Discussion: The Lovers

Full of newfound confidence, the Fool continues along his path. He approaches a crossroads and sees the sign pointing the way he had intended to go, but along the other path, he sees a woman. Immediately, our Fool knows in his heart that this woman is standing here for him, and that despite his plans, he must now travel down this other path.

The Lovers card from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

The Lovers card from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

It is easy to look at this card, the sixth Major Arcanum, and see symbols of love, relationships, and sex. Typically depicted as a man and a woman, sometimes with a third person acting as a sort of “matchmaker,” the Lovers card is one of the most obvious archetypes in human history. Many decks even seem to depict the man and woman as Adam and Eve, standing in front of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, accompanied by the Serpent who seduced Eve into eating the fruit, leading to the pair’s eviction from the Garden of Eden.

Let’s take a closer look at that.

The Lovers card represents a moment of choice. In the story of Adam and Eve, this choice was whether or not to eat the Forbidden Fruit. In our Fool’s journey, the choice manifests as the decision to travel alone on his intended path, or to alter his plans and travel a different direction, drawn away from his plans by the irresistible allure of the woman he has encountered. Sometimes, the moment of choice is obvious; a sudden epiphany like a blow to the head (or the arrow of a certain Roman god of desire). Other times, the decision is far more subtle, and easy to overlook.

This card is associated with the sign of Gemini, which is an air sign. We know that emotions are traditionally linked to water signs, and passion is strongly associated with fire signs. Air signs, on the other hand, are representative of logic; clarity of thought. This card is not necessarily indicative of romantic love, or of relationships in a sexual sense. Instead, this card is about having the presence of mind to make a decision—and knowing whether to make that decision based on clear-headed reason or gut instinct. This is a duality seen elsewhere in the Tarot: Emperor and Empress, High Priestess and Hierophant; even the Kings and Queens of each suit play into this dichotomy.

The Lovers card illustrated by Robert M. Place

Drawing by Robert M. Place

This fundamental binary opposition is a primary source of tension in our daily lives. Even in the most mundane, trivial aspects, we encounter choices, we make decisions, and we live each moment as a result of the consequences of a million decisions leading up to this exact point in time. Sometimes, those choices affect us at a deep, primordial level—I would be a very different person had I not decided to start dating the woman who would become my wife, or to apply for a job with the company I’ve now worked at for over six years. Other times, these decisions bear very little weight. For instance, deciding what to eat for breakfast each morning is unlikely to have a significant impact on one’s quality of life—unless, that is, the wrong decision is made, day in and day out, leading to health problems like obesity, hypertension, or diabetes.

Ultimately, the Lovers card is not a card about finding true love, or about starting a new relationship or ending an old one. It is about the choices we make, and the consequences of those decisions, which lead us on our paths to where we are meant to be. Much like our Fool, who decides to abandon his plans to seek fulfillment in the arms of another, we must decide whether we wish to press on, to keep moving along the paths we have marked in our atlas, or to deviate, throw away the map, and let the wind carry our feet where it may.

 

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