It’s Complicated: The Sweet Nuances of the Tarot’s Lovers Card
What is love but a series of huge decisions? How romantic! We break down the subtle details of the most desired card in the tarot’s major arcana.
“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.” – Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1738
“To the altar!” – The Little White Book
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that gossipy neighbors want to know two things: how much everyone paid for their houses, and who’s snogging whom; most especially the latter! The high drama of lovers (Will they, won’t they? Do they, don’t they?) has fueled plays and poems and songs and over-the-fence conversation for millennia, so it’s no grand mystery why drawing The Lovers card in a tarot divination spread can cause quite a stir. But does it mean quite what you think it means?
AN ETERNAL DUO JOINS HANDS FOR THE FIRST TIME
In the very earliest appearances of what we know today as the major arcana, in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy back in the 1400s, most of the tarot artwork was inspired by costumed parades that were in vogue at the time. The Lovers card in the original Visconti-Sforza deck features two finely dressed lovers holding hands with an interested cherub floating overhead – admittedly quite a scenario but also one of the more mundane images in an otherwise wild series. It’s a deeply universal human experience to meet a special someone and feel like something big has shifted, almost as if pushed by a mystical yet insistent presence just out of frame, so The Lovers is one of the more relatable cards in the traditional tarot. This configuration lasted for quite a while, until tarot evolved in its journeys to ports of call around the world over the following centuries and The Lovers picked up some nuance.
THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!
In the 18th century Marseille tarot, a third figure is introduced, which complicated the basic structure just a touch! Often interpreted to be a priest of some kind, joining the couple in marriage, a closer look reveals this to be a somewhat fraught scene, with two figures pulling on the third in different directions, but keeping that divine presence above. And though the world-famous Rider-Waite deck returned the card to its Italian roots, this middle configuration survived through lots of years and variations, showing a certain durability. If we look at that push-and-pull dynamic it depicts in context, it’s clear The Lovers is much more about the choice involved than the sweet pleasure of love by itself. It’s easy to fall in love, but when you commit to it, you’re making a huge either/or decision, one that will have a major impact on the course of your life. This can be dramatic and weighty, but love is grand and the little Cupid helper guiding your hand is going to make it a lot easier.
The Tarot of Musterberg manages to combine both of these traditions into one super-Lovers card. The third figure is definitely a priest with holy book in hand, but he curiously has his eyes closed and he’s not interfering at all. What’s even more curious is the purposeful ambiguity in the figure of the woman who may be obscuring a pregnancy. And Cupid is aiming his arrow squarely at the man. This arrangement, while all about love, is absolutely charged with the electricity of major decision-making! Although there’s a lot going on, we’re confident that love will win out and these two are altar-bound which means good fortune for all, because, at least in the Pennyland Amusement Fortune Tellers’ Tent where this unique tarot card saw most of its action, good news gets better tips.
REVELING IN LEVELING UP
Just like those gossipy neighbors we all have, everyone wants to know if there’s love in their future, or if their new relationship will last, or if their old relationship will keep improving with age like wine. All of these smooshy feelings can be inferred from The Lovers, and while that universality makes it such a hit, we feel the ambiguity of important choices embedded in the card adds an extra level of excitement. This is, after all, not a choice between ketchup and mustard or Moxie and RC. If you uncover The Lovers card, your querent has a Major Big Deal to figure out (with magical cherubic help, of course), and getting to the bottom of that will make this session some enchanted evening for sure!
Ready to learn more about some of your favorite tarot cards? Have a look at our series of articles on the meaning of tarot's most famous cards here:
Test Your Strength: The Hidden Meaning of Tarot's Fortitude Card
A Ritual of Change: Tarot's Death Card isn't All About Endings
The Magician's Tools: An Inspirational Look at the History of Tarot's Wise Old Wizard
Want to dive further into the history of tarot decks? Check out the other articles in our history series here:
Card Sharks, Nobles, and Mystics: A Revealing History of Tarot!
Why are Tarot Decks so Different? A Historical Peek into the Details
The Origins of Musterberg: Unique Tarot Cards with a Delightful History!