Three of Wands: The Pelicans

Main Keywords: Resurrection, New Possibilities, Sacrifice, Transformation, Mothering/Nurturing. Other possible key words: Survival, kindness, perseverance, accuracy, social nature.

This photo was taken by my husband Mike during our vacation in Florida. We were enchanted with these birds, somewhat ungainly on land, but undeniably magnificent in air and water. They soar gracefully, sometimes only inches above the water, and their eyesight is so sharp they can dive for even a single fish from as high as 60' high. Watching Pelicans dive is awe-inspiring they fold their wings back and plummet vertically into the water, beak straight. I chose this photo (rearranged a bit on Photoshop, they were originally next to each other horizontally in the water) because when I saw those three long bills, I could only think "three wands." These Pelicans are gently floating on the water, not in any hurry, not diving or soaring, just waiting, which I think is the "pregnant pause" of the three of wands. It is the card which suggests a point in progress, but also contemplation, waiting for the next move. They are just floating, though movement, anticipation, is suggested by the one bird who seems to be eyeing something below the surface. As with any bird, flight is always imminent.

The number three is particularly appropriate for Pelicans, who seem to be "made of threes." They have three toes on each foot, and their gullets can hold up to three gallons of water when they scoop up fish, which is three times more volume than their stomachs can hold. Pelicans are connected symbolically to charity, giving, motherhood, resurrection, transformation, and sacrifice via ancient myth and heraldry which tells the story of a father Pelican killing his babies, and then the mother Pelican pierces her own breast with her bill to shed blood on the babies, thus bringing them back to life. This symbolism and the number three connect most directly to The Empress, III. In particular, the Thoth Empress shows a large pelican feeding its young at her feet. Alchemically, the Pelican is often seen as the vessel wherein change occurs. For me, this also connects the brown Pelican to the "ugly duckling" fairy-tale this bird has more character than conventional beauty, but it also will take your breath away with its unexpected grace and dignity.

More factually, these are brown pelicans, Pelecanus occidentalis, also called the American brown pelican or common pelican, inhabits the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coasts of North and South America. They are usually 42 to 54 inches long, weighing 8 to 10 pounds, and with a 6-1/2- to 7-1/2-foot wingspan.

Brown pelicans have few natural enemies, however, they have been listed as endangered due to losses in populations caused by both hunting and poisoning by use of fertilizers and insecticides which run into ocean waters and habitats. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida's Pelican Island as the first national wildlife refuge, a move that helped reduce the threat of plume hunters. Passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 gave protection to pelicans and other birds and helped curb illegal killing. In 1970, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the brown pelican as an endangered species (under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973), meaning it was considered in danger of extinction through all or a significant portion of its range. Populations are recovering. This makes the theme of resurrection and new possibility a fitting one for the Pelican/Three of Wands card.