Tarot the Lovers
To understand the lovers tarot card it’s important to recognise that it is one of 22 major arcana cards which represent archetypal development or what we could call the soul’s journey.
The fool tarot is numbered as zero. Some say this is because we start our journey as the ignorant fool and grow into the wise fool. Others hold that it recognises our unlimited potential, thus it should be unnumbered. Then some argue the Fool is outside of the number systems as he is the character experiencing the journey.
If we apply numerology in tarot the lovers card is numbered 6. Numerology regards this number as the archetype of the nurturer. The mother archetype in its healthy form gives without thought of getting. Think of mother nature and how abundantly and generously it gives. In its shadow form, the mother becomes smothering or devouring.
6 is also the archetype of self-improvement. There are many ways we can grow and develop but what classroom compares with relationships when it comes to learning to give, compromise, show vulnerability, forgive and so forth?
6 is also associated with service. The numbers 6 - 9 are considered the spiritual archetypes vs the material archetypes 1 - 4 (5 being the bridge between the realms). If love is that alchemical force that transmutes our innate selfishness into other orientation, then the lovers in tarot holds an important place.
With complete integration occurring at the world tarot card, the 21st card in the major arcana, then it is fair to say that our development at the 6th card is fairly low. Collectively, we can observe how much energy is devoted to the topic of love in popular culture and how few couples actually display the rarified aspects of love in their relationship.
The lovers in tarot
Enmeshment or enrichment?
The Jungian analyst James Hollis called romantic love “the narcotic of our time.”
To understand the task of the lovers tarot card, we can glean some wisdom from the imagery shown in the rider-waite tarot cards (the first image to appear in this blog article).
Above a woman and a man we see the angel called Raphael, whose name translates into “God heals.” From this perspective, we can understand love as an attempt to rediscover the sense of bliss and oneness we first tasted in the womb.
Immature love is found through infatuation, entanglement and codependency.
The philosopher Martin Buber spoke of how we can move beyond the lens of I/IT and into I/THOU.
Love commences when we see another as someone who we can love unconditionally and help cultivate their best selves.
Relationships are a vital component of life but our ultimate purpose is higher again. James Hollis said that “in fusing to become One, we remain only Two.” In co-creating with another to develop and share our gifts with the world, we become a third. In this way, we can see mature love as a tree that develops strong and healthy roots but serves to fruit and seed further life.
The lovers card includes the tree of life in the rider-waite version. The tree contains twelve flames which represent passion as well as the twelve zodiac signs. The zodiac is made up of a blend of elements (fire, water, air, earth) and modes (cardinal, fixed, mutable). The qualities of the signs provide diversity and richness.
There is a sense of harmony, equality and symmetry in the lovers tarot card. This yang or feminine quality is balanced by the volcano in the background. It represents yin or the masculine quality of passion and purpose. While we often associate in tarot the lovers card meaning to be relationship focused it has a dual meaning in terms of asking us if we are following our passion and purpose in life.
Integration for greater health
The cards following the lover reveal the work we need to accomplish to find wholeness within ourselves and a partnership.
The world of humanity is possessed of two wings, the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. - Abdul’ Baha
The Chariot tarot card, the 7th in the deck, shows a warrior balancing the light and shadow aspects within his nature. Where Christianity has over accentuated the character deficiencies in humankind, the new age movement has been guilty of over accentuating the noble qualities we possess.
It takes the honesty or purity of the lovers to be able to adopt the intellectual rigour of refusing to allow destructive thoughts to grow, while not becoming overly Polyanna or evasive when it comes to sitting with our shadow sides. The rational, logical attributes we associate with masculinity serve to build the mental strength needed to navigate all of the triggers, woundings and inner child aspects we possess which are brought up through relationship.
Around half of people are thought to have a secure attachment style. The other 50 percent wrestle with unhealthy attachment styles. 25 percent are seen as avoidant. We could say this correlates to the Chariot card.
Someone with an avoidant attachment type tends to be overly independent and uncomfortable with intimacy. Upon feeling discomfort with intimacy they rationalise there way out of relationships and maintain lifestyles without commitment.
