If you stand in front of the ocean, you start to feel very much like you do standing and staring at the stars. The vastness of the ocean is awe-inspiring – we feel very small in comparison to it. If you look out to sea and spot a ship, it's an unreal experience. You lose the scale, in your mind, of how huge the ship actually is. From your place on the shore, the ship may look like nothing more than a toy. This is the energy of the Three of Wands.
In the Three of Wands, we have a wide and vast ocean that spreads before us. A man stands on a high mountain looking out over that ocean. Behind him a slope that he has presumably only just climbed up. He uses one of the three wands/staffs that surround him to hold himself up. His cloak is patched in places and worn – the journey he has made to get to this place has been rough. But now he can see everything, where from down below he couldn't see clearly at all. He turns his face to look over every bit of that massive sea, watching the ships role in, even looking out to where there are large mountains in the distance.
From up on his perch, the man has removed himself from the world – he is no longer a part of the world's troubles, so he can view them from a third-person perspective. Seeing the world from the outside – it's troubles, joys, and more – is a challenge many aren't willing to face. Consider each boat to stand for an event in our lives: when we are close up, all we can see are the sails, the rudder, the fine details of the event. When we back off from the event, we can see that this ship is just one ship of many in a vast ocean. The Three of Wands is telling you to step back and gain perspective.
There is one negative aspect to this card – the chance that, if too separated from events, the man might become apathetic to the plight of the ships. If you become too distant from the events and problems in your life, you might find that you stop caring about them altogether. Find the balance between caring too much and caring too little.
The Three of Wands holds many questions – here are a few you should ask yourself when you see this card in your readings. What are the problems in your life right now? What are the events or tasks you can't stop thinking about? Can you distance yourself from them? Can you see how miniscule those issues are in comparison to the entirety of your life? Do these problems still seem as important or crucial when you distance yourself from them?
The Three of Wands has a few partner cards that can go along with it nicely. The Eight of Cups shares the same need to move away from issues and current problems... but where the Eight of Cups suggest moving past the problem altogether, the Three of Wands suggests rising above that problem in order to get a better view of it. The card just before the Three of Wands, the Two of Wands, share a surprising amount in common – they both issue a call to action, specifically traveling forward boldly and ignoring fears.