Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Three of Swords - Commitment

Updated and expanded compilation of all these Tarot Just For Writers entries is now available on Kindle:
The Wands and Cups Volumes and  the Swords and Pentacles Volumes, are now all available separately on Kindle.  The 5 Volumes combined are also available on Kindle as one book, cheaper than buying them individually.
The Not So Minor Arcana: Never Cross A Palm With Silver Aug 30, 2015 99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Wands Sept. 1, 2015  99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Cups Sept. 11, 2015 99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Swords  Sept. 17, 2015 99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Pentacles  Sept. 21, 2015 99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Books 1-5 combined Sept. 24, 2015 $3.25

This series is designed not for the beginner or the advanced student, but for the intermediate student and specifically for writers doing worldbuilding..

Bet you were wondering what the Tarot Suit of Swords has to do with Alien Romance!

Or with Romance in any form.

Well, there it is. Commitment.

Most Tarot decks portray the entire suit of Swords as dire and terrible. The Three is shown in the Waite Rider deck (drawn by a woman, but designed by a man) as a heart with three swords piercing it -- blood dripping. Other decks are even worse.

The "best" the Swords has to offer is considered to be the 6 which we will discuss later, and then you'll see the six is not so hot.

With each of the not-so Minor Arcana, (i.e. the numbered cards) there are two major components to the "meaning" or "significance" -- the number and the suit.

The Number and Suit (or World) combine to establish the abstract, non-verbalizable, meaning of the variable represented by a card. And that non-verbal meaning establishes the meaning of the Major Arcana that are connected to the Minors by the Jacob's Ladder diagram. That's why I call the numbered cards the "not so" Minor Arcana. They are actually the source of all "meaning" in Tarot.

The Jacob's Ladder diagram is a cascade of 4 interlaced Tree of Life diagrams (see The Biblical Tarot: Never Cross A Palm With Silver) - one diagram for each of the four "worlds" or levels of reality represented by a Suit.

There are four Worlds, four letters in the Divine Name, four variables necessary to create a Boolean algebra and four forces that hold the world together (the forces phycisists want to combine into a Unified Field Theory).

Our manifest reality has three spacial dimensions and Time. See my reviews column (http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ for January to June 2007 for a series on how the Soul enters manifestation through Time.

I learned of the concept of the Soul entering reality through Time in a Chabad course http://www.chabad.org/ on Kabbalah, mulled it over for a year, read dozens of books, wrote columns on it, am booked into a conference to teach it, and I still don't understand it. But I keep trying.

On the Tree of Life diagram, the Major Arcana fit onto the connecting spurs between the numbered Sepheroth. There is only one set of Major Arcana images, but each one functions in each of the four "worlds" differently. So there are four complete sets of meanings for each Major card. So there is no way to tell which of the Worlds a Major is expressing in a given reading.

Students of Tarot argue endlessly about what symbols go onto which card or what number a given Major Arcanum should be -- and some people feel that one deck is more responsive or sympathetic to them personally than another because of the art, the inking or the symbolism or the magical conditioning they've imbued it with.

These issues can be easily penetrated by understanding that the cards represent points on the Tree of Life diagram. It simply doesn't matter, in any objective way, what you put on the card. It only matters that you, yourself, can tell them apart. Therefore subjectivity reigns supreme in the matter.

Take some pieces of paper and scribble numbers on them and you can make a Tarot deck. It only matters that you know what each card represents and where it fits in the dynamic process of energy flowing down from the Creator to ultimate manifestation. So your deck will work just fine up to your own personal limitations.

The artwork is put on Tarot cards for those who don't understand the Tarot in terms of this structure that underlies all the universe. (Well, who does???? We all need a little symbolic help here.)

So let's trace it out on the Tree diagram.

The Threes can be reached directly from the Aces by the Major called THE MAGICIAN. Or Three can be reached through Two via THE FOOL from One to the Two and then THE EMPRESS across to the Three. And you can get out of the THREES through the LOVERS and THE CHARIOT.

