The Lovers

Of the various changes Arthur Waite and Pamela Smith made in traditional Tarot designs the card of the Lovers remains the most dramatic. Where the Tarot de Marseilles (on the right, above) shows a young man struck by Cupid's arrow and forced to choose between two women, the Rider pack shows a mature man and a

Priestess holds not a scroll but a small book, locked. And the keys of the Hierophant do not fit that tantalizing lock.

Still, we must not think that the outer doctrine of religion serves no purpose to the seeker. Like the general education, of which it is a particular example, it gives the individual a firm tradition in which to root his or her personal development. The modern Western phenomenon of a kind of eclectic mysticism, drawing inspiration from all religions, is an extremely unusual development. This is based, possibly, on global awareness plus the view of religion as a psychological state divorced from science and history. Thus we see religion as an experience rather than an explanation of the universe and accept that all religious experiences are valid, whatever contradictions they show on the surface. While this idea opens great possibilities, many people have noted its potential shallowness. The fact is, throughout the centuries, the great mystics have always spoken from deep within a tradition. The Qabalists were thoroughly Jewish, Thomas á Kempis a complete Christian, and the Sufis bowed to Mecca with all other orthodox Muslims. In its best aspect the Hierophant (as outer doctrine) can give us a place to start in creating a personal awareness of God.

One further aspect of the card's symbolism deserves special attention. The position of the three people (that is, a large figure presiding over two smaller ones on either side) introduces a motif that repeats itself, like the two pillars of the High Priestess, throughout the Major Arcana, and is resolved in Judgement and the world. The very next two cards after trump 5 repeat the motif, with the angel over the Lovers, and the charioteer of the Chariot over the black and white sphinxes.

We can see this trio as an emblem of the idea of a triad, such as the Christian trinity, or the triune picture of the mind: the id/ego/super-ego of Freud, or the unconscious/conscious/super-conscious of the three lines of the Major Arcana. To understand the meaning of the image we must return to the High Priestess. She sits between two pillars symbolizing the dualities of life. She herself signifies one side, the Magician the other. The Hierophant initiates two acolytes into his church. We see, therefore, that the Hierophant and the Lovers and the Chariot all represent attempts to mediate between the opposing poles of life and find some way, not to resolve them, but simply to hold them in balance. A religious doctrine, with its moral codes and explanations for life's most basic questions, does just that. If we surrender ourselves to a Church the contradictions of life all become answered; but not resolved.

In readings the card signifies Churches, doctrines, and education in general. Psychologically it can indicate orthodoxy, conformity to believe, with Freud, that a boy's first desire is directed towards his mother will see here a classic Oedipal dilemma. One part of the personality wishes to maintain the hidden fantasy life of a union with the mother, while another wishes to find a true love in the reality of the boy's own generation. But we do not have to accept the Freudian doctrine to see the wider implications of this choice. Wrhether or not the boy secretly desires his mother the life lived under the parents' protection is safe and comfortable. But he (or she, for girls basically face the same questions, though sometimes in different forms) can never become a true individual without making a break. And nothing indicates this more strongly than sexuality.

Therefore, the traditional version of trump 6 represents adolescence. Not only does sexuality emerge at this time but also intellectual and moral independence. Cards 3, 4, and 5 represented us as shaped by the great forces of nature, society, and parents. In card 6 the individual emerges, a true personality with its own ideas and purposes, able to make important choices based, not on parental orders, but on its own assessment of desires and responsibilities.

These meanings belong to the card's traditional structure. In designing his own version of the Lovers Waite addressed a different question. What functions do sex and love ultimately serve in a person's life? And what deep meanings can we find in the powerful drama of two people joining their hearts and bodies? Waite called his picture, 'the card of human love, here exhibited as part of the way, the truth, and the life'.

The sexual drive leads us away from isolation. It pushes us to form vital relationships with other people, and finally opens the way to love. Through love we not only achieve a unity with someone else, but we are given a glimpse of the greater meanings and deeper significance of life. In love we give up part of that ego control which isolates us not only from other people but from life itself. Therefore the angel appears above the man's and woman's heads, a vision unobtainable to each person individually, but glimpsed by both of them together.

Religion, philosophy, and art have always seized on the symbolism of male and female as representing duality. We have already seen this idea reflected in the Magician and the High Priestess, as well as the Empress and the Emperor. The symbolism here is reinforced by the fact that the Tree of Life, with its Magician like flames, stands behind the man, while the Tree of Knowledge, entwined with the serpent (symbol not of evil but of unconscious wisdom) stands behind the woman. The angel unites these two single woman presided over by an angel. Further, while most decks indicate only a social situation; the Rider pack image clearly suggests the Garden of Eden, or rather, a new Garden of Eden, with the trees bringing enlightenment rather than the Fall.

The earlier version of trump 6 sometimes bears the title 'The Choice', and in divinatory readings means an important choice between two desires. Because one woman is fair and the other dark, a symbolism traditional in Europe where darkness always indicates evil and women in general indicate temptation, the choice was seen as between something respectable but perhaps dull, and something greatly desired but morally improper. The card can refer to a minor choice or even to a major crisis in a person's life. We see this ancient symbolism today in the various novels and films of middle-aged, middle class men tempted to give up their loved but rather boring wives for a younger 'wilder' woman.

