To explore Crowley’s version of the Lovers Card in the Thoth deck, we must first understand the origins of the card and its subsequent evolution. The earliest trumps were valuable wood cut images with neither number nor caption that conveyed a classical story.
The earliest woodcut decks featured this card with a pair of lovers and Cupid or Eros flying overhead and possibly derived from Petrarch’s 14th century love poem I Trionfi or The Triumph, in which the first of six allegorically themed processional triumph carts illustrated the triumph of Cupid over men and gods. The early Italian cards showed a man kissing a woman while divine amoretti aimed arrows of love at other couples in a pageant or procession.
Later decks depict a young man seemingly torn in a choice between two figures, presumably female. Here it seems to illustrate the archetypal love triangle, as one must lose out when Eros lets an arrow fly.
In the 18th century, French-Swiss Protestant Pastor Antoine Court de Gébelin added the caption Marriage, and the Comte de Mellet interpreted it as both a choice and love. He imagined Hercules choosing between Vice and Virtue, which was a popular theme in high Renaissance art. His interpretation of the card as a “trial of moral strength” was picked up by later cartomancers, but the earliest cards show that Eros or simply love was the true subject of this card, not moral choice.
More modern cartomancers take a more initiatory view of the Tarot. In the 1970s, Paul Huson, told us that the Lovers card is a transition from the lesser trumps indicative of the childhood of the young god as representative of the initiate entering into the area representing His youth and manhood, the trials and pleasures of the world. Most savior figures go through a period when the future god-man, unaware of his divine mission, immerses himself in the ways of the world. The Lovers card thus represents the first and most obvious pleasure of youth.
In classical mythology, the power of love is embodied in two deities, Venus and Cupid, or Aphrodite and Eros, and while she was the patron of all marriages and liaisons, it was to Eros that the power of firing gods and mortals with love was attributed. He was however, capricious, and while his golden arrows brought love at next sighting, his leaden ones brought loathing. He was propitiated and cajoled through Aphrodite, if she was amenable to your request. Some believe that the Lovers card depicted just such a story, namely the Judgment of Paris. This is possibly the true origin of the “choice” interpretation of this card.
Paris was the second son of King Priam, predestined to bring about the ruin of their kingdom, Troy, and was left for dead on the side of Mount Ida. There he was suckled by a wild boar and discovered by shepherds, who raised him. Now the gods enter the drama. Eris was snubbed, not being invited to the wedding of Sea Goddess Thetis and the mortal Peleus. In response, Eris crashed the party, tossing a gift for the fairest among them into the crowd of attending goddesses, who scrambled for it, where it ultimately fell to Hera, the Queen of Heaven and Goddess of the Home, Athena, Goddess of War and Heroes, and Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, each fully believing the Golden Apple Her’s.
Zeus finally ordered them to submit to the judgment of a mortal to decide the fairest, and selected a young shepherd named Paris. Each goddess offered him something as a bribe, but the prize fell to Aphrodite who dropped her girdle to reveal her majesty while Eros shot Paris with a golden arrow. As a reward for his selection, Aphrodite offered him the hand of the fairest mortal woman, who turned out to be the Greek princess Helen, already wed to king Meneleus from Sparta. Paris kidnapped Helen, bringing her to Troy as he fled, thus sealing its fate. War came and Troy was burnt to the ground, and the slighted goddesses were avenged.
Often as in Florentine Minchiate decks, Paris is depicted kneeling while Aphrodite holds an apple in an outstretched hand. Others such as the Visconti and Charles VI decks depict a pair or pairs of lovers, but all feature Eros flying overhead, belying the importance of Love, even here.
The Tantric Wheel of Life bears a related image which shows as its sixth picture two lovers kissing. This image called Sparsa or contact and depicts the first encounter of self and other. The seventh picture, Vedana or feeling, depicts an awakening awareness through the senses, symbolized by an arrow entering a man’s eye. Their message? That only through physical union with a female can either a man or god achieve true contact with reality and possess the power to deal with it. “Women are Devas” say the Tantric Sages, “women are life itself.” The Goddesses were the real world, existence itself. A man or god remained incomplete until he united with Her spirit in the life stage of husbandship. For the enlightened man, life meant a search for the Goddess, who could only be apprehended through Vedana.
“By feeling is She known.
How then can lack of feeling find Her?”
— Ramaprasada, poet
The Sufis believe that every man needs a female counterpart, a fravash or spirit of the way. She is his Qis-Mah or ladylove sent by the Moon. Qis-Mah being the origin of the Turkish word kismet or fate. The Orphics believed that each man must embrace his Dike or “Fate” as a beloved woman, like Orpheus and Eurydike (whose name means Universal Fate, again embracing the concept of the empowering Goddess). A novice met his Fate “in the form of a fairy queen who touched him with her magic wand to open his eyes to the reality of life”. The Tantrics would call her Shakti.
A general rule of the East is that shamans, priest, sages, and other holy men required a spiritual/sexual marriage before they could come into full possession of their powers. As Barbara G. Walker puts it in her Secrets of the Tarot, “it is always the feminine being who helps the hero to conquer immortality or to emerge victorious from his initiatory ordeals.”
