air-like way, air and intellect being associated with Swords usually. The pearls of reason in the figure’s hand are about to drop as they drop reason and intellect in their despair. She went further and mentions that this deep feeling of sorrow can build a new foundation on the surprising results of discovering yourself. After everyone has gone, we are left with the Self. Ain’t so bad. That also ties in with my general feeling as I discussed last week with the card from the Tarot of Pagan Cats, that this card can be about unnecessary drama when things are not as bad as you feel they are.

I find the “fierce violation of your sanctuary” line echoes the thought of soldiers and battle and having privacy and autonomy ripped from you by war.

6. Golden Dragon Tarot – Another odd deck. I believe the images were taken from something else like a book or comic and then fitted to tarot symbolism. Okay it shows, but so what? It simply gives you another angle which is not a crime. In this image the woman seems to be sewing him into his warrior clothes, or perhaps repairing them and getting him ready for the next battle. An interesting reflection of the card in the Tarot of Imagination. He has turned his back on the star to concentrate on the material plane, which is full of illusion. Actions must be accompanied by harmony, diplomacy, and wisdom. Is the good fight really good or necessary?

7. Circle of Life Tarot – Another favourite deck of mine, and here the figures seem to be fighting with themselves in an angry loop of fussy crankiness. In the booklet they mention that the most dangerous enemy is always within us. To conquer others you must conquer yourself first. The vague smoke of archetype across decks wafts by again.

8. Songs for the Journey Home Tarot – This was my 7th deck when I first discovered tarot, and I love the art and words, the ability of the authors to spot the human condition. I am tempted to call this card “Flying Crabby Kites” and these three are definitely tangled in frustration. They seem locked in this situation, and need to disengage from further entanglement. They have also lost the wind to fly while their emotions take hold. The book talks about unravelling patterns of ineffective communication. I liked the thought that while people might seem aggressive, it is a mask for their feelings of vulnerability and woundedness. That makes sense in recognizing that battle is not necessary, that the drama doesn’t really exist. Always the thought of emotions and intellect, grappling with each other senselessly.

9. Wheel of Change Tarot – People criticize this deck for the author’s ecological “agenda.” So what, she has some good points. Spend ten years completing a deck of your own like she did, and then complain. Oh I forgot, you’re doing your intensive deck study, so you must be more in tune with the proper way of doing things, and thus able to sort everyone else out.

I think of that aged tree being cut down in its prime, but it can be made into other things. Perhaps a dining table, a rustic one showing the split in the wood, ready to receive that gorgeous cake from the Housewives Tarot. Build anew, reform, action and change, plus time that nature needs to recover and develop new growth. The idea of using your inner resources wisely appealed to me, as well as her thoughts about being out of balance in your feelings and using the Earth’s natural rhythms as a mirror to find your own balance.

Which brings me to why I think I keep drawing this card. It isn’t about treachery or betrayal, it’s about finding balance for health and protecting my heart from damage. Eat properly, sleep when the sun goes down, rise when it does, accept the rhythms and gifts of nature. Don’t fight yourself, don’t get tangled up in the past or cranky dramas of your own making. Don’t eat bad food in the material world, accepting the illusion that it is some how making you safe when you feel defenseless. And most of all, don’t have a heart attack that will damage your heart irrevocably. The bitter compliance with time: my body is not young and cannot handle illness.

That’s the word today.

After all that.

But didn’t we have fun looking at the pictures?

Sure we did.

And we’ll remember them too, whenever we think of the 3 of Swords.


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