11.06.2008

The Four Threes




It's handy that we've already covered the Aces and the Twos. The former served as pure expressions of the elements as worlds of their own, and the latter opened each of them up to the idea of contact with other worlds, resulting in graceful, harmonious interactions.

The best way to explain the significance of Three is basic geometry. Imagine a point:




That's our Ace, perfectly self-contained. Now imagine a second point:


. . . . . . . . . .


Two represents a moment of awareness in which our point begins to recognize other points as a basis for comparison. The relationship they have is enlightening but very insular. In geometry this is expressed as a line. Now add a third point:




. . . . . . . . . .


If that second point was one of comparison, the third is a point of reference. Now that we have a triangle, the original point has an actual sense of where it exists in proximity to these others -- for example, "I am closer to c than to b." A sense of where it exists in the larger scheme of things is now possible.

This concept is a leaping-off point for understanding the Kabbalah and other mystical systems (see The Chicken Qabalah, for example, on my reading list), but I'll spare you. I don't think you have to be interested in any of that to understand how this works. I think it's a given that people's awareness grows in this fashion from childhood onward, and this third stage represents that familiar point at which one begins contemplating one's position in the wider world, becoming flooded with a sense of wonder and potential. Do you remember?

If you look at each of the cards above, they have a sort of wonderful fullness to them that isn't present in the Twos: more people are involved, greater goals aspired to, steeper risks taken. The playing field is larger, and they're all suddenly so inspired. The Three of Swords may stick out like a sore thumb thanks to its forecast of gloom and doom, but isn't that the price we pay for learning more about our place in the universe? We're thrilled to begin to see the web holding everything together, but we also become painfully aware of our vulnerability and our apparent insignificance.

Trinities abound in theology and mythology. I think it's the natural result of a simple idea becoming more complex; as civilizations grow, gods are called upon to cover more ground, taking on attributes that increasingly contradict. Once you concede to splitting your god into two figures, or allow him to take on a deputy, what's to keep from taking it further? Why not three, or seven, or seven hundred? The number three is symbolic of that tipping point into multiplicity. It gives us permission, but reminds us of the elegance of restraint.

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