The Lovers Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretations
It's important to note that The Lovers evolved into Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, with the publication of the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) Tarot deck in 1910. Traditionally this tarot card depicted a well dressed couple receiving a blessing of their union from a king. Above them, with the sun in the background, hovers cupid ready to shoot with his bow and arrow.
What theme was the artist, Pamela Coleman Smith, trying to capture with this break from tradition and inclusion of christian mythology? Many of the changes that Smith brought to Tarot could be attributed to her excellent understanding of numerology and a desire to enhance Tarot's symbolic cohesiveness. The key theme of the number 6 in numerology is one of responsibility to those closest to us; family, friends and colleagues. It is not a number of emotional union, the 2 Of Cups would be a better match. Comparing it to the emotional card of the same number, the 6 Of Cups, would suggest that it is more platonic than its name would suggest.
The nudity of Adam and Eve in the RWS deck, in addition to the card's name, often misleads to a theme of sexuality. The book of Genesis (2:25) states "Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.". The nudity of these characters represents innocence. After eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:7) they became self aware and covered themselves. Innocence lost, which is where this card makes a numerological connection to the 15th card of the Major Arcana, The Devil. In numerology The Lovers and The Devil are both 6 as 15 reduces to 6 (1 + 5). The RWS Devil shows us the same couple from The Lovers chained to an alter with the Devil sitting on it. This connection between these two cards serves as a warning of the consequences of acting irresponsibly when you are in a good place. The Lovers will often appear as a reminder to appreciate what you have and protect it from un-wise choices and temptations. There are things we do in life, or choices we make, that cannot be undone. An innocent, platonic relationship between two friends changes forever when they become lovers.
The traditional, pre-RWS, depiction of what appears to be a marriage is probably based on Catholicism's prohibition on divorce. Once a marital union is made it cannot be broken until at least one person dies. The Lovers therefore symbolises an irreversible choice and course of action. The RWS change is probably in response to changing modern times with higher instances of divorce and re-marriage as well as the adoption of tarot in cultures not so heavily influenced by the catholic church (ie England where Waite and Smith were based.)
The sun in the background is the one symbolic feature from the traditional tarot decks that was retained by the RWS deck. In the RWS deck only three cards have the sun at its zenith in the background sky. The Fool, The Lovers and The Sun. The Lovers and The Sun are dominated by the element of Fire which is opposite to the element of Water (emotions and love). The element of fire, like the 6 in numerology, symbolises the home and community in which we live and work. The Sun brings success, abundance, fertility and growth which, according to The Book of Genesis, is what the Garden of Eden provided, everything man and woman could want in one place. A paradise that was lost due to temptation, a bad choice and evil influence.
There is a prevailing theme of darkness in the Major Arcana between card 6, The Lovers, and card 19, The Sun. Nothing good ever lasts and should be treasured and appreciated when received, each day taken as a gift. When the sun does finally set, and night falls, we are comforted by the knowledge that the sun will always rise again tomorrow.
Just as the appearance of Death in a Tarot spread doesn't generally indicate the death of someone nor does the appearance of The Lovers card indicate a new love interest or a romantic physical encounter. Tarot can be literal, and on occasion this maybe the message, but it is good practice when reading tarot spreads not to jump to literal conclusions each time these cards appear.
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THE PICTORIAL KEY TO THE TAROT
By Arthur Edward Waite (1911)
The sun shines in the zenith, and beneath is a great winged figure with arms extended, pouring down influences. In the foreground are two human figures, male and female, unveiled before each other, as if Adam and Eve when they first occupied the paradise of the earthly body. Behind the man is the Tree of Life, bearing twelve fruits, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is behind the woman; the serpent is twining round it. The figures suggest youth, virginity, innocence and love before it is contaminated by gross material desire. This is in all simplicity the card of human love, here exhibited as part of the way, the truth and the life. It replaces, by recourse to first principles, the old card of marriage, which I have described previously, and the later follies which depicted man between vice and virtue. In a very high sense, the card is a mystery of the Covenant and Sabbath.
The suggestion in respect of the woman is that she signifies that attraction towards the sensitive life which carries within it the idea of the Fall of Man, but she is rather the working of a Secret Law of Providence than a willing and conscious temptress. It is through her imputed lapse that man shall arise ultimately, and only by her can he complete himself. The card is therefore in its way another intimation concerning the great mystery of womanhood. The old meanings fall to pieces of necessity with the old pictures, but even as interpretations of the latter, some of them were of the order of commonplace and others were false in symbolism.