There is great danger in overvaluing our mental capacities and neglecting our emotional nature. In the strength tarot card, the 8th in the deck, the woman tames the lion, rather than kills it. This represents being able to embrace our emotions without being ruled by them. The gentleness of the feminine aspect balances out the more aggressive tendencies of the masculine.
We grow like the thing we brood upon. What we loathe, we graft into our very soul. - Mary Ainsworth
The other half of the population who struggle to maintain a secure attachment style veer towards anxious attachment (20 percent) or a blend of avoidant and anxious styles (5 percent).
Those with anxious attachment tend to be nervy or stress over their relationships. They hate being alone and seek constant reassurance from their partners. Doubting their worth, they often settle for unequal or abusive partnerships. Taking the opposite approach to the Chariot, anxious types are often irrational and consumed by their emotions.
Understandably, most of the relationships undertaken by people with insecure attachment styles tend to involve one avoidant and one anxious partner.
Attaining the equality and healthiness represented by the lovers requires us to integrate and readdress the power dynamics between our Chariot & Strength (masculine and feminine, intellect and emotion).
The Lovers Tarot Card
…starts with self-love
The 2 extremes: being engulfed by relationships or dismissive of them.
When we’re young we tend towards feeling insecure and unsure of our identity. A relationship is alluring because we can find instant validation and the sense of having our flaws overlooked while our nobler qualities revered.
Immature love leads to a squid-like enmeshment, where personal boundaries drop away.
In order to attract and sustain a more adult, high functioning love we must learn to feel complete in and of ourselves. As the self-help author Peter McWilliams put it:
I must conquer my loneliness alone. I must be happy with myself or I have nothing to offer you. Two halves have little choice but to join; and yes, they do make a whole. But two wholes when they coincide… that is beauty. That is love ….
Han Solo & Princess Leia: an example from myth
Here are two characters that are among the least likely to be struck by love.
Princess Leia is busy heading up The Rebel Alliance as they wage war against the Galactic Empire. She’s fiercely independent and devoted to a cause.
Hans Solo couldn’t be more different. He’s a cynical smuggler driven by self-interest.
While in the midst of war, the unlikely matching of royal and rogue slowly forms. Initially, they squabble over who should take orders from whom but ultimately they are equals.
If you’re single and you find the lovers card appear in your spread, ask yourself “Is this a time for you to work on self-love and prepare for a transformative relationship rather than be swept up in a projection laden romance that will invariably capitulate?”
Conversely, it might be suggesting that it is time for you to leave your ascetic tendencies behind and open to the possibility of love.
Tarot may offer you signposts but it asks you to engage your intuition to make sense of them.
The Lovers Tarot
A Choice to be Made
The Lovers Card centres around choice. Choosing to move from self-love to other-love is one of our central tasks on the soul's journey.
In the Mythic tarot deck the lovers card is represented by the story of Paris judging a beauty contest between three goddesses.
Aphrodite stands in the centre. Young and seductive, she embodies beauty, pleasure and passion. In classical sculpture, she is often depicted nude. Masculinity tends toward striving and psychologists have often said that men seek beauty in a partner as a counter or diversion.
Novelist James Hawes pondered our culture’s preoccupation with beauty saying:
What is Beauty? Nothing, a surface, a passing cloud, a mock of time, a painted face, a mosaic of a thousand fashion shots? But we are told it is everything. Since Helen of Troy's face launched her thousand ships, every cheap song and every old story has simply said: because she was beautiful.
Most people today seek relationships through dating apps. And the primary determinant of the apps? Assessing a prospective partners physical appeal then swiping left or right in response.
When we encounter the lover card we’re asked to make choices. Will we seek enduring qualities in a partner, like character or more transient ones such as appearances?
Dressed in battle armour, the goddess Athene offers a sword. She offers to make Paris the mightiest of warriors. If men have a failing around choosing dumb beauty it could be said that women too often look for a partner that represents power and status. When Gail Sheehy interviewed hundreds of adults to ask what they looked for in a partner, the most common response was that they were seeking a parental figure who would take care of them.
