By Sarah Taylor
I have written about The Lovers card several times over the course of this column (The Lovers — A three-card comparison, Symbolic Alchemy — A view of The Lovers and Art, and The Consort and The Lovers — Venus in Gemini), but I wanted to take another look at it this week because of its significance to us over the coming year.
Numerologically, 2013 is the year of The Lovers: if you add up all four digits in “2013”, you get the number 6, and The Lovers is card 6 in the tarot’s major arcana. You may well ask how it is that a single card can be universally relevant. My response to that is the personal and non-empirical assertion that synchronicity — the coinciding of factors that seem to be causally unrelated but are meaningful — just works.
In the same way that the movements of the various bodies in our solar system are reflected in the structure, themes and narratives of our lives, so a tarot card that holds significance (whether through numerology or because you chose it from a tarot deck) also reflects a certain timbre in our internal and external worlds.
This means that The Lovers will touch your life in some way that will be recognisable and meaningful in 2013, whether primarily in how you relate to yourself, how you relate in your interpersonal relationships, or in your relationship to humanity and the world as a whole — although doubtless all three will be affected.
But what does The Lovers card mean in tarot? Probably not what most people think it does, or not primarily. To understand it better, we need to look at how we get to the sixth card in the journey through the major arcana. Card 0 — The Fool — represents potential. It is non-dual, it simply is. Cards 1 through 5 describe the process of creation. And card 6, The Lovers, is the moment where creation becomes aware of itself.
The corresponding sign for The Lovers in astrology is Gemini, the twins. Seen symbolically rather than literally, the twins represent duality. Whereas the world of Spirit is defined by one-ness — no time, no space, no differentiation — the physical world is composed of opposites and all permutations between: up-down, black-white, night-day, summer-winter, male-female.
To what end? So that consciousness is able to know itself. This is embodied in The Lovers — the love affair between the creator and its creation. (If you look at the Rider-Waite Smith version of the card, you will see this particularly clearly.)
The popular view of The Lovers is that it is the card of romance — specifically the card between two people who are, or who are about to get, sexually intimate. It is the card that is most anticipated in a relationship tarot reading. (If they knew the more subtle meaning, I wonder whether so many people would be as enthused about seeing it in their spread.) Many decks reflect this simplistic notion to the detriment of a meaning that is deeper, more subtle, and maybe not quite as comfortable to accommodate.
Let’s go back to the idea of creator and creation, and the theory that this world exists because Spirit wanted to know itself. Try wrapping your mind around the idea of absolute oneness — a place where nothing and everything exists simultaneously.
In fact, scrub round that — it isn’t a place at all; a ‘place’ suggests a particular location in time and space. As dualistic beings living in the land of The Lovers, we are used to being split myriad ways. We live in a fragmented world; non-dualism is foreign to us. But, in turn, we are just as foreign to the non-dual world of Spirit. We are, in a manner of speaking, where Spirit goes on vacation, to get away from itself enough to experience something new — something not it.
When ‘one’ splits into two opposite poles, with every manner of permutation in between, it then has something that it hasn’t had before. It has the power of choice. With duality come options; with options come limitless routes to knowing oneself.
The Lovers can be about romance, absolutely — an encounter with another in a world where we are separate bodies. But ultimately it is about meeting with something else, and, in so doing, meeting with choice. What choices you make, and why you make them, depends on yet more choices: whether you choose to align your choices with love, with fear, with chaos, with the will of others, with the will of something greater than you. We often feel that our choices are limited, but seen in this way, it is the limits that we place upon ourselves — for whatever reason — that narrow our options.
Therefore, choice leads to experience, no matter what that experience is. In this respect, I see The Lovers as an amoral card. In the ensuing cards, we meet with the consequences of our choices, which then evolves into the balancing of opposing forces in card 14, Temperance or Art, which in the Thoth deck is an evolution of The Lovers.
The Lovers is about polarity and the myriad options it presents; Temperance is working with polarity in a specific way, to create something specific, which is a reaching back up towards the Spirit world from which we came.
How The Lovers expresses itself in your life will be aligned with the choices that you make. In those moments that you become aware of its presence as an archetype, it might be that the awareness alone offers you the possibility that you have more freedom than you might realise.
* * * * * * * *
Here are two passages that accompany two of the three versions of The Lovers cards used for this article. The interpretations do not necessarily fall in line with mine, but I do feel that all interpretations have at their core the idea of what it means to relate:
The interpretations are inexhaustible. All of them lead us to the conclusion that The Lover is a relational card that depicts the beginning of social life. It is the first Arcanum on which several individuals are presented at the same level. … This is a card of union and disunion, of social and emotional choices. Several clues present in the card direct us toward the notion of union. On the one hand, the number 6 is associated with the letter in the Hebrew alphabet Vav, “nail,” which represents union. On the other hand, we can see patches of color (light blue, then red) between these individuals’ legs that also represent a continuity, a union between them. On the symbolic plane, we could say that the three figures represent the governing centers of the human being: the intellect, the emotional center, and the sexual center joining together to become one.
[Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Way of Tarot]
In a reading, The Lovers symbolizes the unification of opposites, the themes of liberation, avowal, and choice from one’s heart. It indicates the need to view all aspects of a situation. One must consider if what is seen is real or a projection in order to make an informed choice in any partnership, whether business or marriage. In committing to a choice one way or another, there is liberation from the bondage of indecision.
[M. M. Meleen, The Book of Seshet]
If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread.