Not long ago I made a remark about the card of the Lovers in one of the groups on Facebook that occasionally I still check with. These days I’m not so active in these groups as I have seen that what I have to offer often vexes a number of people. Although my intention is not to perplex, it may well be that the form in which my message comes out is one such that simply does not match the general expectation. As I’m not interested in exploring the chatty side or the laid back version of myself – not to mention cultivating my white hair on youtube and hoping that it can stand for knowledge – I often conclude that going for a symmetrical relation with the cartomantic public at large is next to impossible.
But, insofar as a few others in the world follow my advocating here for more critical approaches to divination and magic than we’ve generally seen so far, I keep talking. I don’t think that I’m doing anything special though, especially since I have a few I can thank for inspiration. I wonder, for instance, how many remember Fritz Muntean, the founder and editor of the scholarly journal The Pomegranate. Particularly vivid is his 50-page long critique of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, and his keynote address to the Cascadia Pagan Leadership Conference in 1995. In the latter, and of relevance in the context of reading cards, he compares the stages in pagan leadership since Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente to the first 7 trumps of the tarot, including the Fool, about whom he has this to say:
The Fool is the enemy of rules and regulations, of hierarchies and principates, and even (as we can see) of safe paths through the mountains. He believes, and rightly so, that he can achieve magical results with no adherence to doctrine or discipline, but his near-complete neglect of magical standards only produces magical results that defy evaluation. The Fool has also been known to write books — which Llewellyn dutifully has been known to publish. These books are easy to read and often entertaining, and many find the ideas in them to improve self-confidence, and to be ‘empowering’ to the reader. But their low standards of scholarship only seem to blur the distinctions between fiction and fact, between polemic and research, and between hypothesis and conclusion. Like the Navajo trickster God, Coyote, the Fool is accorded a special role in the social order. But it’s important to remember that Coyote can lie in wait for the unwary. He sometimes plays a trick so outrageous and violent, that it destroys the well-being, the sanity, and even the life of its victim. And all that remains is an edifying story of human folly to be told ‘round the campfire. The Fool nowadays often finds his human counterpart in those who have used drugs unwisely but too well in order to blast their way out of a too-rigid cultural prison only to find themselves stranded helplessly on the other side. As far as his potential for leadership goes, it’s probably best for us to visualize the Fool with a bumper sticker across his butt that reads: “Don’t Follow Me — I’m Lost!” (Muntean, 1995: 2).
The essay sees the Fool, the Magician, and the High Priestess as models of Pagan leadership and representatives of the past. The Empress and the Emperor are models for the ideal leadership of the present, while the Pope, the Lover, and the Chariot play out the dynamics of future leadership patterns. As with all of Muntean’s writings, the ideas are not only compelling, but also valid for today.
Let us go back to making a point about the Lover, the card which Muntean – now that we are at it – also associates with the path not taken but which we must take issue with, as indeed the path not taken shapes our acts just as much as the path that we have taken. The implication of this is that insofar as we get what we deserve, we had better learn to live with our choices.
In the context of divination the card of the Lover is interesting to consider where these choices are concerned. Those acquainted with the card of the Lover in the Waite-Smith pack will find it less challenging, as what we are presented with here is already a union. Boy gets girl. Girl is grateful and thanks the Angel. Or maybe not. In the Marseille pack – my standard pack for readings – we have a whole different dynamics in play.
The way I read or teach this card is straightforward. Man torn between two women. Very rarely had I the situation when this was not the case. Even gender-wise. MAN torn between two women. Period. The degree of successfulness of the man’s ability to move on can only be seen in the surrounding cards. In and of itself this card is a difficult card, a static card, and it has little to do with love for another. Rather, and more so, it has to do with love for something you want to follow. It may simply also call you to do what you love. In other words, do what you love for YOURSELF.
Implicitly this discloses a subtle relation that has enabled many a woman to declare that after they got married they realized that they had married not a man but their own son. Ergo: men can’t choose. Hence, they need intervention from above, from the men and women around them, or even more so, from the woman next to him who is able to promise him a life of procreation and child rearing. It is not for nothing that our young man here has one of his hands firmly planted on one of the women’s crotch.
