Three of Swords Meaning: Upright and Reversed

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The Three of Swords is one of the most well-known cards of the tarot, at least by imagery. It is also one of the most dreaded cards to receive in a reading. On the surface, the Three of Swords meaning is heartbreak. This is the card of attachment wounds, trauma, betrayal, pain, and vulnerability.

However, I am of the opinion that the Three of Swords showing up in a psychic reading can be a gift. While it is often seen as a herald of bad things to come, I like to interpret it as a sign that the lessons we have learned from heartbreak are ready to be integrated and healed. 

Let’s take a look at how this foreboding card impacts us in a tarot card reading and how it can be used as a powerful tool for self-healing

Threes in Tarot Numerology


In the numerology of the tarot, the Threes are active and dynamic cards. They represent creation – what happens when two things come together to create a third. When the Twos come together to integrate something, the Threes are the synthesis and birthing of something new from that integration.

Threes are especially dynamic because, unlike some of the other numbers, this synthesis can create moments of joy or despair, depending on the suit at hand. 

Whenever a Three shows up in the Minor Arcana, it can be linked back to the energy of all of the Three cards in the Major Arcana: The Empress, The Hanged Man, and The World. All are representative of the act of creation at different stages.

Swords Meaning in the Tarot

The Sword suit in the tarot is represented by the Air element. As such, they represent what happens in our minds – thoughts, words, logic, intellect. Swords ask you to look at the facts of a situation. Like air and thoughts, the energy of the Swords suit is fast-moving. Decisions can be made quickly, and conclusions are jumped to just as quickly.

When a Swords card appears, make sure that you are viewing all of the facts of a situation surrounding the energy of that card; our thoughts are not always facts. Our brains protect us from situations they see as unsafe, but this protection often manifests as anxiety and keeps us static in our lives.

Balanced Swords energy uses discernment and logic to see facts as they are presented, without attaching to these facts in an overly emotional way. Out of balance, we become nervous and fail to see situations as they are. 

Three of Swords Imagery and Symbolism

One of the most iconic and yet simple images of the Rider Waite Smith tarot deck, the Three of Swords card, features a large, red heart pierced by three swords against a background of a stormy sky.

The swords are still stuck in the heart, symbolizing that whatever pain has been inflicted by them is still ongoing, and yet, there is a fear that releasing that pain will cause more problems, just as removing a weapon from a wound actually can cause death by bleeding out.

It is a simple but effective image to remind us that sometimes releasing pain can be more difficult than holding it in; however, it is impossible to heal these wounds otherwise. 

Upright Three of Swords Meaning

three of swords upright

Since the sword suit is mostly concerned with tools of the mind, like thoughts and words, over actions, the hurt that has caused this card to show up in a Tarot spread is often most likely due to the words or perceived thoughts of another.

Contrary to popular belief, the Three of Swords is not a herald of upcoming heartbreaktarot is for reading energies of the present moment and cannot tell the future. When the Three of Swords card shows up, it is pointing to issues you have dealt with in the past that you are still holding on to. 

Three of Swords Upright Keywords

  • Heartbreak
  • Loneliness
  • Vulnerability
  • Trauma
  • Grief
  • Emotional pain
  • Emotional release

Three of Swords Upright in a Love Reading

While the Swords suit represents the mind, the effects signified by it are often related to the heart. It does not necessarily mean that your relationship is going to end in heartbreak, but it does point out that something is at stake here. Your partner’s words may be hurting you, and it is time to create some boundaries around how you expect to be treated in the relationship.

You could be having trouble trusting your partner because of things that have happened in the past – often, the Three of Swords can indicate a partner stepping out on the relationship. When two people come together, sometimes the thing that they create is discord.

If you are single, past heartbreak or trauma, and the inability or unwillingness to do any healing work is most likely hindering you from moving on and meeting someone new. If you are feeling reticent, just remember that the card would not appear if you weren’t ready to heal. 

Three of Swords Upright in a Career/Finance Reading

Three of Swords

In a career reading, the Three of Swords can indicate conflict in the workplace or disillusionment in your job or current career path. You could have been the subject of gossip or bullying at work, which is disrupting your ability to do your job. You may have even lost your job.

When this card shows up, it is asking you to at least begin to examine the wounding that has come up around a particular situation, so think of ways that you can begin to heal from this. Is it time for a new job? In a financial reading, the Three of Swords depicts the loss of income, especially in an emotional context, such as divorce. 

Three of Swords Upright in a Family Reading

When the Three of Swords turns up in a reading about family, there has often been past trauma caused by a family member or experienced with a family member. Perhaps it is now time to examine this trauma and begin to work on integrating it. I say integrate rather than heal because trauma caused by abuse in no way makes you broken or dis-eased in a way that requires healing.

Integration simply means that your trauma becomes part of who you are, but it does not define you, and it is not all that you are. In an abusive situation, the Three of Swords never asks you to reach out to an abuser to mend a relationship if you are not comfortable doing so, but there is plenty you can begin to do now to mend your relationship with yourself and begin a new chapter where you live in the realization that you were not to blame for whatever happened. 

