Comparing 3s and the Tower
Many Tarot cards can seem similar enough to each other that interpreting them when they both show up in a spread can be challenging. One way to achieve a deeper understanding of a card is to compare it to another card. This month we will compare a Minor Arcana card, the 3 of Swords, with a Major Arcana card, The Tower. We will explore similarities between these two cards, and then we will look at the differences. I will be using card images from the Rider Tarot Deck for this analysis.
First, the similarities. The basic messages or interpretations of these two cards have commonalities. The 3 of Swords usually represents betrayal or grief and the painful isolation they cause. The Tower card represents sudden and complete destruction. Both cards tell of pain and of being imprisoned by that pain; they tell of the discomfort of having the rug pulled out from under us.
The traditional image on the 3 of Swords shows a red heart impaled by three Swords. Often there are dark clouds, a night sky, and heavy rain in the background; sometimes there is blood dripping from the heart. The traditional image on The Tower shows a tall Tower, usually built on cliffs of jagged stone; sometimes there are rough waves crashing onto those cliffs. The Tower is on fire, with flames coming out of the windows. Around the Tower are dark clouds and heavy, wind-driven rain; many cards show the Tower being struck by lightning and breaking apart. There are figures who are falling toward the ground after jumping from the windows.
Both of these cards have dark clouds, heavy rain, and stormy weather in their images. This tells us that neither of these cards project calm and serene energies. In the Tarot, clouds tell of an epiphany or a revelation, confusion or clouded judgment, and messages from the Divine. Rain represents cleansing, as well as fertility (rain provides life to crops and plants). Storms create upheavals, but they do pass. Often, they are followed by a rainbow.
Both cards correspond to a number. The 3’s of the Minors show the creation of something new sourced from the duality of the 2’s or the manifesting or making real the concept of the 2’s. A good example of this is a family, created through the potential of love (Ace), a commitment between a couple, and then a child is created. The 3’s of the Minors present a broader perspective to us, as well as the first version of completeness (the other two versions of completion are offered by the 7’s and the 9’s of the Minors).
The Tower is the number 16 of the Majors, which represents the achievement of material power, but also presents tests and failures or unforeseen situations or challenges that offer growth and evolution through discomfort. This is an interesting number; it is a product of 2 x 8, showing the positive evolution leading to karmic liberation (or “construction”), or the negative evolution leading to situations that are more and more difficult to resolve (or “destruction”). The number 16 breaks down as 1 + 6 = 7. The number 7 in the Tarot represents a time to pause and reflect as accomplishments have happened, but there might be more to be done. As noted above, the number 7 is also one of the numbers that offers a version of completeness.
Both of our cards have correspondences on the Tree of Life. The 3 of Swords corresponds with Binah at the top of the Pillar of Form/Restriction. This sephira is seen as form, as force in pattern, and as the Great Mother and the Womb of Life. Binah offers shadow and contrast, which in turn gives us shape and form. Binah restricts in order to provide a springboard, and that restriction can also be its downfall if it becomes greed. Binah represents intuitive understanding, contemplation, and deductive reasoning, and the fertile receptivity of the Sacred Feminine. Below Binah is a void known as Da’at or the Abyss; the Abyss separates Deity/the Higher Self and the rest of our life experiences represented by the sephiroth below Da’at. This means our 3 of Swords presents concepts and experiences that are not always easily understood by our physical self.
Major Arcana cards represent a Path between two sephiroth. The Tower represents Path 27, running between Hod (which provides analysis and communication) and Netzach (which offers the stimulating factors of emotion and inspiration). The 27th Path is one of the three Paths on the Tree that explore personality. It is within the 27th Path that we learn to balance instinct and emotion, and where we learn, through endurance beyond what we think we are capable of, that we have faith. The 27th Path is the first Path to cross the Tree horizontally (spanning the Pillars of Form and Force at the bottom of the Tree), telling of the potential for the creation of balance between the extremes presented by the Pillars. Because the 27th Path is close to Malkuth and the physical world, its energies are stronger within the physical world and the effects of these energies will be more tangible within physical-world life.
Time to explore some differences. The 3 of Swords is a Minor Arcana card. The message offered by this card will most likely be more immediate in nature, or will most likely be connected to more day-to-day issues. Major Arcana cards, on the other hand, usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives because of their universal nature.
There are differences in the interpretations of these cards. The 3 of Swords seems more immediate and personal in nature; there is, after all, only one heart and it is being pierced by Swords, which can represent the personal intellect and the workings of an individual’s mind. The figures on The Tower are in a terrifying situation, but they are in the space between the flames of The Tower and the jagged rocks below. The heart on the 3 of Swords, on the other hand, is already pierced by those Swords.
