Monday, April 07, 2008

Love Makes the World Go `Round

A long time ago I asked my mother why so many songs were about love. She smiled as she answered, "Because love makes the world go 'round." At the time I didn't get the irony that she was answering my question with song lyrics, probably Perry Como's given her musical tastes. But she probably didn't realize she was referencing medieval theology either, which held that the power of love literally set the universe in motion. I wasn't fully satisfied with her answer, actually, and I'm still not. I vascillate in my airy Libran way between being a full on sucker for love and examining it under a microscope with proper scientific objectivity. It's a curious subject, love, and it is no less curious in tarot when it appears as the Major Arcana card: The Lovers.

This card has no problem showing up when a romantic relationship is in question, but doesn't it make you scratch your head a little when it shows up when you're doing a reading about something completely non-romantic? You stare at the image of the passionate couple and think...wtf? The fallback meaning is of "choice" and of following one's heart to make that choice, so at least there is that.

This painting, A Huguenot on St Bartolomew's Day by Sir John Everett Millais, would make a perfect Lovers card. Not only because the lovers are so perfectly evident, but because of the story behind the image. Over a period of several days in August 1572, French Roman Catholics slaughtered thousands of Protestants in Paris. In this scene, a young Catholic girl is trying to persuade her Huguenot lover to save himself by binding around his arm the white cloth that is to be the Catholic's means of identification. He pulls at the cloth and resists, preferring to put his life at risk rather than deny his faith. Indeed, the choice to refuse the armband is one of deep commitment. It seems foolish yet it is the choice of his innermost self and soul that he must abide. And what a monumental and difficult choice it is. He could stay alive and in his lovers arms but a betrayer of his faith by one choice and by another his conscience clear he rests in peace. This moment of inner choice is what the Lovers card is about.

Love has been a constant theme in art for as long as people have been scratching images onto surfaces. However, the theme of The Lovers is not simply as straightforward as Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. As lovely and as passionate as this painting is, it only shows one aspect of The Lovers card, the most obvious one. Cocoon-like, the lovers embrace and complete one another like finding one's missing piece. The earth is green and bountiful, their clothing literally glows, emanating their emotional union. The expression of sheer bliss on the woman's face needs no commentary, it speaks in a language we know if we have known love or have yearned for it to be just this perfect.


Ok, snap out of it! Seriously, love's great and all and sometimes it does feel just like that, but the Lovers has a lot more to say than that. Originally, it probably didn't have much more to represent than our well known concept of romantic love. Two lovers and a cupid graced the earliest known decks and it was titled "Love" not "The Lovers." The Tarot de Marseilles changed that scene with the interjection of a third party and titled the card The Lovers. Now, instead of mere symbolic representation of the concept of love, there was a storyline. What exactly is going on in that snapshot? The one woman appears older, less seductive than the younger woman, is she a romantic choice for the young man or his mother advising him? In other ancient decks such as Gumppenberg Neoclassical deck (reprinted by Lo Scarabeo as "Ancient Tarots of Lombardy"),the concept of choice is clearly illuminated with a young woman choosing between two male suitors, a king and a soldier. Cupid is pointing towards the soldier and her gaze is clearly on him as well, and the implication to me seems to be to follow one's heart, no matter what the "wiser" choice may seem. Comparing the scenes on the older tarot decks Lovers cards is fun as you get to make up your own stories about the three figures and what they are doing and saying. Waite's rendition brings back the couple and cupid, at least in essence, with Adam and Eve and the angel between them, but also includes the concept of choice, as the the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, no matter which version you read, has as its pivotal theme free will and a very crucial choice made. The central idea is there as well of a perfect mate, someone who was made just for you, fitting in every way. Yet, in the early Marseille decks, the notion of choosing virtue over vice, even though cupid is pointing at vice, alludes to the theme of temptation which the whole Adam and Eve concept does as well. As cliche as you may think Waite's card may seem, it actually combines the various Love and Lovers themes and messages throughout the history of Tarot quite excellently.

So which is it? True love? The kind poets only dream about? Or decision and choice? Common sense will prevail if you're asking tarot a question having nothing to do with relationships and The Lovers appears. Of course it could possibly be saying that in the course of working on your Masters thesis you will meet your soulmate in the library or coffee shop just like in the movies, but if nothing else in the cards indicates such, you really must lean towards the concept of choosing a heartfelt and heart-directed path over another "more sensible" option. When this card appears it pretty much screams, "Follow your heart!" no matter how crazy it may seem. It can indicate a "perfect match" in occupation or it can tell you that you've found the perfect home, though it may not look like much on the outside. If you choose against the Lovers, you may be fine, sure, but you may also feel, later on, as if you missed out or something is missing and you can't put your finger on it. This, whatever it is, completes you in some very important way.