The choice can, in fact, extend to a person's whole life. Even those people who never question the boundaries of their middle class respectability have made a choice as much as the life-long criminal. And there are many people who outwardly live socially acceptable lives yet inwardly fight constant torments of desire, fighting urges to adultery, or violence, or simply a desire to leave home and become a wandering tramp.

On the esoteric level the choice between the light and dark woman indicates the choice between the outer path (symbolized in the Rider pack by the Hierophant), where your life is laid out for you, and the inner path of the occultist, which can lead to a confrontation with your hidden desires. The Church labelled magicians as devil worshippers, and in Christian allegories the dark woman usually stood for Satan.

These meanings all see the choice between light and dark in the widest possible terms. In the context of the first line of trumps we can see it in a much more specific way, that of the first real choice a person makes independently of his or her parents. Until the sexual urge rouses itself most people are content to act out their parents' expectations for them. The sexual urge, however, points us where it wants to go. As a result we begin to break away in other areas as well. It is very rare that the partners our parents would choose for us are the ones we would choose for ourselves. If the difference is too extreme, or the parents too controlling, then the person can face a painful choice.

Paul Douglas has commented that the darkhaired woman, who appears much older, is the boy's mother, and the choice is whether to stay under her protection or strike out on his own. Those who

The Tarot, however, is a path of liberation. The fear that Jahweh expresses, that human beings 'will become like us', is precisely the Tarot's purpose - to fully bring out the divine spark in us and unite it with our conscious selves, to end the duality of God and human and make them one. Therefore, though it keeps much of the same symbolism as Genesis, the Rider pack Lovers subtly reverses the meaning.

Notice that while the man looks at the woman the woman looks at the angel. If the male is indeed reason, then rationality can only reach beyond its limits through the medium of passion. By its nature reason controls and contains, while passion tends to break down all limits. Our tradition has set the body and the rational mind at odds with each other. The Tarot teaches us that we must unite them (a single mountain rises between the two lovers) and that it is not the controlling power of reason that raises the senses to a higher level, but, rather, the other way around.

We can see this in direct psychological terms. Most people are bound within their egos or the masks they present to the world. But if they can surrender to sexual passion, they can, at least for a moment, transcend their isolation. Those who cannot release their egos, even for an instant, misuse sex, and are misused by it. Sex becomes a means of gaining power over someone else, but it never satisfies. When a person rejects the body's desire to release itself with another person the result is depression. The angel has been denied.

At the same time the passions alone cannot bring us to the angel. They need to be guided by the reason as much as the reason needs the passions to set it free. Those who simply go wherever their desires lead them are often thrown from one experience to another.

Paul Foster Case names the angel as Raphael, who presides over the super-conscious. This brings us back to the triune mind; here we learn that the three levels of the mind are not separate and isolated, like the three stories of a house, but that the super-conscious is actually a product of the conscious and unconscious joined together. The pathway lies through the unconscious because that is where we find the true energy of life. In fact, the super-conscious can be described as the energy of the unconscious brought out and transformed to a higher state. Part of that transformation lies in consciousness giving the energy form, direction, and meaning.

If in the triangular motif the two figures below represent the dualities of life, while the larger figure above symbolizes a mediating force between them, then in trump 6 the mediator is sexual love. When we surrender to it we experience a glimpse of something greater than ourselves. Only a glimpse, and only for a moment; true principles. In traditional teachings men and women are held to contain, within their bodies, separate life principles. Through physical love these principles join together.

Occultists, however, have always recognized both these elements within the self. Today we hear many people say that everyone contains both male and female qualities; usually, however, they are referring to vague ideas of social behaviour, such as aggression and gentleness. When male and female were seen as opposite in their deepest natures the occultist view was much more radical. One way of describing the goal of the Major Arcana is to say it brings out and unites the male and female principles. Therefore, in many decks, the dancer in the World is an hermaphrodite.

According to Qabalists and Hermetic philosophers all humanity (and indeed, even the Deity) was originally hermaphroditic; male and female became separated only as a consequence of the Fall. Thus, on the outer level, each of us is only half a person and only through love can we find a sense of unity.

We find this same idea in Plato, but with an interesting variation. One of the Platonic myths states that humans were originally double creatures, but of three kinds: male-female, male-male, and female-female. Believing that humans possessed too much power Zeus split them with a thunderbolt, and now each one of us is looking for his or her other half. In contrast to the Jewish and Christian myths Plato's story gives equal reality to homosexuals. It reminds us of the danger in the too easy symbolism of male and female as ultimate opposites. The Magician and the High Priestess are mixed very subtly in each of us. And the angel can be evoked by any two lovers. It is not the roles that matter, but the reality of the union.

In the usual Christian interpretation of Genesis Eve bears the greater guilt, not only because she ate first, but because her sensuality tempted Adam to fall. Man supposedly was ruled by reason and woman by desire. This split led some Christians to declare that women had no souls. The whole myth of the Fall, however, with its emphasis on disobedience and punishment, is really meant to serve a repressive morality. Physical passions were seen as dangerous to society and therefore had to be controlled. As Joseph Campbell points out in The Masks of God the ancient goddess religion of Palestine contained the same drama of a serpent, a Tree of Life, and an apple. But in the old story the initiate was given the apple by the goddess to allow him to enter paradise, rather than it being the cause of his expulsion. The ancient Hebrews reversed the myth, partly as a way of branding the old religion as evil, but also because they, like the Babylonians, considered the old ways 'monstrous'.

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