Three is a stable number: whereas Two is always about imbalance and constant attempts to integrate differences, Three has found some sort of synthesis. Three doesn’t negate the dualities, rather it represents a new element which enables us to transcend our difficulties. In many traditions it is seen as a sacred number, in terms of the One expanding itself into creation.
Lao-Tzu, for instance, says ‘The Tao produces unity, unity produces duality, duality produces trinity, and the triad produces all things’. The druid triads (a series of wise statements) were (naturally enough) based on three. E.g. it is said that the three tasks of a Druid are ‘to live fully in the present; to honour tradition and the ancestors; to hear the voice of tomorrow’.The Hindus have the great triad of Brahma the creator, Shiva the destroyer, and Vishnu the sustainer; the ancient Babylonians worshipped the Sun (
), Moon (
), and Venus (
), while Christianity, of course, has the Trinity: God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Buddhists have a threefold classification of words called the trikaya, or ‘3 bodies’ of the Buddha, 3 sources of salvation (
) – and so on.
The Empress, no. 3 in the Major Arcana, represents this elevated, soul aspect of Three. The Empress is the the Yin of the Tao, the Mother Goddess (Ishtar, worshipped as Venus and the Queen of Heaven by the Babylonians). She is the feminine energy of the universe: the vessel that contains all, the fecundity, fertility and giving nature of femininity. She is the ripe fruit, the fertile harvest, the bountifulness of Earth.
Once you start looking at the triad, you find it cropping up everywhere – in fairy tales, in myth, in society. Three people are seen as suitable to make decisions, to worship, to form a crowd – Aristotle points out that three is the first number to which ‘all’ applies. It is also the first number which forms a ‘three’ dimensional form – one we can see in the world.
In the Minor Arcana, the Three is shown in its most inspirational aspect in the Three of Wands or Rods: where a wonderful synthesis is depicted as the Philosopher’s Stone, a beautiful egg-shaped object the figure in the card has made. Out of this egg a double helix forms, winding around the staves at the top of the card.
Celebration, partying, relationship, interwoven destinies are seen in the Three of Cups: so the tarot party I read for, a Baby Shower to celebrate various babies births, christenings, and imminent arrivals, was very appropriate.
The Three of Discs is usually about work, society, and our place in it; the work may not be the most inspiring, but it does have a certain structure and stability, and you may find you enjoy it!
Finally, the Three of Swords perhaps shows the travail that we often need to endure in order to overcome difficulty. It shows a conflict between head, heart, and body (or soul); often the heart feels like it is turning to ice with the confusion. But if we stay with it, this can be resolved.