Tarot Reversals – The Threes

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. We’ll leave the details to the one page guides, though, for we are concentrating on reversals here.

This post reiterates the text within the illustrations in the accompanying PDF (link below; note also that the PDF will probably be much easier to read then the bitmap graphic). The purpose is to place the content of the PDF here for the benefit of the web indexers. Unlike the posts at accompany the One Page Guides, there’ll be little or nothing new in this post that is not in the PDF. Feel free to skip to the PDF.

In the first post in this series, 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 in the RWS can be interpreted as a change of perspective.

In the thirty six cards corresponding to the decans, we find visual clues to understand reversals by looking at the characters’ points of view. Where there is more than one character, we look at their perspectives of each other. Where there is a single character, from the point of view of an outside observer.

In the four threes, to illustrate the idea of these perspectives, we find the following (Waite’s meanings in regular typeface, my notes in italics):

  • Three of Wands isolated figure

    Three of Wands: Upright: trade, commerce—the perspective of the outbound boats, at the start of the venture. Reversed: end of troubles— the inbound boats arriving home laden with profitable cargo.

  • Three of Swords isolated figure

    Three of Swords: Upright: removal—it’s the perspective of the beloved, who is in the process of leaving. Reversed: alienation—the perspective of the lover, who now feels abandoned and depressed.

  • Three of Pentacles isolated figure

    Three of Pentacles: Upright: Métier—the stone mason views his current work as the master professional. Reversed: mediocrity—same mason views his past work, when he was an apprentice (c.f., the Eight of Pentacles, in which Waite makes a seemingly gratuitous reference to his apprenticeship).

  • Three of Cups isolated figure

    Three of Cups: Upright: conclusion… plenty—the thing being celebrated; abundance, the end of growing season. Reversed: end… enjoyment—they focus upon the now, the consumption, the party

IsleVue Tarot-Zodiac-Element-Sephiroth Wheel of the Golden Dawn

Though I rely on Waite’s writings, the tarot wheel, wikipedia, and my general cultural education to wrest the stories out, there are many other means to do so. I suspect that what I’m demonstrating in the one page guides, and now, these takes upon the reversals, is that there is no “pure” approach to understanding any given card. If you rely 100% on what has been written by the Golden Dawn, A.E. Waite, or anyone who came after them, you won’t ask the questions that lead to a proper understanding. If you take a 100% intuitive approach, you are likely to miss some of the enormous wisdom and energy that was injected into tarot in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially by Waite and Colman Smith.


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John Iacovelli

I have spent 30+ years in the computing industry. In it I've pretty much done everything from tech support for elderly people doing genealogy, to documenting compilers, to software evangelist, to direct mail guru, to CIO of an international corporation. And here I am, older and gray, getting interested in Tarot? 😉

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