American delta blues singers of the last century were literally “bedeviled” by the idea of a crossroads, where it was believed one could go to bargain with Old Scratch at midnight. Having finally come to terms with the intricacies of Temperance, I decided to turn my attention to its astrological counterpart, the Lovers, which I believe has been grossly misinterpreted in modern exoteric tarot practice. I’m fascinated by this card, not so much for its intrinsic meaning but because of the interesting correlations that can be spun from it. What I think of as the “fluffy bunny” school of interpretation almost invariably sees it as a card of romantic bliss: your “twin flame” (formerly “soul mate”) is just around the bend and will soon arrive. This despite the fact that neither the historical versions of this card nor the Waite-Smith update show anything of the sort; one portrays a conflicted situation and the other an esoteric abstraction. I’ve taken the “choice” aspect of the former (which was titled “The Lover” and not “The Lovers”) and fleshed it out into the notion of a “fork in the road” or crossroads.
The real fly in the ointment for the “love is coming your way” crowd lies in the correspondences that have been accorded this card in esoteric theory. Apparently playing off the traditional image, the sign of Gemini has been matched with it; this sign embodies a duality that imparts the potential for diverging as well as converging lives. This viewpoint is amplified by the assignment of the Hebrew letter Zayin to the Lovers, which means “sword,” suggesting the surgical scalpel used to dissect something to better examine it. While a fabled blade may unite warring factions in fantasy fiction, its true purpose is to cleave. Hence the less common modern understanding of this card as implying an important decision to be made.
With those assumptions in mind, I set out to explore the landscape of the figurative intersection. Numerologically speaking, any pair of Major Arcana cards that adds to Six will have commonality with the Lovers, in what Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm called “numerological counterparts.” There are a number of ways to slice-and-dice this, but I chose one that shows three input chains and three output chains surrounding the Lovers (using only a small dab of “creative license”).
The two main input stems show the individuals (Magician and High Priestess) being joined in traditional matrimony (Hierophant presiding, with the Emperor performing the father’s duties), each to the “ideal other” (Lovers); the horizontal chain inserts Mercury (Magician) into its customary abode (Gemini) through a conventional (Venusian) act of bonding (Hierophant). All three central figures are making similar gestures that convey the blessing of a higher power upon the union. The second chain – the High Priestess and the Emperor – suggests the operation of Universal Law in the equation (“mystery made flesh”). Both of these input pairs have a predominantly patriarchal quality to them: the formality of marriage. Only the third chain approaches “fluffy” territory; the Lovers represents fulfillment of the promise of the Empress (numbered 3), raised to the power of two through the persuasions of Venus (2 of Cups), producing 2×3 = 6. None of these are surprising and they set the stage for the next evolution.
The output chains are where things get really interesting. I explored the “high road” and “low road” decision-making options in a previous post:
but the numerological associations really bring it to life. The “high road” departs the crossroads via the next card in the normal sequence, the Chariot, which incites no quibbling about whether it’s the best course of action. The next stop on that path is the Star, whose number (17) added to that of the Chariot (7) equals 24, which reduces to 6, showing the best possible destination for the Lovers (the “hitch your wagon to a star” combo). In truth, it could just as well be the eighth trump, Strength (7+8 = 15, 1+5 = 6), but the Star is more inspiring as an objective (plus, it comes with wise advice from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay American Civilization).
The “low road” invokes the Devil, a direct counterpart to the Lovers (15 = 1+5 = 6), showing the danger of succumbing to the temptation of a poorly-reasoned choice. This path leads to the solitary card of wisdom (perhaps of the “sadder but wiser” sort), the Hermit, a further manifestation of Mercury as Virgo, whose number 9 added to that of the Devil (15) equals 24, which also reduces to 6, showing that this is a path of renewed loneliness for the Magician and/or Priestess.
I’ve also included a “middle road” that portrays walking a knife’s edge between the two extremes. This path runs squarely into Justice and on to Death, the numbers of which, 11 and 13, add to 24 and reduce to 6; the implication is that there isn’t much ‘wiggle room” for the Lovers to play the percentages and try to split the difference between how much to invest in the commitment and how much to hold back. One false step and it all falls down.
Note that the Chariot (Cancer) and the Devil (Capricorn) are astrological opposites, and Justice (Libra) falls squarely between them astrologically, and nearly so in the series of trump cards. The Star (Aquarius) and Death (Scorpio) represent fixed signs, but the other unused fixed-sign card (Strength as Leo) didn’t fit the downward-pointing symbolism. On the other hand, according to Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Hermit has some of the attributes of Saturn (an observation with which I agree and had already included in my “rethinking the astrological correspondences” essay) so it pairs well with the Devil. It seems telling that the top two output stems are “head-and-heart” affairs (Air and Water) in which one chain “purifies” the Gemini vibration (Chariot/Star) and the other “dilutes” it (Justice/Death), while the bottom one is all about appeasing the body (two Earth cards).