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The Lovers Card

Tarot cards are fascinating things. No one can quite agree where they came from and when. They seem to have the same origins as ordinary playing cards consisting of four suits with ten cards each, along with a king, queen, knight and page. Like playing cards, they can be used for both playing canasta and telling fortunes..

But that doesn’t explain the twenty one cards called the major trumps. These don’t appear in the deck of ordinary playing cards. The oldest ones date from the Renaissance, but there are claims that they are much older than that, with their origins in ancient Egypt or even Atlantis. However, that doesn’t prevent modern artists from redrawing them, and, in the process, reinterpreting their meaning by what symbols they put in and what they leave out.

One interesting example of this reinterpretation of the symbolism is number VI, called The Lovers. In the classic Waite-Rider deck, dating from 1909, the Lovers card shows a naked man and a naked woman with an angel hovering overhead. The man, standing next to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, is looking at the woman while the woman, standing next to the tree of forbidden fruit complete with serpent in the branches, is looking up at the angel. More modern interpretations have the man and the woman gazing at each other lovingly, or actually embracing -- sometimes with an angel overhead and sometimes not.

However, in the mysterious Marseilles deck dating from the 16th century, the Lovers card consists of a man standing between two women, one young and crowned with flowers, the other older and more severe. And instead of an angel, there is a winged cupid hovering overhead with his bow drawn, and his arrow nocked. Clearly, the man has a choice to make between two women, perhaps his wife and his mother, or his wife and a mistress, or some other menage à trois arrangement. Cupid doesn’t seem to care which woman is chosen. He will unleash his arrow on whomever the man’s choice happens to be.

The interpretation of this card is that a choice of a lover must be made. It hasn’t already been made as it is in the Waite-Rider or any of the more modern tarot decks where there is one man and only one woman. The man in the Marseilles deck cannot have both women. He must choose one and let the other one go. And whichever one he chooses will bring consequences, some good, some not so good.

Sometimes, this is the harsh reality of love. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too. We must choose whom we will love and often for reasons that have little to do with emotion or sexual attraction. Love has consequences and whichever choice we make, we must take responsibility for the outcome. We must make a sacrifice for it, even if it’s only our own egos. Only then, is love truly meaningful.

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