"Love is an act of will - namely both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love."
~ M. Scott Peck
Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.
~ William Blake
We arrive once again at Valentine’s Day. It’s a day of tenderness and good company; of sweethearts and old flames and everything in between. In this moment, while the air tastes like those little candy hearts and dog-eared romance novels lie sitting on the table, let’s take a moment to focus on a card near and dear to the day: The Lovers.
The Visconti Decks
Some of our earliest glimpses of the Lovers card are in the sumptuously hand-painted Visconti decks of 15th century Italy. Intended as playing cards for the wealthy rather than tools for divination, the decks were supposedly gifted to nobles on special occasions, such as weddings or anniversaries. Here, the Lovers card had a special significance as a symbol of the courtly couple’s union, and a clue to the identity of the original owners.
The Tarot of Marseille
Rather than depicting a couple, the Tarot of Marseille (also from 15th century Italy) shows a man standing between two women. The women’s identities have bounced around over time – perhaps they are Vice and Virtue, or individuals emerging in the querent’s life. These figures represent an ultimatum between two choices; here is a crossroads, and you can only go down one path. Both Visconti and Marseille decks (and many that follow) include imagery of a cupid, often blindfolded and primed to fire an arrow. This figure is often thought to represent the willpower behind the inevitable choice.
The Lovers card is kind to those who are new to tarot; you don’t have to reach very far to get its relation to romance. But we are often encouraged to see the broader applications. You don’t have to get romantic to understand the difficulty of choice and the responsibility of willpower. Many decks from the 19th century onwards have drawn on connotations of innocence, purity in emotional love, and a darker theme of implicit decay. In fact, if you’ve flipped through the Major Arcana in a traditionally designed deck, you may have caught the similarities between the Lovers and the Devil.
The Lovers card is well-rooted in the concepts of connection and choice. At the intersection of these meanings, you will find harmony. The Lovers encourages us to bring together two forces, often in opposition; otherwise, we must let one go. Accept what can and cannot be reconciled in your life, and place importance in what will bring contentment.
-Hannah Jerrie, Intern at Light Grey Art Lab