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.

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