[Updated July 2021. Essay on Tarot: V Hierophant, VI The Lovers, & XV The Devil]
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Sometimes, the best way to understand a concept more deeply is to compare it to an apparent opposite. Take for example The Lovers and The Devil.
If you don’t know anything about the Tarot, and you look at these two cards, your first impression is that they mean Love and Sin respectively.
Now here is a funny thing. When I went to write the title of this blog, I first wrote Love and Six. There’s a secret message there.
And, if you glance at what I first wrote quickly, you might see Love and Sex! Oh how interesting that is because all of these are simply more clues. It’s like that word puzzle game where you have to turn one word into another and then another by changing only one letter at a time:
Love and Sin
Love and Six
Love and Sex
Let’s continue by studying the images on the cards.
On The Lovers, a winged angel hovers above a naked woman and man. The woman is on the left (the feminine side) and the man is on the right (the masculine side). The Sun shines above them and the sky is blue.
On The Devil, a winged beast crouches above a naked woman and man. This time, the people have horns and a tail; and they are chained. The background is pitch black.
Now let’s look a little deeper. Upon closer inspection, you will notice that The Lovers actually depicts the Garden of Eden. See the tree of knowledge, the forbidden fruit, and the serpent? Wasn’t this the original sin? How interesting that The Lovers card shows the first sin, and yet it is the devil who is often associated with sin.
Notice that both the angel and the devil are winged. However, only the angel flies (hovers). In fact, we can’t see his/her lower half while the lower half of the devil is directly in the center of the card! The angel’s arms are outstretched and symmetrical; the devil has one up and one down.
Now on to the subtler: The Lovers is card number 6. In Roman notation, this is VI, 5 + 1. The Devil is card 15, which is again 6 (1 + 5). So the numerological result is the same, but the way you get there (5+1 or 1+5) is reversed!
Surprising to most, the meaning of The Lovers card is primarily choice. This is why we’re shown the Garden of Eden. It is, in some ways, the beginning of any journey. Fundamentalists (and the misogynistic) like to point out how this is where Eve committed the first sin. The REAL message is that Eve made a choice. She chose to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and thus initiated a journey. And notice that we use the word eve as the night before a significant day!
A reason choice is exemplified by the lovers is because the ultimate choice we all make at every moment of our lives it whether to experience something as a purely internal experience or as an external one. We could choose to love God/Goddess/All-That-Is by loving inward (loving self), or by loving outward (loving others). Love of Self is the inward journey. Taking a lover is the outward journey. They are one and the same – meaning they are equal. They are parallel paths that ultimately lead to the same place. One path facilitates the other. Each is needed. We cannot love others unless we love ourselves. And we can’t love ourselves without loving others. We are really here to walk both journeys simultaneously even as we constantly choose between them.
The result of each choice – regardless of which path we choose – is The Devil. Its true meaning is the Earth Realm and all that it brings. The chains represent gravity. We are kept on Earth by gravity. Symbolically, we are also entangled by the gravity of life’s circumstances. We are attracted to what we desire and then get attached. How often do we make our bed and have to sleep in it – as they say – another hugely significant analogy.
And here’s some more things to notice. The center of the word Lover is ‘v’. That is also the center of the word Devil. And there is reverse symmetry between those words:
L O V E R – R E V O L
L I V E D – D E V I L
So at The Lovers, we have a choice to make. We have two paths before us – or so it seems – and we have to choose between them. Not because one is better, but because we cannot walk this earth without choosing to do so.
At The Devil, we have made our choice (and lived!) and now face the consequences.
Here is another card I would like to discuss: The Hierophant.
Notice again we have a figure that stands above two others. In this case, it is a religious man standing before two monks. The Hierophant is here to teach the masses. However, he teaches the lowest common denominator. He is a creator of structure and limitation. To guide his disciples, he invented laws, rules, and commandments; and also the concept of sin when these are not followed. His intention was to guide, but he went astray (or someone speaking on his behalf did).
Another meaning of the Hierophant card is marriage. So there’s Love, Sex, and Marriage. Notice these are all different aspects of relationship. With love, there’s choice. Through love, we choose to enter a relationship. Every day, we choose to stay or not. Sex can be something that binds us. It is a physical representation of a non-physical bond. It is also something we want in relationship and what hooks us in. But what makes a relationship a marriage, is rules. Marriage is a contract. Marriages are entered into through governments and religions, two huge institutions, which are all about getting people to follow rules.
The Hierophant is card number 5. It is what happens when you remove the individual’s free will. Add 1 – the individual – to 5 and you get 6. That’s the Lovers, and The Devil.
The Hierophant is not all bad. He is a teacher. He is here for the greater good of all, even if he is a stickler, a stick in the mud, a party spoiler. Sometimes, it is best to follow the rules. Sometimes it is best to follow the straight and narrow. But as a wise woman once said, “All things in moderation, including moderation.”
We are here to have physical experiences. Why else would we incarnate into this physical world? If all we wanted was to experience the energy of love, we could do that else where. Yes, it is messy in the mud. Sex is messy. Emotions get messy when there is attachment. It sucks to have to obey all of the rules, but it also sucks when nothing can be relied upon.
But never forget that in every moment of your life, you have choice. You don’t have to always go along with something that doesn’t feel right. Sometimes you’ll choose the blue pill and sometimes the red pill. Choice is not about Heaven and Hell, sin and virtue. In reality (duality), choice is simply choosing between path A and path B. Like on The Price is Right, we won’t know what’s behind curtain #1 until we pick it. And unlike The Price is Right, we can’t look behind curtain #2 when we pick #1. We have to choose and walk a path to know what it will bring. Along the way, something will be asked of us. It’s all part of the process of living here on Planet Earth.
Thank God these aren’t the only cards in the deck. There’s The Fool, The Sun, and The World! The Fool lives in the moment and basks in The Sun. There may be rainy days, but there’ll always be sunny days too. And when you’re on top of The World, that’s when you see only the beauty.
At any moment, as you stand with two feet on the ground, you are free to imagine that the entire Earth is below you, because it is. You are on top of the world at all times. And that’s true no matter where you stand. That’s the perfection of living on a sphere where gravity pulls down towards the center. It’s all just a matter of perspective…