Lastly, the goddess Hera offered Paris a globe of the world, symbolising wisdom and her promise to make him a powerful ruler. What she lacks in classical beauty she makes up for in fidelity and devotion. Warriors get slain, beauty fades but a partnership can become a foundation in life.
Although Aphrodite offered the least meaningful gift to Paris he chose her without hesitation. His choice caused the Trojan War and his death shortly after.
In the tarot the lovers card meaning can be taken to represent the importance of being clear on your inner values. Our choices mirror the kind of person we hope to become. Being young and immature, Paris had spent his life tending sheep and having romantic conquests.
Few of us discover a high functioning relationship early in life. It takes failure and experience before wisdom becomes hard-won.
Aphrodite may offer us the cup of love but we must move beyond childlike, foolish tendencies before we are ready to receive it.
Tarot The Lovers Card Meaning
Higher or lower road? "The ego-shell in which we live is the hardest thing to outgrow" - D.T. Suzuki
We can also take the card as offering us the realisation that we cannot have it all. As children, we think we can. But life teaches us that choices equate with sacrifice.
Kenneth Koch wrote a poem, “You want a social life, with friends,” which captured how time and energy is finite:
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What's true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three.
There isn't time enough, my friends--
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends--
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day's end?
Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
When the lovers card comes up for you in a reading it may be an indication that you need to clarify your values and ask if you’re devoting yourself to what is most important.
Lovers Tarot Outcome
The Ugly duckling motif can be seen as our outer circumstances reflecting our inner. With self-worth comes a worthy love.
Consider how many films are made around the theme of the awkward adolescent who grows into someone beautiful.
The Ugly Duckling story in myth is symbolic of the journey we all take from feeling misfit or inadequate in youth to eventually discovering our true selves. This, in turn, leads us to find our tribe and that partner who mirrors our level of development.
Jungian psychology spends a great deal of time exploring animus and anima disillusionment. This is the tendency to seek in a partner the feminine or masculine qualities we have failed to develop in ourselves.
In Hinduism, Brahma gave birth to a daughter, Saraswati who became the goddess of learning. Upon seeing her beauty, Brahma became amorous. To escape his anima projection she fled and hid in all four directions.
When we can sever the cycle of projection and disillusion we become receptive to mature love. This is the ultimate lovers tarot outcome.
Rilke wrote a poem which expresses how awkward a swan is on land, yet so graceful and at ease in its element being water.
Upon working through each of the lessons and archetypes along our soul’s journey we become more authentic. As like attracts like, many of us find that healthy partnerships flow into our lives after we’ve done our inner work. As Rilke put it:
This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.
When the lovers card shows up in a tarot spread ask yourself “Have I completed a revolution of the soul’s journey and is it now time for me to receive the reward of the mystical marriage and grow further with another?”
Myth has written volumes on the grail quest involved to find chivalrous, courtly or noble love.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke about how we all approach love as The Fool.
Working through the lessons of the lover provides us with the opportunity to grow into real love:
Two people meet and fall in love. Then they marry, and the real Sam or Suzy begins to show through the fantasy, and, boy, is it a shock. So a lot of little boys and girls just withdraw their anima or animus. They get a divorce and wait for another receptive person, pitch the woo again, and, uh-oh, another shock. And so on and so forth.
Now the one undeniable fact: this disillusion is inevitable. You had an ideal. You married that ideal, then along comes a fact that does not correspond to that ideal. You suddenly notice things that do not quite fit with your projection. So what are you going to do when that happens? There’s only one attitude that will solve the situation: compassion. This poor, poor fact that I married does not correspond to my ideal; it’s only a human being. Well, I’m a human being, too. So I’ll meet a human being for a change; I’ll live with it and be nice to it, showing compassion for the fallibilities that I myself have certainly brought to life as a human being.
