The Three of Swords is the third tarot card in the Minor Arcana suit of Swords and represents a confrontation with the deepest recesses of the heart. It speaks to the ways that we mentally process feelings of loss, heartbreak, regret, and grief. It can also symbolize the process of making serious commitments and promises of the heart.

The Three of Swords is associated with the element of air, the second decan of the astrological zodiac sign Libra (10-19 degrees), and it is ruled by the planet Saturn. Saturn is traditionally considered to be exalted in Libra, meaning that the work of Saturn (responsibility, commitment, maturation, and discipline) is best done in the sign of Libra, which is motivated by equality, harmony, fairness, and balance.

Where the key meanings of the Major Arcana focus on life’s overarching themes and events, Minor Arcana cards like the Three of Swords explore and reveal the more subtle changes impacting one’s day-to-day life and near future. The Three of Swords bears similarities with its sibling cards the Three of Cups, Three of Pentacles, and Three of Wands, in that all four deal with manifestations of energy, growth, and creation.

Three of Swords Keywords

Upright Keywords

Reversed Keywords

pain, heartbreak, mentally processing emotions, forgiveness

releasing pain, avoiding pain, examining feelings, moving on

Description of the Three of Swords Tarot Card

The Two of Swords illustrates the need to tune out the noise of the external world and listen to the wisdom of the heart. The Three of Swords emerges as the result of this period of looking inward. Now, the pain and grief that were lying just beneath the surface of conscious awareness can be brought to light and healed with compassion.

In the Rider Waite Smith tarot deck, a large red floating heart appears in the center of the card as three swords pierce through it. The bright red color of the heart indicates passionate and strong emotions, such as heartbreak and grief. The swords, which symbolize the mind, may suggest that the sources of pain are the thoughts, words, and beliefs surrounding the strong emotions.

In the background, gray clouds fill a gray sky as rain falls in a downpour around the heart. The gloomy weather is a mirror for the internal storms taking place and suggests the feeling of being caught in an emotional storm. As with all rain storms, this one, too, shall pass. A rainstorm is a temporary period, and while it may leave you drenched, there is a silver lining: it also creates the conditions from which new life can sprout from the land.

Three of Swords Upright Meaning

In the upright position of a card reading, the Three of Swords invites you to examine the strong feelings of pain or sadness that are rising up to the level of your conscious awareness. You may be in a period of processing these emotions and are feeling them viscerally. These emotions are emerging so that they may be acknowledged and felt, which begins the healing process.

The three swords that pierce the heart, which symbolize the mind, are a reminder that our thoughts and beliefs about our pain can sometimes make the process of experiencing them more difficult. If we try to talk ourselves out of our feelings or rationalize them away rather than experience them, we may find that we create more internal blockages.

The upright Three of Swords can symbolize painful truths. There may be an upsetting reality that you are coming to terms with, or you could be faced with a feeling of finality on a matter which is difficult to accept. No matter the situation, this card invites you to feel these emotions so that you may learn to live with this new reality with peace and forgiveness in your heart.

Because of this card’s connection to Saturn in Libra, it can also speak to serious agreements, commitments, and vows which are undertaken in a spirit of mutually beneficial growth. You may feel a sense of loss or moment of grief as you consider how making this agreement (to someone or something) closes off other possibilities. Through this process, you can learn the ways in which making deliberate commitments supports your maturation. 

Love and Relationships (Upright Meaning)

In a love reading, the Three of Swords upright may signify that you are tending to your heart as you process difficult emotions like sadness, regret, or heartbreak. This card invites you to feel your feelings and allow yourself to attend to your mental health, which will help you to move forward. The rainstorm will pass, and in the meantime, it is a reminder to take care of your heart.

When the Three of Swords appears upright, it is a reminder that pain is an inextricable part of the human experience and that the potential of emotional loss is always built into the experience of love and attachment. Whether you are making a promise or walking away from a relationship, this card invites you to feel the fullness of your emotions and allow your tears to act as a cleansing rain that prepares you for emotional renewal.

Love/relationships upright keywords

Career/finance upright keywords

heartbreak, processing emotions, catharsis

mourning loss or failure, forgiveness, serious commitments

Career and Finance (Upright Meaning)

The Three of Swords upright suggests that you may be mourning some aspect of your work and career. If you have recently experienced a loss or the failure of a project, this card invites you to allow yourself to feel the range of emotions that are churning inside you. It is an encouragement to forgive yourself and others for what you perceive to be a failure because it may clear the way for something new to emerge.

The Three of Swords may also indicate that you are making a commitment that involves assuming serious responsibility, discipline, and hard work. You may be considering the ways in which making this agreement shuts the door on other avenues of exploration, and the seriousness of this is weighing heavily on you.

Three of Swords Reversed Meaning

When the Three of Swords appears reversed in a tarot reading, the three swords that pierced the heart can now be released. The reversal suggests the removal of the swords and the release from emotional pain and suffering. If you have allowed yourself to feel your range of emotions, you may be emerging from this period of catharsis renewed and with a feeling of lightness and peace.

The reversed Three of Swords can suggest that the mind is creating pain by engaging in repetitive and damaging negative self-talk. This pattern is causing an internal constriction, where emotions and grudges cannot be felt and released because of the presence of this judgmental and critical inner voice. This card invites you to examine the ways that your internal narratives may be creating undue pain.

The Three of Swords reversed can also speak to an avoidance of pain. You may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of dealing with all that lies beneath the surface and are ignoring or avoiding these feelings altogether. This card is a gentle reminder to try and approach your feelings with self-love and compassion and allow them to move through you.

Love and Relationships (Reversed Meaning)

The Three of Swords reversed can speak to an avoidance of pain or difficult conversations around an emotionally sensitive situation within a relationship. It suggests a build-up of hurt, resentment, and sorrow, which is weighing heavily on the relationship. It represents the need to open honest lines of communication with your loved one that get at the heart of the issue, allowing each person to speak their truth and find forgiveness.

The Three of Swords reversed can also indicate that you are emerging from a period of heartbreak. You may have recently suffered a loss, breakup, or ending which brought you in touch with grief and sadness. By having self-compassion and patience, you’ve allowed yourself to process these emotions and can now move forward with a feeling of renewed openness.

Love/relationships reversed keywords

Career/finance reversed keywords

avoiding difficult conversations, built-up hurt and resentment, finding forgiveness, moving on

ignoring or avoiding feelings, experiencing a setback, moving on from grief

Career and Finance (Reversed Meaning)

In the reversed position of a career tarot spread, the Three of Swords speaks to powerful emotions like grief, sadness, or rage, which are being avoided or ignored out of fear. If you’ve recently suffered a job loss, financial loss, setback, or challenge in your work but haven’t processed the weight of this experience, this card may be a reminder to allow yourself to feel these feelings. In doing so, you can find a sense of release, allowing you to move forward.

The Three of Swords reversed can also indicate that you have experienced a recent loss or setback in your work but are coming out of a period of mourning this experience. You can take the lessons you’ve learned as you move forward with a renewed feeling of clarity and purpose.

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