Fire is a part of the image found on The Tower, but there are only dark clouds and wind-driven rain on the 3 of Swords; no lightning or flames at all. We are being reminded here that the nature of the effects of the 3 of Swords is more personal, more internal (the heart is inside the body), whereas the effects of The Tower are manifested in the things around us rather than within us. Often the image on The Tower shows a bolt of lightning, which symbolizes Divine intervention. Fire can also represent Spirit, which hints at the involvement of Deity in the chaos of The Tower; there is no representation of the Divine in the 3 of Swords.
Our two cards have different elemental correspondences. The suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air, the Spades of playing cards, and the direction of East. Air adapts; it represents the intelligence that clears away the fog of ignorance so we can clearly see and understand, and it supports communications and sounds of all kinds. Air allows both expression (out from within us) and perception (in from outside of us) to happen. The direction of East corresponds to the season of Spring, sunrise, and the waxing moon, all representations of beginnings, growing, and expanding.
The Tower corresponds with the element of Fire, the playing card suit of Clubs, and the cardinal direction of South. Fiery attributes, as well as those for the direction of South, include creativity, ambition, growth, passion and actions, and how their presence or absence can affect our lives. Fire shapes and transforms; it is about our ability to experience joy and passion (including sexual passion), our creativity, and presents the possibility of interaction with Spirit or the Divine, or actions or passions manifesting in line with Divine Will. Fire can sanitize or cleanse, and it can destroy everything in its path; Fire can warm us and keep us safe, or it can kill us.
Astrologically speaking, the 3 of Swords represents planet Saturn when it is located in the constellation of Libra. Saturn represents discipline, responsibility, limitations and resistance; Libra represents the concept of “We are,” and partnerships, balance, cooperation. When we approach partnerships, balance, cooperation, and the perception of who “We Are” only through discipline and limitations, we could very well miss indications or hints that something is amiss, and set ourselves up for pain and isolation.
The Tower corresponds with the planet Mars. Mars is the Roman god of war and bloodshed whose traditional symbols are the spear (or Wand) and the shield. Mars was second in importance only to Jupiter, and was the most prominent of the military gods worshipped by the Roman legions. MAstrologically, Mars is associated with confidence and self-assertion, aggression, sexuality, energy, strength, ambition and impulsiveness. Mars governs sports, competitions and physical activities in general. Mars is associated with fever, accidents, trauma, and pain.
Major Arcana cards have correspondences that don’t usually apply to the Minors, but we can still work with them in order to understand both The Tower and the 3 of Swords. The Tower represents the archetype of Chaos. Chaos is defined as “complete disorder and confusion” and “a state in which behavior and events are not controlled by anything,” which can indeed be frightening to contemplate, particularly if you are not good with new things or with the unknown. In physics, “chaos” is defined as “behavior so unpredictable as to appear random.” I like that definition better, because it hints at some hidden purpose to the unpredictability and disorder. The 3 of Swords deals with the mind and its perceptions, and the reactions imposed by the mind onto the environment as it interprets those perceptions. Yes, there could be chaos, but in the end that chaos is initiated by the mind.
The Tower corresponds with the Hebrew letter Peh, the seventeenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet that tells of manifestation; this letter corresponds with the mouth and of the breath, representing revelations. This means that Peh also represents the power of speech, and thus to words, expression, and vocalization. The three Swords on the 3 of Swords represent the pain that can be inflicted by words, actions or intentions, and the pain happens when we take those three Swords to heart and allow them to hurt us.
So, what have we discovered? The 3 of Swords manifests the potential of the Ace of Swords and the duality of the 2 of Swords. It represents difficult emotions and a harmful mindset and the isolation, loneliness and heartbreak they cause. It shows us what could happen if we lose sight of the importance of interactions of all kinds that open the mind and challenge the ego, and focus instead only on logic and analysis. The pain associated with the 3 of Swords is in the present, but it could very well be connected to something from our past. The 3 of Swords offers another warning, asking us to take a careful look at a situation to determine if there are any hidden dangers. Forewarned is forearmed, and that could be the one good trait of the 3 of Swords. Also the tears we shed while experiencing the grief and isolation of the 3 of Swords can wash away the damage and create a clean new start.
The image on The Tower is one of destruction, fear and chaos. While all of these possibilities present discomfort and inspire superstition, in the end The Tower is a card of renewal. The Tower often presents itself when we are knowingly or unknowingly fighting the flow of events, despite more subtle hints to let go. The Tower tells of a violent or explosive correction in the way things are going that usually happens in the world around us after more gentle corrections don’t bring the needed result. It is a wakeup call that upturns the values and truths which seemed so strong yet are actually fragile, leaving us no choice but to accept the loss, learn from it, and then rebuild new and stronger values and truths. The destruction caused by The Tower brings trials of endurance, of courage, and of faith. It creates situations that force us to see what can be salvaged and what needs to be released immediately so we can face our weaker aspects and build upon our stronger aspects so new growth can begin.
About the Author:
Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot Reader and Teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher. Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.