The principle of compassion is that which converts disillusionment into a participatory companionship. So when the fact shows through the animus or anima, what you must render is compassion. This is the basic love, the charity, that turns a critic into a living human being who has something to give to — as well as to demand of — the world.
This is how one is to deal with animus and anima disillusionment… That’s reality evoking a new depth of reality in yourself, because you’re imperfect, too. You may not know it. The world is a constellation of imperfections, and you, perhaps, are the most imperfect of all.
The lovers card is also about being open and honest about your values in life. By being “naked”, you are not hiding behind a mask. You are dealing with your issues in the open and determining who you are and what you stand for. Going forward, you continue to be open and remain authentic to your true self.
The nakedness of the two people in the rider-waite version of the lovers, expresses our vulnerability and the transformative power of compassion and honesty.
Another essential quality along the journey of love is cultivating gratitude as an antidote to the toxic messages in the culture that nurtures entitlement, unrealistic expectations of a partner and an unwillingness to love wastefully oneself.
The film, Happythankyoumoreplease, centres around young people on the cusp of growing up. Tiring of their reflexive cynicism, they each struggle to connect and define what it means to love & be loved. One of the characters shares how she learns the importance of developing an attitude of gratitude:
“About a year ago I was in this cab and the cab driver, this Indian guy, started telling me all sorts of stuff. He was just looking at me in the rearview mirror and he said; ‘Bliss. Bliss is your birthright. You have great potential in this lifetime, the key to your life is gratitude. You do not give enough thanks.’ And I said; ‘well how do I do that?’ And he said; ‘Simple, say thank you.’ And I said; ‘well, when?’ And he said; ‘All the time, right now.’ And he said after I said thank you I should say ‘more please.’ That with gratitude the universe is eternally abundant.”
The naked figures in the lovers card express that there is nothing to hide from each other. Our clothing or the facade we present to the world helps not when it comes to navigating partnership. As Campbell remarked:
“Successful marriage is leading innovative lives together, being open, non-programmed. It’s a free fall: how you handle each new thing as it comes along. As a drop of oil on the sea, you must float, using intellect and compassion to ride the waves.”
Lovers Tarot Reading
With the death of illusions comes the prospect of growing into love, rather than falling in it.
A summary - What is the Lovers card inviting you to take on?
Service vs Selfishness
As the 6th tarot card the lovers meaning surrounds the invitation for personal growth & the opportunity to nurture and develop via loving another.
Integration vs Compartmentalisation
What attachment style do you gravitate to & how balanced are you when it comes to purposefulness and being present in a relationship? The lovers tarot reading appearance in a spread suggests its time to ask yourself if you've integrated maladaptive attachment behaviour or are yet to work through it.
Self-love vs Enmeshment
Do you need to take a sabbatical from relationships as Liz Gilbert did in order to find your centre? Does the opposite hold true? Is it time for you to emerge from hibernation and learn who you are through greater relationship engagement?
Sacrifice vs Ease
Campbell said “Marriage is not a love affair, it’s an ordeal. It is the grace of participating in another life.” How do you view relationships? Do you see them as vehicles to growth or do you expect them to be easy and an escape from the rigours of growth?
Choice vs Fate
What decision is needing to be made in your relationships? Is there a love triangle to solve? Are you clear on your values & what is of greatest importance in a relationship?
Tension of Opposites
Are you yearning for freedom or intimacy? Being in a relationship causes issues to arise as does being single. Is the tension self-imposed or something you must confront in your relationship? Tarot lovers would know that embracing our shadow and sitting with the tension of opposites is core work.
Growth vs Remaining Infantile
Relationships are one of the toughest areas of life that we encounter. How is your commitment to your inner work? It is a universal principle that like attracts like. Are you ready to engage in deeper soul work and courageously offer your talents to the world?
As Campbell expressed:
“The mystical marriage with the queen goddess of the world represents the hero's total mastery of life; for the woman is life, the hero its knower and master.”
Lovers Tarot Free Reading
Feel free to watch a reading into the lovers card here in this Youtube video I created: The lovers tarot love
The Lovers Card
A collection of images and cards relating to the lovers card.