Love is crazy and not wise and yet it is what it is and being who you are, choose for love. Life is just too short not to.

13 comments:

maidenelf said...

I just found your blog, and I'm thrilled! I'll be back later to read in depth -- it looks like you have a wealth of good stuff here.

:) Annette

Roswila said...

Hi Ginny,

Thought I'd just share what your excellent post on VI shook out of the trees for me. How to be brief ... OK, the idea of following one's heart, yes, I've always seen that as a possibility in The Lovers, as well as there being a choice of some sort. But for some reason it never hit me that in some readings -- or as in my life at the current time -- the message is "choose love." I.e, I can choose to stay in this difficult emotional space or I can choose to be loving (of others, of myself).

Thanks!

Ginny said...

Hi Annette and welcome to 78 Notes To Self! :)

Yes, Roswila, the choice aspect has always been well known, but the real push of this card is to choose love in whatever form or fashion you feel inclined. Choose whom you love, what you love, where you love or simply choose FOR love. :) It's a brilliant card as 6 is the number of blessing and also the number of "man". It speaks of human love that is divinely guided or inspired. There is a reason, too, that Waite's Devil mimics this card as 15 reduces to 6. Love is unselfish and kind and generous. In the clutches obsession and greed, love becomes a mockery of itself.

maidenelf said...

Funny...your point about the Devil card vs. the Lovers cards makes me think of the fact that love and hate are simply different sides of the very same coin.

Rozonda said...

Hi Ginny,

I have been a big fan of yours for long, and on being given the Brilliant Blogger award I had teh chance to bestow it on other bloggers,and you were the first that came to mind. You can pick up the award banner (the third one) in my tarot blog in Spanish:
http://secretosdeltarot.blogspot.com/2008/04/este-blog-recibe-tres-premios-gracias.html

tarotreiki said...

Hola Ginny,
somos dos fans de tu blog! Siempre lo pasamos por un traductor y lo leemos con mucho gusto, nos encanta!
Enhorabuena, realmente es un trabajo hermoso...
un saludo y un abrazo
Mita & Claudio

tarotreiki said...

Hola Ginny,
somos dos fans de tu blog! Siempre lo pasamos por un traductor y lo leemos con mucho gusto, nos encanta!
Enhorabuena, realmente es un trabajo hermoso...
un saludo y un abrazo
Mita & Claudio

Tarot By Arwen said...

Ginny! I miss 78 Notes! :) Are you coming back to the blogosphere?

R.K. Foster said...

A recent reading of mine for myself had the Lovers card followed immediately by the 3 of swords. The layout positions were not well defined unfortunately as I was experimenting at the time. Any thoughts on that card combination?

Ginny said...

Well the 3 of swords is a rather strong minor card. It's a truth communicated and realized, releasing the tension of the 2 of swords, which tends to show someone sitting on the fence about something, in the dark about something, or simply trying to stay neutral. The 3 shows that sword coming down in the middle between the 2 and defining things once and for all. It can often be a rather harsh truth or reality that comes to the fore, but not always.

The Lovers being about choice regarding commitment, the combination, rather than show what we might think to be the obvious heartbreak or one partner telling another they've just had an affair (which could be), may show someone making a final decision about a commitment of the heart. One's heart is already there with the Lovers. The 3 of swords leaves no doubt the mind has determined the course. For better or for worse, whether you choose to commit or not, you've finally made a decision of the mind.

Reading Tarot said...

Thanks for that inspirational interpretation of the Lovers card. You are a wonderful writer!

Haley-O said...

I never use this word, ever. MARVELOUS. Your exploration of the Lovers card was absolutely MARVELOUS. I LOVE your incorporation of Fine Art into the piece -- beautiful selections that REALLY helped illuminate your argument. Lovely. And, MARVELOUS.

I hope you return and do more writing. This was so inspiring. Thank you.

André Frazatto said...

Ginny, I was making a quick study of my cards and a friend pointed this detail I have never noticed before.

Why the angel have blood on his hands? (check the link)
http://www.learntarot.com/bigjpgs/maj06.jpg

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