Pain. Separation. The pain of giving birth to a new part of yourself.
In the Smith-Waite deck, the image is of a heart pierced by three swords; in the background there are storm clouds and rain. Decks based on the Smith-Waite are usually very similar. In the Steampunk Tarot it’s a beautiful mechanical heart.
As can be seen from the image, this is a card of pain, sadness, or a broken heart. It can also represent loss, removal, division, rupture, disruption, and sorrow through knowledge.
Of course, sadness passes like the rain in the image, but experiencing it is painful. It’s quite possible that it will bring about permanent changes to a person.
In a relationship reading, the Three of Swords is, of course, negative, for the reasons mentioned. It signals some kind of break-up or separation. This can sometimes be healthy, and it can show a need to move on and away.
In a career reading, the Three of Swords might indicate leaving a project, job, or even a career. This is not always negative.
As advice, this card might be suggesting that some sort of separation is necessary. Perhaps it’s time to end a relationship (either personal or workplace).
As always in a tarot reading, you must listen to any ideas that come to you directly—often when imagery or details from the cards catch your attention. These interpretations must be listened to and added to your interpretation.
Pictorially, this card are very simple: a heart with three swords piercing it. The heart represents emotions and the suit of Swords related to the mental aspects of our lives: how we think and communicate. Clouds and rain are in the background, setting the mood of this card.
The Steampunk Tarot (Moore & Fell) show a beautiful mechanical heart. The Animal Tarot (Robertson) shows an elephant mourning over the death of one of its family—emphasizing loss as the meaning.
Astrologically, the Three of Swords is Saturn in Libra. Saturn usually brings hardship and pain, although it’s not in itself bad. Many lessons are learnt through hardship.
A client once asked me for a sign of when a suitable partner was near, and I drew the Three of Swords. It was obvious that pain would be present, but when she told me that she was a doctor, it became clearer. Many of her colleagues were surgeons and some were heart surgeons. And pain is present in most hospitals.
Recently, I asked a personal question related to spiritual development, and I drew this card. With a little reflection, the meaning became clear. I was planning to let the world know of my interest in the Tarot, and that I was working as a tarot reader. The card showed clearly the pain of giving birth to a new me, and to my tarot business. I was putting something out into the world, and then having to let go—once you create something, it takes on a life of its own and goes out into the world.
I thought I might disrupt certain friendships (some religious and some rationalistic friends). I used the Steampunk Tarot (Moore & Fell) and I saw the golden, mechanical heart, an intricate machine destroyed by three swords thrust through its workings, and immediately related to me thrusting swords through one part of my life in order to create something new.