Thursday, 19 August 2010

Variations on the 3 of Swords Part 6

In my last post, considering Ciro Marchetti's Legacy of the Divine Tarot, I started to consider what things can help us with the pain and sorrow we find in the 3 of Swords.  I thought this a fitting place to end this series of ruminations on the 3 of Swords.  So, in this final post, I will examine three cards which suggest, to me, ways of coping with, and perhaps growing from, going through a 3 of Swords experience.

The first of these is from the World Spirit Tarot.  In this card we see two figures.  One turns away, unwilling to see the three swords.  These are planted in a piece of paper: perhaps a map of where she thought her life was going?  Behind the wall we see a broken mirror, with another cloaked figure reflected in it.  This complex image speaks to me of heartache coming from our own ideas about how things should be, and how the world doesn't always follow the path we have laid out for ourselves.  Another thought that comes to mind is that while the person is unwilling to examine both the swords and her map, she cannot come to terms with what has happened, nor create a new map, a new understanding of where she is and where she wants to go from here.  As for the cloaked figure, similar ideas arise about facing our own shadows, of being willing to see in what ways the image we desire is broken.

The second card that came to mind when I thought about ways of healing pain is the 3 of Swords from the Gaian Tarot.  In this image we see a man writing in a book.  Behind him in the bookshelves is a sand timer, suggesting the passage of time - often touted as the healer of all sorrow.  The fact that there are many books around him also implies the wealth of knowledge and experience available from others who have gone through similar situations, whatever that might be.  And the idea that learning about the facts related to the situation may also help in understanding and accepting, in coming to terms with what has happened.

Under his book is the traditional 3 of Swords image.  It feels to me as though he is journalling about his experiences of this card, and I certainly believe this is another very productive way of dealing with pain - externalising it, using it creatively, acknowledging it.  In some ways this returns us to the very first post in this series, and to the creative potential in heartache.

The third card that epitomises for me this aspect of the 3 of Swords being able to help in healing is from Rachel Pollack's Shining Tribe Tarot.  In the image we see three bird-headed swords which, where they come together, change into a snake, a ray of light and a stream.  Behind the swords there rises a full moon, and we see a red hand.  The author describes this saying: "It tells us that we can take hold of the energy of pain and transform it.  This does not mean escape, for transformation comes only when we go deep into our own experience.  The blood-red hand symbolizes this willingness to enter sorrow, as if we touch our own wounded hearts."  Rachel Pollack also talks about the power of the moon to guide us to intuitive understanding of the sorrow, rather than conscious rationalizations or giving in to distractions.  Instead, through living in and through our pain, we transform it: "The snake symbolizes visions; the light represents self-knowledge; the river, released emotions."  Once again, a strong motif is the importance of acknowledging our agony, accepting it, and working through it.

These are certainly not easy things to do, but I feel these variations on the 3 of Swords give us some suggestions as to how to go about it, as well as the benefits of doing so.  Being able to face up to ourselves and others, and to come out the other side stronger and more whole, seem to me to be worthwhile goals.

So, at the end of this journey through variations in the 3 of Swords, can you see any healing potential in this card?  Will you feel differently about it next time it comes up in a reading?

Images are from the World Spirit Tarot, the Gaian Tarot and the Shining Tribe Tarot.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Variations on the 3 of Swords Part 5

Having looked at various interpretations of the same card by different artists, I'd like now to look at different depictions of this card by a single artist.  In this way, we can see how the idea has developed across a single artist's work.  For this I have chosen the three decks created by Ciro Marchetti, as well as his iPhone app for the Legacy of the Divine Tarot.

Ciro started out very traditionally - the Gilded Tarot shows a heart pierced by three swords.  However, the position of the swords is rather different - instead of all three plunging into the heart from above, here two cross in from below, while the third pierces straight down.  Also, at the centre of the heart is a symbol which is also found on the backs of the cards, a complicated sun sign.  What then can we interpret from all of this?  I get a sense of being at cross-purposes, and then something coming in that cuts to the heart of the matter, bringing clarity although this may still be very painful.

