The Lovers: Decisions, Commitments and A “Fork in the Road”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Another random insight from The Grand Etteilla.

In Jean-Baptiste Alliette’s Book of Thoth tarot (aka the “Grand Etteilla”) there is a card titled “Marriage” that is markedly similar to modern versions of the Lovers based on the Waite-Smith design. It shows a man and a woman attended by an officiating priest, obviously engaged in the rite of matrimony, while the RWS card portrays a couple (who seem disaffected and not particularly fond of one another) supervised by an angel, all of them going through some kind of three-way spiritual communion. The Grimaud definition of “Marriage” is one of “commitment” when upright and “avoidance of commitment” when reversed (in the sense of casual relationships “without papers”).

In current usage, when the Lovers is not read as possibly encountering one’s “soulmate” or “twin flame,” it is frequently seen as presenting a “choice” to the querent (apparently harking back to the Tarot de Marseille “Lover” card). In my mind – absent the “man-choosing-between-two-women” imagery of the TdM – this has always begged the question “OK, a choice about what?” We can always assume that the next card in the spread describes the focus of the decision, but I’ve been thinking that it might be useful to blend the Etteilla meaning with the idea of “choice” and interpret the Lovers as “an important decision about whether or not to make a commitment of some kind.” Ideally, the querent will know exactly what kind of promise or pledge the card is proposing, or will have a strong suspicion. If it’s not about the subject’s own situation, the Lovers could pertain to someone else of interest (for example, its astrological tag, Gemini, is often connected with siblings, cousins or other close family members).

In my own practice (when not using the Thoth deck or the TdM), I interpret the Lovers as showing a “crossroads” that offers the opportunity to take the “high road” of the Chariot and Strength or the “low road” of the Hermit and the Devil. Echoes of “Six-ness” abound in these combinations, giving the impression that the Lovers is a key player in the archetypal drama and not merely a lightweight romantic side-trip. This meditation on the Lovers as a “fork in the road” and its impact on the series as the purveyor of “Six-ness” derives from the concept of “numerological counterparts” as described by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm in their companion book to the Druid Craft Tarot.

The cast of characters on the “low road” includes the Devil as (1+5=6); the Lovers-Hermit pair as (6+9=15; 1+5=6); the Hermit-Devil pair as (9+15=24; 2+4=6); and the Hermit’s counterpart, the Moon as (1+8=9). As one embarks on the “high road,” The Chariot finds its counterpart in the Tower (1+6=7) and Strength in the Star (1+7=8); collectively, their sums reduce to “Six:” (7+8=15; 1+5=6) and (16+17=33; 3+3=6). (We might get the idea that the Devil has a stake in both ventures.) Astrological correspondences are also instructive. The Devil as Capricorn and Earth represents the “low point” in the “saga of Six” and the Moon as Pisces and Water its eventual “dissolution,” while the Star as visionary Aquarius and Air shows the “maturing” of rational Gemini into its “higher octave” and represents the “high point.” These internal correspondences weave everything together into a neat conceptual hypothesis. It’s also worth noting that in Wiccan cartomancy Six has been given the title “Paths.”

The blended energies of the Chariot and Strength convey the Lovers to a “higher arc” that culminates in the Star, arriving there after the cathartic “purge” of the Tower. Think of Strength (8) as the next “upward jog” in the road and the Tower (16) as the “hard right turn” taken by the Chariot at the summit that “rattles the teeth” of the star-bound Lovers. Alternatively, the “low road” of the Hermit and the Devil beckons, a descent that has a potentially corrupted expression of the Lovers ( a “pawn in the game”) as its dissolute outfall in the Moon. The choice between virtue and vice seems just as plain as in the TdM card

While the numerological ramifications may seem like hairsplitting, the essence of Six runs through all of them. Qabalistically, Six (the Sun) is poised on a “knife’s edge” between two kinds of imbalance symbolized by the planets of desire and gratification, Mars (5) and Venus (7); one supposes relentless self-advancement and the other seductive self-indulgence. The urge could be to escape this moral “squeeze” by driving straight down the middle to the sphere of the Moon (9), with all its connotations of illusion and distortion. A “frying-pan-or-fire” dichotomy comes to mind, suggesting that the sober ministrations of Earth (10) should be sought be leapfrogging right over the glamour-addled Moon to the sphere of practical results. (None of this is traditionally sanctioned, of course; I’m doing a little creative brainstorming here). The Devil (ambassador of Earth) and its sidekick, the self-absorbed Hermit as Virgoan singularity or solipsism, might still be awaiting us but at least we won’t be blindsided.

Bringing this back on topic, I would ask my sitter if there might be some kind of commitment “in the wind” that could take them up the path to glory or down the road of temptation and disgrace. This could take many forms, from an alluring job offer with unforeseen complications to an illicit liaison. I never see the Lovers as anything so insignificant or casual as whether or not to accept a “blind date;” there are always “strings” of some kind attached that demand more reasoned consideration. The Lovers’ other equal-and-opposite counterpart, Temperance representing the counterpoised sign Sagittarius, also emphasizes the concepts of finesse and prudence in managing one’s affairs. I find the “crossroads” analogy a compelling one because there is nothing frivolous about the decision it represents; there could very well be no going back.

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