Three of Swords
The Golden Dawn keyword for this card is Sorrow. Many other words have been used by many other people to describe this card quite well, including pain, sadness, grief, rupture, loneliness, jealously, loss, separation, betrayal, sacrifice, disappointment and rejection; however, the one word that I feel truly embodies this card like no other in the deck, is heartbreak. Pure and simple, heartbreak. The image too, is quite simple. In this card, a screaming bright red heart rests on a cold, lifeless, steely blue or grey background, within a raging storm, clouds suspended overhead with cold hard rain streaming down. The heart is pierced by three crossed swords. A lot of details are not necessary to convey the entire plethora of feeling this card contains.
When the Three of Swords shows up, you are generally dealing with some sort of truly heartbreaking issue. This is a Swords card that is fraught with emotion. There is usually an ending or loss of some sort, and it is quite painful. In the upright, you may not have completely experienced the situation yet. This card can be a precursor, or a warning, as to where things are headed, or could be representing the mounting feelings you are having in the situation, or, it could be that the situation is fresh, you have neither moved on, nor are you stuck in your grief, as at this stage, it is current and relevant.
You could be reeling from a painful separation or breakup, or the loss of someone in other ways, either in a passing, or a loss of a close friendship. It could be a betrayal that you are suffering from and the loss of trust and anguish you feel consequently from that. You could have lost a job, but unless you were doing your life's work, or following your passions and your heart's desire in your chosen career, this type of deep emotion is not likely to result from the loss of a job.
Although it is incredibly difficult at this time, try to look for the silver lining. The Universe never brings us that which it doesn't think we can handle, or grow from. This could be the result of one of the painful choices that we had to make in the Two of Swords. Unfortunately, what made the choice in the two so difficult is that it usually leads to a loss in some way. Either we have to choose between two equally good options and lose out on something, or we have to choose between two negative ones, gaining an unfortunate consequence either way.
Try to see your situation from outside of the box. No matter how much pain you are suffering from right now, can you think of even one thing that you will gain from this? How about two? What benefits will you find in the silver lining? Although letting go is never easy, this is one of those situations where you are likely being asked to let go of that which will no longer be useful to you. You are making room for new things to come into your life, and through this difficult time, you are experiencing an enormous amount of personal growth.
Three of Swords Reversed
Like most reversals, this card will show a deviation to one extreme or another from the norm, which unfortunately is heartbreak and sorrow. In some cases, it will show that you are finally moving on from your grief and heartache. If you have been through a very difficult time lately, one that has been very emotionally upsetting and painful for you, this card can indicate that you are on your way to recovery. You are beginning to move past the pain and see the path through the sadness and come out on the other side. You are beginning to heal.
The other possible manifestation for this card is that you are not moving on. When you are experiencing grief, pain and sadness, it is perfectly acceptable to go through a process of grieving, one that can include taking some time, having a good cry, or whatever means necessary to experience the loss. However there comes a time where you must begin to move on. This does not mean that you are no longer sad, or that you have forgotten, or that it is not important. However, your life cannot become stagnated and remain in this state of emotional purgatory indefinitely. As hard as it is, try to see if there is something good that has come out of this ending, and try to focus your attention on that. It is possible that while one door has closed, another, somewhere else, has opened. It could be that you just don't recognize this yet.
Finally, this card can also relate to sacrifice. You may be feeling this way because you gave up something or someone that you really did not want to give up, only because you truly believed it was what was best. In this state, you are at risk of backtracking. Try to remember the benefits of why you gave up what you did, even if you don't see any results yet. You could be starting to see results privately, even if there isn't any outward manifestation yet. This card could also represent sacrificing the wrong thing or for the wrong reason. Do not be a martyr. Be certain that your reasons are sound, or it will be difficult to move forward. If you know there is something or someone you need to give up, and are having difficulty doing so, seek support.