Tarot Reversals – The Threes

As far as Waite and Colman Smith’s tarot goes, the threes can be said to be about well defined, sharp moments that require growth before they can happen. For wands, it is that precise moment when a plan turns into execution. For swords, the moment after the beloved walks out the door, when the lover feels the piercing of his or her heart. For Pentacles, it is the moment the former apprentice realizes that now, now, he is a master artisan. And for cups: well, the harvest is in, it’s time to enjoy the wine. The “sharpness” of those moments can be of both pain and growth. In this it is apparent that Binah, the third sephira on the kabbalistic tree of life, which some say represents the womb, has influenced Waite and Colman Smith. But we’ll leave the details to the one page guides, though, and concentrate on reversals in this post. In the first post in this series on tarot reversals, we introduced the idea that relationships between the divinatory meanings (as defined by Waite in the Pictorial Key to the Tarot) of the upright vs. reversed minor arcana can be interpreted as a change of perspective. In the threes we see that moment, from these two perspectives.

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The Three of Swords – A One Page Guide

Of the Three of Swords, Waite says the divinatory meanings include “all that the design signifies naturally, being too simple and obvious to call for specific enumeration.” While that may be true, like all things tarot, there are layers beneath the surface awaiting discovery. The first thing we note about the illustration is that there is no human figure. Of the minor arcana corresponding to the 36 decans, it is one of only two such cards. What we will find beneath the thrice pierced heart is a balance, as of the scale of Libra, between the masculine Saturn, ruler of the decan, and the feminine Venus, the planetary ruler of Libra. And though Saturn and Venus may be evenly matched, Binah, the very feminine qabalistic influence, tips the scales to the feminine. We’ll also find a very interesting male/female, lover/beloved dynamic in the upright and reversed divinatory meanings. Is the illustration a representation of a detached and removed love? Yes, I think so, and in fact, I think we can even say that Waite implies a direction in that separation: the beloved left the lover. In this series on the minor arcana I have many times applauded the genius of Colman Smith and far less so Waite. In this case, though, Colman Smith has copied another design, and Waite has done something particularly original with the divinatory meanings.

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The Three of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

I had previously looked at the Three of Pentacles as a fairly prosaic card… just a day at work. Ho hum. But it’s actually about the nobility of creation and creativity. The card is at once obvious and subtle. Why does Waite specify that the workplace is a monastery? After all, the monastery’s functions include far more than just work. And why does Waite specifically say that the worker of the Three of Pentacles is the same person who we see in the Eight of Pentacles? There’s a trail we can follow via the major arcana associated with the planetary influence (the World): a reference to Genesis, no less! The answer is that the Three of Pentacles is not just about work… it’s about ennobled work. If we put aside Waite’s mystical Christianity, and think about his message in terms of today, we might see that when this card is drawn by a querent with questions about their job, for example, perhaps it is to suggest that one should consider whether that job is spiritually rewarding. This is a card that says “Quit the stock brokership, move to Hooterville and grow vegetables!”

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The Three of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Three of Wands is not just a nice card, it’s a good, understated design. It is a marvelous representation of the divinatory meanings and has just the right touch of transparency that reveals the story and influences that Waite and Colman Smith chose as a setting. As to the divinatory meanings, focusing on the question of the differences between Waite’s and the GD’s, one can ask a further question: are Colman Smith’s ships coming or going? It seems likely that on the one hand, Waite means to convey that when the Three of Wands is upright the ships are going… outbound to Colchis, adventure, and the golden fleece, or in an alternative reading, to the east to bring back exotic cargo. On the other hand, when the card is reversed, that the ship is returning, with the fleece or exotic goods.

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Three of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Three of Cups is a very simple, straightforward card. Its divinatory meanings are as brightly illuminated as mid-afternoon on the day of the summer solstice. Tracing its meanings probably won’t make you a better tarot reader in the slightest, because nothing is hidden. We can, however, provide a few interesting tidbits, such as possibly identifying the astrological/mythological source for the three dancers, and telling you a bit about Binah, which is by far the greatest force behind the meanings. Happy Alban Heruin to all!

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