As a reminder, the suit of wands is driven by masculine energy and usually represents willpower, change, and an impulse to create and make something new. Scholars and academics have connected the suit of wands to the classical element of fire, and most of the cards from that suit embody the symbolic attributes of this element, one way or another.
Three of Wands: Traditional meanings
Just like the merchant on the illustration from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, a new project has recently been launched in the Querent’s life. This is the next step, where the merchant looks at his ships sailing away with a combination of pride and passion.
The three of wands represents that initial drive of passion for new projects and new beginnings and is a rather positive card that usually comforts the Querent that a positive outcome is to be expected.
On a more esoteric reading, the three of wands could also be seen as the incarnation of the Law of Attraction, as the initial surge of passion and enthusiasm will be communicative and create a kind of virtuous cycle that will keep going and growing with each iteration.
Upright: Optimism, energy, passion, success, and fruitful collaborations.
Reversed: Delays, discouragement, lack of satisfaction, and fear of commitment.
Upright Three of Wands and positive elements
In decks derived from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, most specifically the suit of Wands, the scene displayed on the three of Wands tarot card features a single character in an almost empty environment: the character, usually a male, is standing on top of a cliff, his back turned to the reader, looking ahead at the almost empty horizon, were it not for a few ships sailing on the water.
The protagonist is using his right hand to lean on one of the three large staves seemingly planted into the ground. From his clothes and the scene itself, the character is often described as a merchant, gazing ahead at his own fleet of merchant ships.
This is the next step in the process of creation after the initial spark was lit in the two of wands minor arcana. Passion (for a new project or anything else) is now driving the decision-making process, fueling imagination and making sure the Querent is taking the initiative and holding the reins of their own destiny tightly.
The combination of optimism and spontaneous good decisions will usually combine into a very positive outcome for the project at hand. If this is drawn in a business context, it might hint at a positive return on investment. The project is picking up speed and driving fast on the path of success
Reversed Three of Wands and negative elements
The three of wands reversed meaning turns all that optimism and positivity upside down. It means that the passion driving the matter at hand is taking over some crucial part of the decision-making process, and ends up making rash and usually bad decisions.
On a more psychological aspect, it might highlight some sort of fear of professional commitment leading to delays and poorly thought plans moving forward. If the matter being discussed in the reading involves more than one person, the three of wands reversed could also represent a rift growing between various collaborators who each want to lead the project to vastly different directions. The Querent should be walking on thin ice to try and salvage this relationship.
Three of Wands and love
After the initial spark, and barring any sort of unrequited love, the three of wands usually deals with the early days in a relationship, where anyone involved still see the other through rose-tinted glasses, where everything is perfect and where the mind subconsciously turns a blind eye to any flaw or negative element that might arise later on in the relationship.
This is another rather sexual card (like several minor arcana from the suit of wands, do to the passion embodied in that suit), and can be a source of great happiness, especially when it is combined with more emotional cards from the suit of cups. If it is combined with a majority of physical cards and arcana from the suit of cups are remarkably absent, it probably only refers to a casual, but very intense, relationship.