Moving to the Tarot of Dreams, we have a crying woman, ornately dressed and bejewelled.  Her hands are cupped in front of her heart, while in front and to her left float three swords.  To me, she feels almost trapped in the situation that is causing her pain - her jewellry resembles slaves chains, although fancy and colourful, and the swords seem to block her from stepping forward.

She makes me think of people locked in loveless marriages because of financial considerations, or family responsibilities.  Through her tears, she stares out at us very directly, as though challenging us to question her choices.  Despite her sorrow, she seems very calm.

This adds a different element to this card, that of knowingly choosing to accept emotional pain for logical reasons (or reasons that seem logical at the time).  The question raised, which may be relevant to anyone in a situation which causes them sorrow, is what do we gain from being in this painful situation?

Finally, in the Legacy of the Divine Tarot we find a close-up view of a woman with a heart tattoo on her face, and a tear running down that cheek.  One of the greatest delights of Ciro's Legacy of the Divine app for the iPhone (which I have reviewed here) is that all the cards, both Majors and Minors, are illustrated by videos.  I was powerfully affected by the video for the 3 of Swords when I saw it.  Rather than stopping at the image we see in the card, Ciro continues, and we see the tear begin to wash away the heart.  I am aware that other interpretations are possible, but I see this as suggesting that tears will help to ease our heartache.  The position of the three swords is also interesting.  They rise up in a gradual diagonal procession, suggesting also using logic and communication to help lift us up out of our sorrow.

In all three cards I get a strong sense of the importance of the swords and their positioning.  I read this as being about thought processes and communication, aspects which I think are sometimes forgotten when thinking about traditional 3 of Swords heartache.

What do you think?  How would you interpret these cards?  And which of Ciro's cards speaks to you most, and why?

Images from the Gilded Tarot, the Tarot of Dreams and the Legacy of the Divine Tarot.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Variations on the 3 of Swords Part 4

OK, so in this little exploration of the 3 of Swords we've looked at romantic love, religion, politics, family, and non-human representations of different kinds of pain and sorrow.  "What else can there possibly be?" I hear you ask.

Well, going through my decks I found a number of representations of men being the ones in pain.  It made me think about how men suffering heartache is portrayed by society, or not.  For example, in the Fradella 3 of Swords, we see Three Musketeers skewering another man with their swords.  Here, then, not romantic heartache, but rather betrayal and destruction.  Being turned on by the pack, feeling humiliation as well as suffering.  Yet still reaching out, struggling to survive or perhaps just to try to find redemption.  How macho!

In the Tarot of Reflections the 3 of Swords also shows a man.  Yet we see next to nothing of him.  His arms wrap tight around his torso, and his head is bowed.  He is so closed off by his pain that he doesn't allow us in at all.  And this is probably a very common tactic among Western men who are taught that "Big boys don't cry".  What comes up for me when I see this card, though, is how lonely that must feel.

I wonder what the significance is of one sword having a straight hand guard and seeming more real.  While he remains enclosed by the unreal thoughts and ideas represented by the reflected swords, he stays locked in stasis, unable to help himself, unable to connect with anyone else.  Perhaps, though, there is something positive in this self-protective stance in the short run.  It may be a necessary step before he can reach out and grab that golden sword and draw himself back into the world again, protected by a new way of seeing things, rather than by being shut off. 

Finally, there is the Fey Tarot.  Once again, similar themes seem to come up here.  The card shows a male fey character, who has internalised his pain, making it a part of himself.  Not so much soaked in sorrow, instead he is trapped in an ocean of emotion.  Although he has wings, the sword which he has taken into himself must surely weigh him down, preventing him from moving out of this painful situation.  He, too, seems despondent and alone.

What do you make of these images?  As a man, do they chime with your experience of heartache?  As a woman, have you seen men around you behave in these ways?  Or is it all just gender stereotyping?