Medicine men, Brahmans, Israelite and Roman Priests all had to attain their spiritual authority through marriage. The roman Flamen Dialis held office only so long as he was married to Flaminica, the High Priestess of Juno, and was removed upon her death. King Solomon united with Ishtar-Astarte, through her priestess the Shulamite, and through his acquired powers received 666 gold talents per year. Here 666, the Number of the Beast was interpreted as the Beast with two backs, the Primal Androgyne said to resemble a man and woman in sexual union.
666 and the hexagram it describes (6 points, 6 triangles, and 6 sides) was therefore a sexual charm sacred to the triple Aphrodite or Astarte, whose number is 6. Six is of course the Atu or Key of this card. The Pythagoreans, who make much of numbers, call 6 the perfect number or The Mother. In Latin it is sex, in Egyptian sexen, which also means to embrace or copulate. A derivative of it is the word seshemu, which means sexual intercourse and who’s hieroglyph is a phallus inserted into an arched yoni-gate. This word was repeated in Sufi love rituals and became a magical charm that opened the gate of the secret uterine cavern of Arabic fairy tales, namely Open Sesame. Of course, six to Christians is the number of sin and I think we can see why they would think so.
In the middle ages the Minstrels (which comes from Minne or Love) worshipped the Goddess of Love incarnate in their ladyloves.
“She resembles nothing imaginable.
Her name is known; her self, unngrapsed
She comes never to a false heart.”
—Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
Priests and monks protested against the “vile condition of lovers who forgetting God, make a divinity of the woman they love.” They opposed marriage as unholy and impure, simply a means to pursue and exploit the sexual passions. Though the Church began to bless marriages in the 13th century, on their doorsteps to avoid polluting their sacred spaces, they objected to the ritual because of its pagan origins and its coming under the purview of priestesses and female elders. Thus the later tarot interpretations by mostly clerical men denied this meaning of sacred union for having a female officiating saying, instead that it showed a man making a hard choice between wife and mother, virtue and vice, or passion and conscience.
Tarot cards as symbols of initiation must contain a marriage, however. Romantic literature and oriental beliefs showed sacred marriage as necessary to initiate at the 6th stage of Vedana. The empowering female still reigns in the literature of the time, despite the designs of the church. The Fool Percival learns the secrets of chivalry from his love, Blanchefleur, who was called the devil’s bride and mother of the Antichrist by churchmen of the time. Peredur, the Welsh version of Perceval, was instructed by his fairy ladylove from India, who wore the sacred colors of Shakti, white, red, and black. As early as Beowulf, we are told that India is the home of Eostre or Astarte or the Triple Kali.
The Golden Dawn recognized the inspiration to be found in this card, leading to illumination, with their intra-Order card showing Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda and interpreting this as the sword striking off the fetters of habit and materialism, but fail to recognize the true source of this power albeit being the first to note the goal: liberation.
Aleister Crowley was the first to see the Tantric and Romantic symbolism in the card and to take it to its logical initiatory and alchemical conclusions. He refers to the card as the Creation of the World.
In the Book of Thoth, he gives a description of the original card as he envisioned it in the Vision and the Voice, as an example of its creation meaning and incorporates the images of Lilith and Eve in the upper corners of the Lovers card and Cain and Abel as the Children, as homage to this, but this is not it’s meaning to him; it is the solve preceding the coagula of the Art card, as it were, the sword being a tool of division and the card corresponding to the Hebrew zayin or sword.
Here we have the two who will to become the one. The Black King with his golden crown and sacred lance, wearing the serpented robe of the Emperor, the alchemical sulphur or energizing force, and the White Queen with her silver crown and her Holy Grail (a golden cup engraved with the descending dove of Holy Spirit), wearing the bees of the Empress, the alchemical salt awaiting energizing.
They are here to take part in the Hermetic Marriage, their willingness conveyed by their joined hands. Standing beneath an Arch of swords, not only symbolizing the Hebrew correspondence, but also being the weapon of nobility, it honors their marriage and acknowledges their sovereignty. It is not just a love, but love under will. All dualities are here represented by the royal pair, ready to be united or melded into one.
For I am divided for love’s sake for the chance of union.
Cupid or Eros is here depicted again as an homage to the cards and meanings that come before this one, but also acts as the symbol of inspiration and his arrow that of the spiritual intelligence necessary to the alchemical operation. His quiver is inscribed with the word Thelema, the implication again that this is a willful love, not an animalistic one. Thelema also appears on the Ace of Swords, being the very root of the swords suit or Zayin, showing the link between the intellect and will.
The figure presiding over the wedding is not a priestess or female elder as in times of old, but a hooded figure, who is the Hermit, here shrouded to indicate that the meaning of everything is however beyond the scope of intellectual perception. He gives blessing and consecrates the union through the sign of the enterer, here as the representative of the supernal triad, the highest form of Mercury, the Father or Creator or Logos, his presence evoking that of the Mother who uplifted him, without which he would remain a man or prince. Entwined about his arms a scroll in a moebius strip, signifying the eternal nature of the Word with which they are to be joined.
The orphic egg, that symbol of all life, the manifest world, the realm of opposites living together, is here as primitive product of the union. The egg being grey or a mix of black and white and the serpent in purple (Mercury in the queen scale) and the wings crimson (Binah in the King scale) also signifies the cooperation and blessing of the supernals on this union. Thus the entire thing is a glyph indicating the equilibrium necessary to the Great Work, while leaving that final mystery left to later understanding, what will the product of the union be? The Art card answers this question.