In this series of explorations of the Tarot cards we are following the path down the Tree that is usually called "The Lightening Flash" -- so we will move down in numberical order from One to Ten.

The 3rd Sepherah (or zone on the Tree of Life) is called BINAH, is often associated with the astrological symbol Saturn, and can handily be thought of as the gates of life and death. This is the portal through which you are born -- and the portal through which you go when you die.

That's both symbolic and actual, but for the most part the 3 of Swords card turns up representing a psychological state.

That state is very well described by the word "commitment." It is a point of "no return" -- a moment that will always be remembered as the "before" and "after" moment. "Before I met your mother, I had so many girl friends I couldn't remember their names!"

Some times this 3 of Swords moment is felt as a loss - a death. Sometimes it's felt as a new start, a gain, a birth.

To leave some place is also to go someplace else. You can grieve over the friends left behind -- or reach out to the new people you find yourself among.

How you experience the passage through that portal is a matter of your own personal choice. And remember, the whole Suit of Swords is about choices. Choices are actions, as are thoughts and words. The Sword is the symbol of cutting in half or dividing. And that's what choosing is.

So the Three of Swords represents a choice about who and what you are.

The essence of the Gates of Life and Death is very simple. In order to "be" anything at all, you must "not be" everything else. Identity (a subject much explored in my column for The Monthly Aspectarian archived at http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ ) rests on the principle of dividing or distinguishing one thing from another.

And that distinguishing process is the process of moving energy down the Tree into manifest reality -- at the numbered points the energy divides and separates like white light spreading out into a rainbow.

In order to be red, you have to not-be green. In order to be Jacqueline Lichtenberg I have to not-be George Bush. In order to be happy, I have to undersand that what I am is defined by what I am not. What I am-not is also, ultimately in the "place" I came from, part of me.

You see what I mean about the Tarot representing ideas, concepts and notions that simply can not be conveyed verbally? You'll sprain your brain wrapping it around these concepts, but they are very useful for understanding any fictional character's internal conflict which generates his external reality and its inherent conflicts -- leading to a bang-up resolution of that fictional character's story.

The Three of Swords for a fictional character is that moment of adjustment when the character resigns him/herself to not-being everything else. "Foresaking all others" do you take . . . ?

Now consider the process of writing a novel.

In the Ace of Swords moment, you began the action of creating words.

In the Two of Swords moment, you saw your first words appear, the first character you put onto the page turned around and looked you in the eye. Shock of seeing part of yourself outside yourself stopped you -- or tumbled you over, out of control, with no way to predict what would happen.

Once you take that tumble off the balance point of the Two of Swords you are subject to the laws of psychology just as a circus tumbler is subject to the laws of physics.

If the action is begun with enough power in the Ace, you move right on through the Two smoothly and suddenly find yourself diving through the portal of the Three.

Once through that portal, there is no way back. You have become NOT everything else. Something vital has separated from you. You have divided yourself off into you and your characters.

In the writing of a novel, the Three of Swords is the moment of total commitment when you comprehend just what completing this project will cost you.

How long will it be? How many years of your life (usually about 5) will you spend living inside it until it's finished? How deep into your own psyche must you delve to find the words? How much of your true self will the readers see exposed? What will you see coming out of yourself that you never believed was in there? How hard will it be to sell this project and get it into print? How will you ever find time to answer the fan mail? Or will you have to go into hiding (Rushdie comes to mind).

The Three is also the moment when you see what you might get if (and only if) you can finish this project, despite the cost. How much money? How much fame and glory? How many people's hearts will be touched?

This book is the legacy you're leaving your children - will they find it saying how much you love them? Will someone, somewhere, come to understand you and themselves better for it? Your great-grandchild maybe?

And that's the essence of the Three in all the Suits; what you pay for what you get. What you leave behind in order to become what you will be.

Once you've written this book, you become the author of this book and can never not-be that author. Everyone who has ever written anything knows that feeling. It's like giving birth. The thing you have written is now separate from you -- and you are different for it.