Images from the Fradella Tarot, the Tarot of Reflections and the Fey Tarot.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Variations on the 3 of Swords Part 3

For this third post in what seems to have become a series, I want to look at non-human, or non-Sword representations of the 3 of Swords, and what these can say to us.

For example, the 3 of Swords from the Halloween Tarot uses bats instead of swords.  My first interpretation of this is based on associations with bats as creatures which can get tangled in hair, suggesting a tangling of thoughts, and as animals which may suck blood, with the inference of sucking life.  Thus a very dark interpretation of this card would be of sadness and even terror caused by something which brings feelings of confusion and a sense of your vitality being drained from you by these issues.  However, this is a very dark interpretation for a deck which is, fundamentally, quite mild and amusing.  Perhaps a more contextually appropriate way of seeing this card is in terms of our own shadowy thoughts causing us to feel weighed down and unhappy.

Another card which shows animals, and swords, comes from Lisa Hunt's Celtic Dragon Tarot.  One interesting aspect of this deck is that the suit of swords is associated with fire, rather than the air association which is most often made.  This is very visible in this particular card, where the fiery heart of energy created by the dragons looks almost as though it is going to implode as they lance in towards each other.

This feels to me like warring parts of oneself, different ideas about how to do things or what to feel.  There is so much energy here, but all turned inward in a very destructive, self-attacking way.  Shoulds and oughts can create this kind of energy, with multiple pressures building a high level of tension.  I imagine an inner dialogue detailing all the mistakes one made in a given situation, all the things one should have done but didn't, all the good qualities one doesn't possess, or the negative traits one accuses oneself of.  This seems so hurtful, yet it is a vicious cycle which I think many of us may recognise.

Another variation which I find most powerful is the Gay Tarot 3 of Swords.  Here we see three broken umbrellas dumped by the side of the road in the rain.  To me, this card speaks of being old, broken and unwanted - a very subtle yet striking depiction of painful emotions.

In our current economic situation, where many belong to the long-term unemployed, how easy it may be to fall into this self-perception - no-one wants me, I'm useless, what's the point.  It also makes me think about the way our society treats old people.  In many other cultures, elders are valued for their knowledge, experience and wisdom.  They are an important part of their families and their society.  Yet in our Western world, the old are often devalued, seen as a burden, shunted off to old-people's homes.

I find it striking how deeply sad these non-human images can be.  Is it because they are more allegorical that they can be so tragic?  How do these images make you feel, and how would you interpret them?  What do they add to your understanding of the 3 of Swords?

Images from the Halloween Tarot, the Celtic Dragon Tarot and the Gay Tarot.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Variations on the 3 of Swords Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, the 3 of Swords is hardly most people's favourite card.  An incredibly frequent interpretation is about emotional heartbreak of the romantic kind, something which most people can associate with.  However, looking at a number of variations across decks, I came across a few where the emotional pain is of a different kind, so I thought I'd share some of those ideas and images here.  
The first of these is from Julia Cuccia-Watts first deck, the Ancestral Path Tarot.  Here we see a shogun, a Japanese warrior, riding off to battle.  Behind him stand two women, one young, one old.  His mother and sister, or perhaps mother and beloved?  In the foreground is a small altar, to children lost.  So, this card reminds us that there are other forms of emotional heartbreak.  For example, that of the families who lose a loved one to war or some other tragedy: a son, a brother, a father; a daughter, a sister, a mother.

Cuccia-Watts' second deck also takes a rather different perspective from the traditional.  In the Ma'at 3 of Swords we see a dove pierced through the heart by three swords, each of which carries the symbol of one of the three major world religions.  The message seems to be that religious ideas can sometimes kill peace and cause heartache.  Given the number of religious wars there have been, the idea of losing family to violent conflict still underlies this image.  There is also the aspect that, when religious ideas separate people, it can destroy families in a more subtle way, too.  This is a reminder that we can lose people in many ways.  For example, what of the person who comes back from a war or other traumatic situation a changed person?  Oftentimes people say they feel that their loved one never really came back, even when they are physically there.  So, losing someone to war, to religion, them no longer being there, or being there physically and yet not really present, or unwilling to connect because of differences in belief.  Heartache indeed!

