The Lovers is the sixth archetype of the Tarot’s Major Arcana. It is a complex card, imbued with many different layers of meaning.
The Lovers card usually appears when you are faltering and unsure. It is a sign that choices have to be made and that decisive action has to be taken. It could be that your dedication to either an internal ambition, a cause, or a person is being put to the test. If you are feeling conflicted about your true motivations, the Lovers will reveal it by highlighting both your inner strength and weakness, and the source of your conflict. The Lovers is often a challenging card to deal with because it shows us things about ourselves that we may not yet be willing to face.
Whenever the Lovers card shows up in a Tarot reading you are being offered a bite the forbidden fruit – will you accept or decline?
What is the meaning of the Lovers Tarot card?
The Lovers Tarot card is one of the most powerful archetypes of the major Arcana and contains multiple meanings.
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
Most depictions of the Lovers Tarot card is like a scene taken out of the Bible, specifically, it is Adam and Eve in the Garden, before the fall.
We all know the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, of how they were banished from the Garden because they defied God by eating forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
The Lovers derives much of its meaning from the story of Adam and Eve, and certain elements of meaning are immediately implied; duality, relationship, union, ambition, hunger for knowledge, forbidden fruit, temptation, sexual yearning, dilemma, conflict, decision, transgression, coming of age, disagreement, banishment, a fall from grace.
The Lovers card is liked to the Gemini zodiac sign and contains many of its meanings.
Like Gemini, the Lovers Tarot card is linked to the element of air. There is plenty of air present in the Lovers card, from the air itself to the clouds and the large outstretched wings of the messenger angel.
Gemini is ruled by the 3rd astrological house, which stands for communication, messages and the flow of information. The angel in the Lovers card is, of course, a messenger from God, serving as the voice of conscience trying to reason with the two lovers, who are contemplating their options.
Gemini represents duality, and the Lovers Tarot card shows us several; a man and a woman, heaven and earth, humanity and divinity, physicality and spirituality, the voice of conscience and the voice of temptation, two choices.
The Lovers card symbolism
Depictions of the Lovers card vary from Tarot deck to Tarot deck. Most take their inspiration from the classic Rider-Waite Tarot and include versions of the following symbols.
The primary feature and focal point of the Lovers card is the man and the woman standing in the foreground. They are both young, naked and entirely unselfconscious. Both are holding their hands at their sides in a relaxed manner, and their bodies are angled slightly towards each other, suggesting that they are a couple.
Anyone familiar with the story of Adam and Eve will soon deduct they are not just any couple, but the first ever couple, according to the Bible. As such, they embody the archetypal and universal meaning of what it means to be in a couple.
The dilemma faced by Adam and Eve when the serpent temps them in the Garden before the fall could be seen as a representation of the kinds of dilemmas and obstacles faced by all couples: Differing values and focus, temptation from external sources, disagreement on the right course of action.
The messenger of God
The friendly white clouds above the Garden part and an angelic messenger appears. Most likely, he is the archangel Gabriel who later banishes the couple from the Garden with his blazing sword. For now, he is merely appearing to them and offering them his guidance.
Behind and above the archangel is a large and glowing yellow sun, taking up most of the sky. The sun represents the divine realm and the presence of God. The fact that the sun is in the angel’s back implies that he is delivering messages straight from God and works as connecting link between Him and his children.
If the archangel in the Lovers card is the voice of God, the voice of reason, the serpent wrapped around the tree behind the woman is the voice of temptation, the voice of the devil. Just like the angel, the serpent is also trying to gain the attention of the couple.
It is interesting to note that the archangel is taking up about a third of the available space in the Lovers card while the serpent is quite small, a background feature. For now it seems that the archangel is the dominant presence – nevertheless the serpent is there, biding his time and vying for the attention.
The forbidden fruit
The serpent is coiled around the Tree of Knowledge behind Eve and is offering its ripe fruits. The fruits are temptation, pleasure, the pull and allure of the new and the unknown.
The Garden may be a beautiful, bountiful and harmonious place to be, but the serpent will always be there, dangling the forbidden fruit. It tempts with the promise of new experience, and with the thrill of transgression.
But it is important to remember that, once bitten, the fruit will never be whole again. The question arises, is biting the forbidden fruit really worth it? On the other hand, is Eden really all it is cracked up to be, or can life’s true adventure only real be had if we venture beyond the perfect Garden? In the end, is innocence more important than knowledge?
The burning tree and the volcano
Behind the man, Adam, is a tree with burning branches. Fire is a universal symbol of sexual drive, and the fact that the flames appear on the male side of the Lovers card makes them indicative of male sexuality.
In the middle of the card, halfway between the man and the woman – and halfway between heaven and Earth – is a volcano, itself a potent symbol of male sexuality.
It is interesting to note the volcano’s central placement right in the middle of the card. The volcano seems to function as a connecting link between the different dualities in the card.
The transmutation of energy
Despite the seemingly relaxed and static poses of the two lovers, there is a sizzling flow of energy in the Lovers Tarot card.
The man, or Adam, is looking at the woman, Eve. Following the line of his gaze, he appears to be looking at her breasts, or perhaps at the ripe fruits hanging on the branches behind her. Either way, the presence of the burning branches behind him suggest that his gaze is full of craving.
She, in turn, is looking heavenward at the archangel.
The flow of energy that passes between the man, the woman and the archangel seems to suggest a transmutation of energy, from base sexual yearning to spiritual zeal.
The Lovers card interpretations
Depictions of the Lovers Major Arcana Tarot card many vary between decks, but the core symbols and interpretations remain the same. Let us take a look at the most pertinent ones.
Romantic union, couple, relationship, partnership, marriage
The Lovers Tarot card often shows up in readings about romantic relationships, new as well as long established, or it may talk about other forms of partnerships and relationships.
Adam and Eve could be considered the primordial couple, and so the Lovers card reflects the archetypal elements that go into relationships (sexual attraction, balance, commitment) as well as pointing to the archetypal threats which may upset the harmony (infidelity, disagreements).
Usually the Lovers is a positive omen when it shows up in readings. It implies a deepening bond, compatibility and mutual attraction, and a harmonious union.
The Lovers may indicate self love and its importance.
Not every positive, fruitful and beautiful relationship is with another person. The primary and most important relationship – and the one we can be sure will last until the end – is the relationship we have with our self.
Often, the relationship we have with self may be compromised or set aside to accommodate the relationships we have with other people. If this is the case, consider the Lovers a reminder to heal and rebuild the relationship you have with yourself. With the foundations of this primary relationship in place, anything becomes possible, and any other relationship we may choose to cultivate beyond it becomes much more fulfilling.
Harmony, balance, alignment
The Lovers card represents harmony, balance and alignment of values. This can be within a romantic relationship, within a business partnership, a family, or simply within yourself.
When the Lovers makes an appearance, energies are in sync, words flow freely, and a gentle metaphysical breeze is blowing in your metaphysical sails.
No interpretation of the Lovers Tarot card is complete without mentioning desire
Much of the symbols found in the Lovers card, from the volcano to the ripe fruit, are thinly veiled metaphors for the sexual yearning.
Of course, not all yearning is physical. The energies moving through the Lovers Tarot card imply that sexual yearning may be transmuted into something higher and more refined.
This transmuted hunger of the soul may come to expression as a powerful creative drive, voracity in business, or it may take the form of striving for higher forms of consciousness, a yearning to discover, touch and become one with the divine source.
The Lovers Tarot card often indicates choices.
Just like Adam and Eve in Paradise, we face many crucial decisions throughout our lives, and within our closest relationships. If one person or one aspect of your self wants to go one way, and the other half of the equation wants to head in the opposite direction, you’re in a bind. Which path do you choose to follow? Will you and your partner be able to agree, or compromise?
Sometimes no compromise is possible. You cannot accept the serpent’s invitation and decline it at the same time. It’s either or, all or nothing. Sometimes you have to let go of something in order to free your hand up to reach for something else.
The Lovers card often appears when the querent is facing tough, life altering choices: Should they stay or should they go? Should they listen to the angel or the serpent? Should they choose this career path or that career path, this partner or that partner?
Some choices can escalate into seemingly unsolvable dilemmas – the bind is total. Paralysis sets in.
If you don’t bite the apple, you’ll never know. On the other hand, once you bite the apple, you can never make it whole again – or return to blissful unawareness.
The Lovers card indicates that, sometimes, you simply have to take a calculated risk. Sometimes, there is no clear-cut right or wrong, there is only one or the other. Make your choice, as best you can, and be willing to assume full personal responsibility for the consequences.
The Lovers reversed
When the Lovers Tarot card is reversed, its positive connotations of unity, harmony, free flowing communication and mutual attraction subside, giving way to the card’s darker, more ominous card meanings.
Discord, disagreement and misaligned values
The Lovers reversed indicates disagreement, misaligned values and a general sense of discord.
Small mismatches in values and personality can escalate into a full-blown erosion of the union, a disintegration of love into hate.
When the Lovers Tarot card is reversed, it often speaks of lacking communication, things left unspoken. Resentment can only grow and thrive when people fail to connect and communicate about the issues that plague them.
The Lovers reversed indicates not only external but also internal conflict.
Of course, the disagreements and discord we have with ourselves can be just as troubling and painful as the conflicts we experience between ourselves and other people.
Unfaithfulness and deceit
The Lovers reversed can sometimes indicate unfaithfulness, deceit and infidelity.
Not everyone is able to withstand the ripe and luscious fruits or the call of the serpent’s tongue – others feel like they should be able to take a bite of any fruit that catches their eye. Whatever the reasons or motivations, the result is still the same. There is a breaking of the contract, and a subsequent fall from grace when the deceit is discovered.
The Lovers reversed doesn’t only talk about unfaithfulness in the context of marriage or monogamous relationships, and not only about sexual deceit either. Betrayal can take many forms and can happen in any human relationship.
What the Lovers Tarot card tells you about your personal development
When it comes to personal development, the Lovers card is a positive sign, indicating inner harmony, balance and peace, as well as a deepening sense of self love and appreciation.
Reversed, the Lovers card may indicate a lack of self love and self respect.
What the Lovers Tarot Card tells you about love and romance
In love and romance, the Lovers upright is a positive omen, a sign that things are developing in a positive direction, and that there is a strong mutual attraction. There is true potential here. Allow things the time they need to grow.
The Lovers reversed in readings about love and relationships is a bad sign. It could indicate a lack of clear and open communication about issues that are important to both of you, or it could indicate infidelity.