The 3 of Swords is a card of revelation, pained comprehension, and sorrow. The unhappy ground of all knowledge, it speaks the wisdom of the Silenus, which states:
Ephemeral wretch, begotten by accident and toil, why do you force me to tell you what it would be your greatest boon not to hear? What would be best for you is quite beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best is to die soon.
This is a rigorously intellectual card whose bruised fruits include empathy, compassion, and a wonderfully rooted and corporeal sense/knowledge that holds its own hubris in check. Silenus was the mentor of Dionysus, the stark sobriety that served as a rational argument for all manner of hedonism, intoxication, and excess.
And herein lies its secret: in coming to understand that one is not better than, not wiser than, and not “special,” a gratitude for the fleeting moment is borne, as well as a non-moral liberty which permits the possibility for fearless and selfless action. The 3 of Swords is about coming to grips with one’s own finitude, fragility, and fallibility, and in this it is beautifully human.
Dali interpreted the card adeptly, choosing to guard the pierced heart from the Rider-Waite as a bright coral-pink frame or negative space. At the literal heart of the image is Ingres’ Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica (1819), a painting that concerns a fairy tale-like legend from two epic poems Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso (early 1500s), and which echos the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda.
Angelica, pursued by all manner of knights, eventually ended up chained to a rock as an offering to a sea-monster. The Knight Ruggiero rescued her, giving her a ring of invisibility which further permitted Angelica to escape her would-be suitors.
What does such a legend have to do with the meaning of the 3 of Swords? Two things, so far as I can tell:
1) Angelica’s life is overtly haunted by the wisdom of the Silenus. Her innate charms necessitate that she at all times be in flight, and she only escapes death by ceasing to manifest any image at all.
2) These innate charms obscure her person and confound her suitors (it’s almost as if she’s a blank screen upon which men project their fantasies), leading to the eventual ruin of the knights who pursued her.
In short, Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso speak of a series of misunderstandings, misrecognitions, and unrequited desires — all classic interpretations of the 3 of Swords. Some other interpretations include discovery of an unwelcome third party in amorous affairs, overhearing gossip or the hurtful opinions of others, and coming to comprehend all manner of perfidy.
This card represents liberation from slavery. Better a painful truth than a comfy lie.
**While all manner of comments are welcomed, any further information pertaining to art history, symbolism, myth, cultural reverberations, and Tarot card meanings that traverse decks or lend especial light to the Universal Dali deck, specifically, are actively sought and encouraged. I’m not using a book for these descriptions, so I may miss a reference that bears mention in relation to a card. If you know something, please share it!
Conversely, I actively negate the astrological significations of the Trump cards within the Universal Dali deck in favor of the more traditional Thoth. My plan is to tackle the astrological significations of the Universal Dali Trumps and their overt divergence from all norms in one article… after having described each card. That’s a ways off. ;)