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Love, Choice, Temptation, Test

March 19, 2017

by Tony Willis

The image on the sixth Trump in the Tarot de Marseilles is unlike the earliest illustrations of the card still in existence. They show either a man and a woman holding hands, the god of love hovering overhead, or a parade of couples below and

early 6   caryyalelovers   L'Amoureux_tarot_charles6

one or more cupids in a nimbus above. If Gertrude Moakely is correct in her surmise that the tarot Trumps, sometimes called Triumphs, were based on parades popular in Italy in the fourteenth century and also known as Triumphs, then Trump 6 would have represented the triumph of Love, and would have been named accordingly. The fifteenth century Trumps lack titles and so we may never know for sure the names by which all twenty-two were known in that era.

The image had changed considerably by the time the Marseilles Tarots were printed. Three people fill the lower portion of the card: a man stands between two women. The one constant is the bow-wielding cupid fluttering above. (Card on the left below.)The card’s title may have altered, too, if it was originally Love, as The Tarot de Marseilles card has L’Amoreux, the Lover, printed at the bottom. Translated into English, this became The Lovers, and that is how Trump 6 is known throughout the English-speaking world today. Change of image accompanies a change of meaning. This is reflected in a title occasionally awarded to the Tarot de Marseilles version of the card, namely The Two Paths. In many decks, the two paths can be seen quite distinctly. (Card on the right below.)

amoureux 2    mmTarot 06

The meaning derived from this tableau is Choice. The central male figure is assumed to be choosing between the two women standing either side of him. Each wishes him not only to choose her as his mate but also to follow her along the road that lies on her side of the card. They are often taken to represent Virtue and Vice. In the design from Papus’s Tarot of the Bohemians (card on the left below), one of the women wears a crown to mark her out as a symbol not just of virtue but of supreme good, for the highest Sphere on the Qabalistic Tree of Life is represented by the image of a crown. The message is made even clearer in some decks, where the figure of Vice has no hesitation in flaunting her physical charms at the man. This is the case in the illustration on the right below, which depicts Vice bare-breasted while Virtue points heavenwards, towards the divine realm of lofty thoughts and pure intentions.

PapusWirth06   6-lovers-version-1

By the end of the nineteenth century, both meanings – Love and Choice – were current in tarot divination circles. A few taroists accepted one and rejected the other, while in some circles attempts were made to accommodate them both. In the middle of the twentieth century British occultist Frank Lind successfully blended the two in his manual How To Read the Tarot (written in the 1950s but not published until the 1960s): “Affection. Choice. Indecision. Desire. Temptation. Two ‘loves’ or rival interests”.the-lovers-6

The French esoteric tradition tended to view Trump 6 as foreshadowing a Test. Paul Christian, in the translation of his work I consulted, uses the word Ordeal, though S.L. Mathers, writing in English and without his Golden Dawn hat on, opts for Trial. Other experts (C.C. Zain for example) interpret the test as a Temptation. (See Lind’s set of keywords above.) For Mathers the upright card denotes “trials surmounted”. Similarly, for those who take the card to signify Temptation, Trump 6 upright will indicate the ability to resist the temptation; just as, for those who favor the meaning Choice, the upright card generally signifies “making the right choice”.

When Mathers came to write a handbook on the tarot for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he adopted novel image for Trump 6 – Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea-monster. Along with this image went an equally new meaning. But as this meaning has had almost no impact of the world of tarot outside the Golden Dawn (and not much impact within it if my and Auntie’s experiences are anything to go by), I will say no more about it for now.

Yet another innovative image, and like the G.D. picture, one havingBOTA Lovers no antecedents among the cards of earlier tarots, was created for the Waite-Smith tarot deck, first published 1909. It depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. To my mind the better representation of this image is to be found in the Builders of the Adytum deck, and it is that version you see here on the right.

In the book he created to accompany the Waite-Smith deck (The Key to the Tarot), Waite concentrates on the love/affection/ harmony aspect of the Trump, to which he appends the keyword ‘test’. He says nothing about the G.D. meaning, not because it was at that time an occult secret, but because he rejects it. Writing under the pseudonym Grand Orient, Waite revealed the meanings he personally favored for Trump 6: “Material union, affection, desire, natural love, passion, harmony of things; contains also the notions of modus vivendi, concord and so forth; equilibrium.” This approach to the card parallels that favored by Paul Foster Case [see The Tarot (Jeremy P Tarcher)]: “Attraction, beauty, love. Harmony of inner and outer life.” Neither Waite in the guise of Grand Orient nor Case reference Test or Choice in the meanings they offer their readers. Nor do either cite the G.D. meaning for the card, Inspiration, although both were graduates of the G.D. school of Hermetic occultism. As was Crowley, but he does retain the G.D. meaning albeit alongside several others most of which I have already touched on in this article: “Openness to inspiration, intuition, intelligence, childishness, attraction, beauty, love, self-contradiction, instability, indecision, union in a shallow degree with others, superficiality.” The later meanings apply to the card when it is in reverse, or ill-dignified as members of the G.D. were more apt to say.

In over sixty years of working with the tarot I have used all the meanings put forward above. My experience is that, from the predictive angle, the meaning that yields the best results is ‘Love’, taken in its broadest sense. Depending on the nature of the question asked, The Lovers can represent the start of a love affair, familial affections or the entry into the inquirer’s life of someone who will become a firm friend. As one old book of delineations puts it, “This card expresses love and all that treats of the affections”.

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5 Comments
  1. As usual, a most interesting post – thanks.

    Not to nit-pick, but the title usually present on the Marseilles decks is “L’Amoureux”, the Lover, or more literally, “the man in love”, which nuances the interpretation somewhat.

    As for the two chief interpretations, they both go back to classical antiquity: the concept of marriage or union, on the one hand, coming from the Pythagorean numerical symbolism of the number 6; and on the other, the Herculean choice between Virtue and Vice as recounted by Xenophon.

    • Hi J.B.,

      Thank you for pointing out the error in the French translation of the name. I have adjusted the text accordingly.

      Tony Willis

  2. Virginia Braden permalink

    So, I see the concept of ‘good and evil’, which was not an aspect of the early versions of Tarot of Marseilles, actually began with the later versions of the Tarot of Marseilles showing a choice between good and evil, or vice and virtue, and was picked up by the G.D. group when they placed the love scene in the Garden of Eden, giving both meanings: “triumph of love” and “choice between good and evil.” However, in my experience, little note is given by current readers to the G of E.

    I can see the confusion regarding this card. But, looking at the tarot as a whole, and considering its lower vibration in XV, The Devil, I see these cards as an archetypal battle between light and dark, between Archangel Michael in The Lovers (VI) and Satan as represented in its lower vibration, The Devil (XV): The Lovers when they are kicked out of the G of E. due to obsessions, jealousies, and cheating, etc. It is noted here they are both a “6”.

    • Hi Virginia,

      It is Waite who introduces the Garden of Eden motif. The Golden Dawn favoured the image of Perseus rescuing Andromeda.

      Tony Willis

  3. A fascinating post! It’s so interesting to see the evolution of this card from the basic idea of love to the esoteric symbolism that came along in the 20th century with Waite, Case and Crowley; the first two picturing the aspects of self and Higher Self and the latter depicting the Chemical Wedding. Thank you for an informative journey!

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