Three of Swords Upright in a Health Reading

If the Three of Swords is part of a health reading, you are probably already aware of the issue at hand. Anxiety, depression, or past traumas may be beginning to take a physical toll on your body. A Swords card in a health reading often indicates mental, rather than physical, health.

What can you do to take care of your mental health at this time, even if it’s just something small at first? Or, is there a specific issue that is affecting your mental health that you have been suppressing, causing your body to give you signs of distress through this mental anguish? Addressing these things can be difficult and take time and often bring up triggering feelings, but if they are not addressed, they will always be an issue.

Reversed Three of Swords Meaning

Three of Swords Reversed

Reversals in the tarot reading can be read in many ways. The most widely accepted usage of reversals is as an antithesis to the upright meaning of the card. However, many readers, including myself, do not see reversals this way. The Three of Swords has its meaning – reversing it doesn’t mean happiness and abundance are on their way.

Rather, a reversed card can indicate that the card needs to be paid more attention to, or the energy of the card has been turned inward – you are the one using words and thoughts to hurt yourself. A reversal can also indicate that you are not yet in a mental state to integrate the upright lesson of the card, but the issue is still affecting you. However you choose to read reversals is up to you, but I would invite you to consider the alternatives I have listed. 

Three of Swords Reversed Keywords

  • Self-hatred
  • Repression
  • Suppression 
  • Release
  • Compromise
  • Reconciliation

Three of Swords Reversed in a Love Reading

Tarot Card

In a love-specific reading, Three of Swords showing up reversed can point to an issue with internalizing your partner’s behaviors or words. Attachment issues may be surfacing, causing you to see an ulterior motive in your partner’s every move. You could be paranoid that they are cheating on you or that they are going to leave you when really these negative thoughts are coming up because that is where your mind is.

Examine the deeper internal processes that may be coming up for you right now, rather than placing blame on your partner’s actions or showcasing a feeling of betrayal and heartache. If you are single, you could be feeling sorry for yourself because of a past partner’s actions or internalizing rejection as a sign that you are unlovable or will never have a relationship. Just know that these feelings will pass. Remember this: “their rejection is your protection.” 

Three of Swords Reversed is a Career/ Finance Reading

In a career spread, the Three of Swords in reverse can signal a movement toward reconciliation with a coworker or company or a tense situation coming to a close. It can also mean that hard feelings are becoming harder, and tension can be swelling to a bursting point.

With regard to finances, the Three of Swords reversed shows that there is a great deal of fear and anxiety around your financial situation, perhaps due to a previous issue or time of financial trouble. When things get to this point, it is often a sign that the tension is about to release, so just keep an eye on things and try not to worry too much.

Three of Swords Reversed in a Family Reading

In a family reading, a Three of Swords reversed can indicate a reconciliation or compromise with a family member or family unit after past disagreements. Somebody from your family may reach out to you to mend your relationship, but you could still be holding on to their words or actions and unable to think about reconciliation yet. Take all the time you need, but begin the process of healing these resentments on your own before reaching out to them. 

Three of Swords Reversed in a Health Reading

three sword card

In a health spread, the Three of Swords reversed is not much different from the upright meaning, but it could now be at a point where, if you do not take action, your internalizing of mental health issues can cause permanent damage to your psyche or even to your physical body. Now is the time to reach out to a counselor or therapist in order to release this physical and mental tension.

Three of Swords Remediation

As we cannot have light without dark, we cannot have happiness without sorrow. If there is something that is hurting you now, the Three of Swords appearing in reading is your sign that it is time to turn your eyes to it, to rip off the bandaid. Holding on to a particular emotion such as sorrow, guilt, heartbreak, and trauma does nothing to help you in the long run.

Ask yourself what small steps you can begin to take in order to heal this. Is there somebody you can talk these things through with? Can you begin a journaling practice to get to the bottom of your pain? Can you feel compassion for the people who hurt you? 

Keep in mind that if any of these feelings are due to an abusive situation, you are under no obligation to exercise forgiveness or reach out to the person who did this to you, but you can begin to forgive yourself and love the parts of yourself and your life that you may believe have been damaged. 


Question: Is Three of Swords a yes or no card?

Answer: In a Yes or No tarot reading, Three of Swords is a pretty clear “No.” Allow yourself to feel any feelings present within the situation before moving on.

Question: Does The Three of Swords Tarot Card always have a negative connotation? 

Answer: While the Three of Swords does represent negative experiences, thoughts, and feelings, its presence is not always seen as negative. Instead, it gives us the opportunity to learn, grow, and heal from these negative experiences. 

Question: What Zodiac sign is associated with the Three of Swords?

Answer: Since swords are associated with air, a Swords tarot card can represent Gemini, Libra, or Aquarius. The Three of Swords, in particular, is representative of Libra, as Libra represents balance.


I hope that this deep dive into the Three of Swords has eliminated some of the fear that may come along with this card. No card of the tarot in itself is negative or positive, but since they all speak to the complex tapestry of human existence, some cards, such as the Three of Swords, do encompass the negative aspects. I believe that the appearance of this card can be a gift, the ultimate gift of healing that which has hurt us. 

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