Another version of the 3 of Swords, which has echoes of both the traditional romantic heartbreak and of losing a family member, is that shown in the Mythic Tarot.  Here we see Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus having just killed Clytemnestra's husband.  However, despite the adultery all round (her husband, Agamemnon, had also been having an affair) the main reason that Clytemnestra wanted to kill Agamemnon was because he had killed their daughter, Iphigenia, as a sacrifice to propitiate Artemis.  Yes, these Greek tales do get awfully convoluted! However, the heartbreak involved here is not only that which is apparent in the card image.  As Juliet Sharman-Burke's Mythic Tarot follows one story through a whole suit, we see that this also caused further heartbreak because Clytemnestra and Agamemnon's son, Orestes, then had to choose between avenging his father and honouring his mother.  Being Greek he chose the former, but not without a good deal of sorrow and questioning.

So, politics, religion, power struggles, losing a family member through war or betrayal - these are painful issues quite far removed from the romantic heartbreak more traditionally associated with the 3 of Swords.  Do you think this is stretching the concept too far?  Would you feel comfortable reading these versions of the 3 of Swords?

Images from the Ancestral Path Tarot, the Ma'at Tarot and the Mythic Tarot.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Variations on the 3 of Swords Part 1

Having just written a blog about designing a spread around the Three of Swords, I got to thinking about the different ways we interpret this card.  Firstly, as readers, since that's what I am, and secondly as artists, which I'm definitely not.  This train of thought led me to analysing the different ways that the Three of Swords has been depicted across a number of decks.

I think the most common interpretation of the Three of Swords is that of emotional heartache caused by a romantic relationship, and this is certainly supported by any number of quite different card variations.  From the mild, pithy and amusing Housewives Tarot depiction of a heart-shaped cake speared by cake knives, to the thoughtful - and more open to alternative perspectives - Sun and Moon Tarot, the same interpretation can still be expressed quite differently!  Another version which also communicates this theme of romantic heartbreak is that of the gentle and amusing Ferret Tarot, showing a crying ferret with a broken winged heart above and a flower in front.
So, what do these cards have in common?  The idea that love makes us suffer comes to mind.  A number of quotes also seem to jump out at me.  

For example, for the more traditional RWS Three of Swords (discussed in the previous post): Into each life some rain must fall - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  

More generally for these romantic heartbreak variations: Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again, skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts.  ~Author Unknown

Romantic love is a vital part of our lives, yet it also causes us much stress and heartache.  Looking to the more positive aspects of the Three of Swords - and yes, it does have them - what I've always seen as a positive is the idea that "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".   Or, to add another quote: [A] final comfort that is small, but not cold:  The heart is the only broken instrument that works.  ~T.E. Kalem.  We do survive heartbreak, and may be more balanced and more aware of what we really want and need from life for it.

Living through the pain we come out a more rounded, empathic person.  However, another positive aspect that this analysis brought to light is exactly how much artistic effort has come from this source.  The quotes above are the tip of the iceberg.  When I think of the romantic poets of the French Middle Ages, of Shakespeare and "Romeo and Juliet", or the innumerable songs on the subject of heartache and heartbreak, I have to say, "Bring it on."  Not for myself, you understand, but for others so that they can become better artists ;D

As a tarot reader, another aspect that comes to mind, particularly with the Sun and Moon Tarot version of this card, is the reminder how much of the pain associated with this card is due to our own thoughts and ideas.  While this may be a source of creative inspiration, it is also true that if we dusted ourselves off and went out to dance our socks off, we wouldn't feel the pain in the same way.  It might simply be momentarily repressed, but there is also the aspect that if we're not thinking about it, we're not churning it around and wallowing in it.  Something worth thinking about?  Or dancing on?

So, dear readers, how do you feel about the Three of Swords?  And how do you interpret it? 

