“Love is in the air.”
—John Paul Young
The Lovers ranks alongside the Death card as one of the most popularized symbols in tarot, but its entire symbolic meaning holds even more than meets the eye. The obvious, illustrated on most decks, is a pair of lovers—indicating love, union, sexuality, and sacrifice as male and female seek to become one in the way they live, choose, and interact.
Thus far we have seen several single card entities complementing each other, ones that form pairs: The Fool and The Magician, The High Priestess and The High Priest, The Empress and The Emperor. The Lovers, however, is a symbol of male-female immersion and union, two hearts beating as one, on one card. Does The Lovers mean anything more than a love affair in the making?
Yes. On a deeper symbolic level, The Lovers is about how we choose to treat other people and how we approach tough decisions. In this situation, what is loving and what is not? Why does the human soul crave love? At ground level, this symbol communicates the vital importance of experiencing love and passion in one’s life, that sharing love in its many forms leads us to a greater understanding of life itself. Loving others is an important contractual agreement of the soul, and our ultimate health lies in our ability to give and receive love.
One of the first illustrated decks that implies the dilemma of difficult choices for The Lovers was the Tarot de Marseilles. This deck shows a young man struck by Cupid’s arrow, being forced to choose between two women. The evolving symbolism was that this card involved a choice, especially that of a tough decision between a respectable, but boring path and a tempting, but morally questionable direction. Going one level down, when we are cast in such situations, is this a call to consider why we value one decision as more favorable than the other? Are we being asked to reevaluate our moral position or why we feel we need to judge in the first place?
The Tarot de Marseilles can also signify a mid-life crisis, or, at the very least, the plight of someone who chooses what is socially acceptable while waging an internal war with visceral dissatisfaction. Yet another interpretation of the Tarot de Marseilles is the journey of adolescence—particularly a young man’s—and what has evolved as the developmental outcome of Freud’s Oedipal dilemma: that the young man eventually leaves his mother and meets a wife.
We might say that at the heart of The Lovers is the emergence of a decision or decisions and how we evaluate what to choose—which may involve a love relationship, because at its core, loving becomes a long array of choices, not just one. How we choose to develop and manage our personal power in our daily decisions becomes integral to how we invest in our partnerships. If we truly believe we have the power to choose how we treat others, and how we choose to care for our relationships, it is likely we will feel wrong in blaming others for our own misguided decisions or perpetrating a victim role in a relationship.
“Sometimes we defeat ourselves by trying to be close
to people who aren’t available for intimacy—people with
active addictions, or people who don’t choose to be close to us.”
When The Lovers symbol comes up where no potential partnership or romance is indicated, at least one of its underlying interpretations is probably at work. This may involve a situation where you are still figuring out where you stand before you take an ultimatum of making your choice. This might involve an ethical or moral dilemma. You may need to find a better way of communicating what you want. You may be emerging as an individual power source in some way.
If, on the other hand, a partnership is already in store, this symbol may indicate there’s yet another romantic choice or a decision needed to rekindle passion, or a journey ahead of deepening emotional ties. You may want to explore or redefine your loyalty and commitment to the relationship, renegotiate trust, or clarify ambivalence. The Lovers is usually regarded as a favorable sign indicating the power of love is the magical attraction that conquers all and holds a union solid. If a new relationship seems to strike out of the blue and begins to wedge its way into your life, are you ready to release your solitude?
“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”
And yet another alternative interpretation for The Lovers stems from a possible history of original hermaphroditism in mankind as maintained by Kaballistic, Rosicrucian, and other teachings. Several traditional cultures maintain that all humans originally were hermaphrodites, having no sexual urges or needs to be satisfied outside of their own bodies.
In this state, humankind was believed to be perfect, untainted by physical passion, which later introduced chaos in society. Platonic myth posits that hermaphroditic mankind was actually a mosaic of genders: male-female, male-male, and female-female. The splitting of genders into only male and female by god Zeus in Plato is shared by several creation stories as evidence of the fall, and yet, perhaps not necessarily a fall as much as a leap to another level or reality and another way of existing.
Even today, hermaphroditic and pseudo-hermaphroditic births account for about one percent of the human population, and various invertebrates, snails, and fish have mosaics of sexual orientation within sequential hermaphroditism and pseudo-hermaphroditism. Ocellaris clownfish are a protrandrous species, being born male at birth and evolving to female during its lifetime.
Could the dual male and female psychological tendencies within today’s single genders have its origins in primordial hermaphroditism? Although these tendencies may not be recognized consciously, they can live deeply within the unconscious as anima for males and animus for females. These are personifications of gender-associated psychological tendencies, i.e. assertiveness and aggression in females (animus) and emotional sensitivity, passivity in males (anima). We become more complete as a single gender by first understanding what incites the opposite gender qualities or roles within us, and to what degree we need to act upon them. Certainly key to existing peacefully within our own skin is recognizing and activating these roles when they become synergistic in service of others.
“To love is to recognize yourself in another.”
― Eckhart Tolle
Uncommon Tarot Interpretations:
- Your unpleasant experience is a necessary part of the big picture
- twin souls
- Leaving Eden for something more attractive
- Raphael (archangel of healing) is with you
“Growth and power come through the love that springs forth from all living things.”