THE MEANING OF LIFE
If we take the card on an individual level, and perhaps also see it as part of the necessary stages that the Fool needs to go through if he is to achieve a sense of self and purpose, then we could argue that the meaning in life is to grow up, live, get married, have children, grow tired, and die. Whether the Lover likes it or not, he must procreate. However, in a reading context, we often come across situations when what is called for is not assessing the extent to which one does the right thing, such as leaving one’s mother to go and live with one’s wife, but rather leaving one’s old wife for a younger cookie. Some would say, ‘halt’, this is not the meaning of life. So it goes with the desire for meaning and normative codes.
About men caught between two women I could tell many stories. In my experience with offering some guidance to people who want an answer to their question: ‘should I hang on to him or not, he promised to divorce her’ – ‘him’ being the ambivalent lover – I have come to the following conclusion: the cure for love is a greater love. Usually, and as some of my psychoanalyst friends have said, when love is denied, hatred sets in. If the greater love is not immediately in sight, all subjects are prone to experiencing resentment. This builds up as a tower that hides a lot of frustration.
Men caught between two women are really caught in the impossibility to act, or rather caught in the following moral dilemma: to ditch everything and follow the one that the heart follows – for some, a foolish act – or to resign and show compassion – for some, a wise act. As neither is ideal – with balance missing – impotence rules. Consequently, I say this to the women facing a man who thinks he can make a decision: Never beg for recognition or love. Instead of always waiting for things to happen, the best is to look for the beauty in life that you can participate either in observing or creating.
Like right now, when I shuffled my cards to see what cards I could talk about next to the Lover card, and that might illustrate this exact point. The reason why I did this is because I never want to talk about single cards, and what they might mean individually – as indicated above, I’m not interested in the meaning of life according to a linear trajectory. Also, if I want insight into an archetype, then I prefer to read a myth or a fairytale, rather than look at individual cards representing types. So, what cards did I get? Here we come to a magical moment – my fellow Romanian/Canadian compatriot, Muntean, would like this.
The Lovers, The Emperor, The Hanged Man.
What beautiful creation right under my eyes, inviting me to observe what I myself have participated in, both conceptually – I started out with an idea – and concretely – I’m ‘reading’ the cards. As we can clearly see, the Lover in the Lovers card is not a man of action. Indeed, as the case is here, it looks like either a deus-ex-machina decides on behalf of the Lover whom the Lover should choose, or else we can say that his father gives him a push in the right direction. Actually that’s not right, as the Emperor dictates. He faces left and is oblivious of what may be right for the Lover, who ends up resigning to the situation.
But what perfect mirroring we find here! The Hanged Man, as he reflects back to the Lover, seems to say, ‘what the heck, either woman will do.’ So much for the love that we find associated with this card in other tarot decks. I would say that what we’re dealing with here is a typical Hanged Man ‘reasoning’ which may tell us the following: if a woman must revisit a lost relationship, then she must make sure to come back from it as well. The Hanged Man will always find a reason to tell her that he regrets everything. In other words, the woman’s act of revisiting must remain exactly that, an act of revisiting.
“DON’T HOLD YOUR OPEN BAG UNDER THE PRAISED FRUIT TREE” – ROMANIAN PROVERB
As for the pagan world, a world I’m not part of, but which I like to visit, I hope that it’ll find a way to deal with the path not taken in such as way that it may manage to bypass the potential indifference hidden behind regalia, women’s skirts, armor, and the rope around the neck. The last thing that the animist, polytheist, or divination world needs is another sack of money.
Note on the deck:
Tarot de Marseille, Edition Millenium, as reconstructed by Wilfried Houdoin, 2011
Muntean, Fritz (1995): “The First Seven Trumps of the Major Arcana (and the Fool) as Patterns for Pagan Leadership: Past, Present and Future”. Keynote Address to the Cascadia Pagan Leadership Conference, October 20.
Muntean, Fritz (1995): “Wicca after Starhawk.” Religious Studies / with L. Christensen.
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