The Lovers from Tarot in Space! and The Wild Unknown Tarot.
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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about love. In a little over a month, it’ll be a year since my last relationship ended, and throughout that time, I’ve thought a lot about what place love ought to have in my life. I also wonder what it means to love well, not just your lover, but your family, your friends, your community, your clients and colleagues, your work.
I recently devoured bell hooks’ meditation on this subject, All About Love, and it left me with a lot to ponder. hooks borrows her definition of love from the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (who in turn follows the work of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm), who describes love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” I haven’t yet managed to fully understand and integrate that as a definition, but suffice it to say that lightbulbs are going off in the deep recesses of my mind! I hope this idea – one that seems simultaneously obvious and world-shaking – gives you pause, too.
hooks draws on Peck further, quoting that “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.” Again, this seems both obvious and revolutionary. What if we didn’t think of love – in any of its forms – so much as a feeling that steals over us as a course of action we willed ourselves to undertake?
As it turns out, the trusty tarot already has this idea well and truly covered. Our friends in the Major Arcana, The Lovers, are all about helping to guide our choices. We’re all familiar with the Rider Waite Smith Lovers, the union of a woman and a man presided over by an angel, but unless you’re Marseille Tarot savvy, you may not have noticed that earlier iterations of this card depict a man, struck by cupid’s arrow, choosing between two women (see Rachel Pollack’s excellent book, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, for a more extensive history of both these cards). The notion of choice, particularly in matters of love, has always been at the forefront of this card’s meaning.
Here we have a marriage, ordained by spirit, freely entered into, of opposites, complements, chosen loves. Of course, when we look at the Rider Waite Smith’s imagery, we must acknowledge that not everyone is straight, not everyone believes in marriage, not everyone sees their gender represented. As we get better at listening to each other and seeing each other’s unique identities, we know that this isn’t the best way to represent the choice to love and to commit. Nonetheless, the ideas here remain powerful. This is love in service of spiritual growth and inner unity, and when we draw this card, we’re being invited to choose that path.
While this card is usually associated with romantic love, its lessons about choice have a much broader application. Just as The Lovers must choose the right partner if they are to reap the spiritual benefits of an angel-blessed union, so too must we choose what and whom we love, and choose again and again to love well so that our spirits – and the spirits of the people and places and projects we love – can grow and flourish.
What does this mean, practically speaking? I don’t think bell hooks wants to make a prescription, and for my part, well, I’m still figuring that out. For now, though, let’s chew on this idea that when we love well, we’re striving to nourish each other’s – and our own – spirits. And that it’s through our will that we make this commitment. Every minute we get to choose to love, or not, and choose again.
What are your thoughts on The Lovers – or on love in general? Love it? Hate it? Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Twitter. I’d love to hear your perspective!