The Three of Swords tarot card is somewhat dreaded—perhaps even more so than the heavy-hitting major arcana cards of Death or the Tower. It’s often called the Heartbreak Card, and it shows three swords piercing a bleeding heart—ouch.
Look at its placement in your reading, however: If it sits in your past or present position, it may represent shifting out of a phase of heartbreak. It may also be asking you to look at how a previous heartbreak is informing your current situation.
Breaking Your Own Heart
If you see this card in your future or outcome placement in a spread, take a good look at the choices you’re about to make—this card is often about how you’re breaking your own heart.
Swords represent thought and the element of air in the tarot deck. In balance, this is the sword of truth and discernment—the ability to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not. The sword is also the Buddhist concept of the second arrow: The first arrow is the inevitable pain of life as a human being. The second arrow is the one we stab ourselves with right at the source of the original wound. These are the stories we tell ourselves about what that pain means, who we are, or what the world is. Learning to separate the truth from the narrative is the skill that must be learned with the suit of swords.
In this sense, the Three of Swords asks us how we’ve pierced our own hearts. Something may have happened that was terrible, even heartbreaking. But what are we making it mean? What are we extrapolating about what it says about who we are or the world we live in?
Grief: The Shadow Side of Love
Life is full of heartbreak, especially when we try. If we take the risk of loving, of opening ourselves up to connection, there’s always the possibility that it doesn’t work out. Grief is a normal response to the loss of love—in fact, grief is the shadow side of love. It’s a privilege to experience it because it means we loved; we made ourselves vulnerable enough to try. As painful as it is, heartbreak can teach us a lot about ourselves, the world, and other people, especially when we allow it to heal.
In order to do this, we may need to remove the swords and allow the heart to heal its open wounds. Our narratives about ourselves show up partly because they can staunch the bleeding—as uncomfortable as a narrative like “I’ll always be alone” can be, it’s often there to protect us from a more painful thought or even the clear experience of feeling the sadness and loss in our hearts. It may also help us avoid the stickier truth that we abandoned our own selves in pursuit of love. Our narratives are there to protect us, to help us make sense of the world, but that doesn’t mean they are telling us the truth.
Being in a practice of allowing ourselves to feel what’s really in our hearts, to access the core emotions inside, is a powerful way to heal and move through a difficult experience. When we can take the swords out, our hearts can heal, and it becomes possible to love again.
Healing the Heart Wounds
If you’ve received the Three of Swords, attend to the wounds in your heart. If you’re feeling vulnerable in terms of love and connection, check in with any boundaries you may need to set or communications you may need to make in order to protect your heart. And should your heart get broken, welcome to the human condition. You can heal, and it’s always worth loving.
Learn how the tarot can help us build resilience in dark days.