So the Three of Swords is the moment when you strike a bargain and make the commitment to pay this price for that reward, knowing you might not get the reward, or might not want it once you've obtained it at dire price.

A child being yanked out of fourth grade to follow his parents across country to their new job FEELS only the loss of his friends, not the better school, nicer friends, and better university nearby.

An adult has a wider perspective and though he may feel the loss, he can imagine new, wider and more fruitful vistas ahead, and so the pain of loss isn't overwhelming or paralyzing.

There is a Child within every Adult who weeps for loss, screams in terror at stepping out of the balance point of Two, pulls back and cannot look ahead.

There is a Child within us all who can not make an Adult commitment.

To commit to an action, project or change is to renounce all that was and dive past the point of no return, an act of faith -- a soul taking an incarnation knowing the life pattern will be very hard, a couple pledging for better or worse, a pilot deciding to try to make it to the next airstrip rather than return against the wind on one engine.

The Three of Swords is frightening because it comes after that even more dismaying moment of balance in the Two of Swords. The Three of Swords is risk. The Three of Swords is fear. The Three of Swords is the fear of loss and the loss of fear all at once.

The Three of Swords is the bedrock of character.

These Three of Swords moments are the moments in life when our elders tell us we are building character. Strength of character is what carries one through the darkest moments of life. Will you do the right thing regardless of the pain, the cost, the risk?

And the Three of Swords is the moment, very near the beginning of the novel, when the main character faces his or her own "point of no return" -- the point after which the events of the novel must inevitably unfold all the way to the end. (Everyone knows that moment when it comes to sex, or running a red light.)

If that moment is well constructed, the writer has no difficulty completing the project. If that moment is flawed, the writer will likely bog down in the middle and not finish, or graft on some other novel's plot twist in the middle and barrel onwards to an ending that has nothing to do with the beginning. Real life doesn't let you do that.

Novels "work" for us as entertainment because they are shaped like real life. That shape makes the fictional impossibilities seem real to the reader.

One of the points where the writer can induce a reader to identify with a character is that Three of Swords moment where the fictional character is tested to near destruction, gives a primal scream to the heavens, and hurls himself through the portal of Three Swords. There's usually one at the beginning of the novel - and a more intense one near the 3/4 point, an epiphany.

Three is the gate that leads to life or (from the other side) to the realm beyond death.

Swords are actions, thoughts, decisions, habit patterns.

The Three of Swords is the act of commitment. That act may be a thought, a verbal admission of a feeling, diving off Niagra Falls, a bargain with the devil, or an act of faith. It is a deed which divides life into "before" and "after."

Whether the Three of Swords is experienced as "pain" or not depends on how "mature" your Philosophy (Wands) combined with your Sanity (Cups) actually is.

A strong character does not experience the pain as louder than the hope. A weak character does. Any reasonably sane person experiences both at the Three points in life, chalks it up to experience, and builds a stronger character, and a more mature person.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Jaquiline, this is fascinating! I especially appreciated the last few paragraphs in which you translated Tarot to plot construction in novels. And, I like your re-naming of the Tarot suites.

  2. Janet:

    I haven't "renamed" the Tarot suites. I'm relying on standard background information available in hundreds if not thousands of books. I'm taking what you learn in the beginner's books and bridging the gap to the Advanced level of study.

    There are some really abtuse abstract notions that take a while to sink into your head. Once you get them into your view of the universe, then you can take that leap into the advanced level.

    If you read advanced books before you have these notions mastered, it all sounds like nonsense or worse, untrue.

    All the Tarot view of reality does is sort the bits and pieces of the world as we know it into categories, connecting things that seem different so that you can see that these things are really just one thing.

    Once you learn that style of abstract analysis, it gets to be very easy to construct a relationship driven plot that makes sense to people on a non-verbal level.

    Fiction writing is, of necessity, all VERBAL -- but the real "meaning" lies at the non-verbal level, and that's what a study of Tarot and Astrology can give a writer.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg