Tarot cards are more than just a collection images, a game, or a fortune telling device. They are, together and individually, doorways into the human experience. We find themes such as balance, opposing forces, and enlightenment repeating through the cards. Tarot is powerful because it is not just a collection of images but a complete system. The system affects meanings as much as the images. The cards within the deck are in dialogue with each other. We can gain even more wisdom when we eavesdrop on those conversations. There are many ways to do this. One is to study pairings or groupings based on visual similarities.
One intriguing pairing is The Lovers and The Devil. It is, actually, quite interesting how many cards The Devil pairs with based on visual similarities.
The relationship between The Lovers and The Devil is strengthened by a numerological relationship. The Lovers is, of course, 6. The Devil, 15, can be reduced, 1 + 5 = 6.
The number 6 represents many things (as is true of most symbols) such as harmony, home, and solutions. The one we’ll focus on here, though, is relationships. It is noteworthy that when exploring the Minor Arcana 6s, Rachel Pollack points out the theme of “unequal relationships.” We’ll not be exploring that in this article, but when you’re done here, pull out your 6s and see what you think.
In The Lovers and The Devil we see some striking symbol and compositional similarities:
- Large central non-human characters on or in something
- Two smaller human characters, usually male and female, usually naked
- Fruit associated with the female human
- Fire associated with the male human
- A symbol on or behind the non-human character’s head
We also see some striking differences:
- Angel vs. Devil
- Day vs. Night
- Cloud vs. Cube
- Sun vs. Reversed Pentagram
- Freedom vs. Bondage
- Tree vs. Tail
- Apples vs. Grapes
Common themes in these two cards include a relationship between two people, groups, or things, usually having opposing elements, such as gender, talents, agendas, or characteristics. They are connected by something or some force larger than themselves.
In the Lovers image the angel and the sun suggest spiritual truth and higher understanding. The cloud, associated with the sky and air, brings to mind truth, conscious decisions, and understanding. The cloud is also ephemeral. The cloud cannot hold or bind anyone, although it can obscure, which may be why sometimes faith is necessary when living by spiritual precepts. The truths can guide your direction even when you cannot see the path. While in the Devil image, the devil and the reversed pentagram represent valuing the physical world over the spiritual. The cube is solid and fully capable of holding or binding things within it or to it, especially with those chains attached. The decisions made or actions taken are not made by the conscious mind but are driven by instinct or unconscious urges.
The trees in the Lovers show that the physical world rises up to and is fed by the spiritual world. The tails in the Devil show that the humans have fully identified with the physical world and have forgotten the spiritual world.
The choice of fruit as symbols is interesting. In the Lovers card, apples are used and we easily associate them with knowledge and the conscious understanding of good and evil. Just as the cloud can represent a temporary “not knowing” or not understanding, the snake shows that there is a moment between not knowing and knowing. Once you know something, you cannot unknow it. Like the snake that sheds its skin, you are transformed by the act of knowing.
The grapes, often associated with Dionysus, represent wine and intoxication, which an overindulgence in or dependence on can cloud the conscious mind and understanding, making it easier to make decisions based on the physical (while ignoring the spiritual) and without engaging the intellect.
In both images, fire is used. The Lovers image, with its burning tree, brings to mind the burning bush of the Christian bible and direct communication with god/spirit. In the Devil image, the passion of spirit and strength of will has been replaced by the passion of the body only. Further, the devil holds fire in order, one presumes, to control or punish the figures. The human in this image has given over his will to someone or something else.
Traditionally, the Lovers card was associated with “choices” rather than love and romance. It is very possible that the theme of choices is a common one in the conversation between the Lovers and the Devil. How we view and make choices? What influences your decisions? What part of yourself carries the most weight when making a decision? What is the desired outcome of any decision made?
We’ve only scratched the surface here, but hopefully this article will be a springboard for your own explorations of the conversation between these two cards.
Be sure to visit Barbara’s excellent website and blog, Tarot Shaman, for tarot and shamanic articles and services.