Images from the Housewives Tarot, the Ferret Tarot and the Sun and Moon Tarot.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Three of Swords Spread

Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about grief in my life.  I also recently responded to a comment on a previous post by saying I don't see any cards as negative, and even like the Three of Swords.  This is, in part, the case because several years ago I used a number of different variants on the Three of Swords in a ritual to ease sorrow.  Then, in July I attended the TABI Conference and really enjoyed Barbara Moore's workshop on spreads.  The three events together - thinking about grief, writing about the Three of Swords, and taking the workshop - made me think: "I'll do a Three of Swords Spread!"

I decided to base the spread on very traditional RWS imagery.  Three swords pierce a floating heart, with rain washing the heart.  So, here's the spread design.  Three cards fanned out on top of a fourth card, with a card beneath for the raindrops.  For the fifth card I used a small size deck, to emphasise that this is the first drop of rain, or the single teardrop in some variations of this card, that begins the process of washing away some of the pain.

1+2+3 - Things I need to know about this heartache
4 - What I need to know about my heart
5 - What can help wash away the pain

In her workshop, Barbara Moore talked about ways in which we can be more or less structured, even within the structure of a spread.  So, with the first three cards, although I think it would be feasible to interpret them in a structured way - either as three aspects causing pain, or as three types of emotion associated with the sorrow - for myself in this case I decided to leave their definitions unstructured, and just see what came up.

As ever, no sooner devised than tested.  For this reading I used Juliet Sharman-Burke's Mythic Tarot, and the mini-R-W-S.  The cards dealt were:
1) Page of Swords
2) Emperor
3) Page of Pentacles
4) Queen of Pentacles
5) Temperance

What a lot of court cards!  OK, so, in the lead up to the situation that is causing me pain, I was very Page of Swords-y.  I was focused on communication questions, all gung-ho and enthusiastic, working on being multilingual, and perhaps a bit smug about it all.  Although it is normally the King of Swords that is associated directly with my birth date, the Page of Swords isn't far off.  Communication has always been very important to me, and I can get rather enthused about it, though I will also admit to having some issues around it - I can speak four languages fluently, yet still manage to breed misunderstandings with people, even in English.  In part, the importance I laid on this aspect made it all the more painful when it completely fell flat, and communication was incredibly difficult.

Interestingly, I did a reading on the situation before it came to fruition, and remember very clearly that the Emperor also came up in that reading.  I saw it then as representing the other person's energy - them being very structured and stubborn, and making me have to comply with their demands and requirements though it might not suit my airy nature at all.  That has certainly been born out, and causes me plenty of grief.

Thirdly, the Page of Pentacles.  This is a situation where I need to continually be willing to learn and try new things, in a very practical way.  I don't like that this is the case; I'd like to sometimes feel I have a grasp of what's going on.  But that's not the case, nor likely to be any time soon.  Get used to it, and get on with it, says the Page of Pentacles.

So, what of my heart?  Well, here we have the Queen of Pentacles.  To me, she has always been the most maternal of the queens - practical, down-to-earth, nurturing and loving.  This is how I would like to be in this situation, but my pain, sorrow, anger and resentment sometimes get in the way.

What cure do the cards recommend?  What will help wash away the pain?  Ah, Temperance.  Not necessarily the easiest of cards.  Some people love it, for the element of balance and getting the right mix of ingredients in a necessary situation, others hate it for the aspects of control and restraint.  What I notice in this card today is the crown over the path to the left of the angel.  It reminds me of the fact that one path of yoga is called Raja Yoga, or Kingly Yoga.  This is the path of meditation and study.  That, added to the aspect of finding a correct balance, suggests to me that it may be through meditation, and perhaps also finding out more information about the situation, that I will help wash away the sadness I feel. 

These cards feel very appropriate, though their lessons are things I sometimes don't want to hear.  Since doing this reading I have started trying to meditate daily.  We'll see...

Images: 3 of Swords from Hanson Roberts Tarot, Page of Swords, Page of Pentacles, Emperor and Queen of Pentacles from Mythic Tarot, Temperance from Mini Rider Waite Smith.