“To witness two lovers is a spectacle for the Gods.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Lovers card seems to point toward any of three primary possible meanings when it appears in a reading…
“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” – Rumi
The most obvious, especially to newcomers, would be the literal-minded interpretations: this card can speak of love, romance, seduction… If this weren’t the case, why call it The Lovers? This is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable way of interpreting this card (especially if the question being asked was already focusing on affairs of the heart, or if the cards surrounding this one can be fairly said to connect up with notions of romance – here, think about such cards as the 2 of Cups, the Ace of Cups, some of the Cups and Wands Court Cards, and possibly the 4 of Wands).
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
The card is often taken, though, to represent a very significant choice. Early decks featured a man at the center of the card, being confronted with the need to choose between two women. The idea is that the man can choose either of the two women to be with…but in the monogamous context, at least, this necessitates that at the same time, he also then give up any claim whatsoever that he might ever have hoped to have on the other woman. So then choosing one thing in a Lovers card situation can also mean sacrificing your chance at having a different thing. Lovers choices in this vein are either/or choices – they’re binary things offering two mutually exclusive alternatives.
“The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
And finally, there’s the third major interpretation of this card, which has to do with the concept of personal integration. It’s easy to look at the RWS version of The Lovers and see an Archangel (a “Higher” or more Divine Being) manifesting above Adam and Eve (mortals). Similarly, the Thoth deck is less Old Testament about things in its visuals, but it also seems to feature a Higher Being presiding over some sort of ceremony (a wedding, is the usual viewpoint here) comprised of more mortal-looking participants. But what if we gaze at this card through a Jungian lens?
Carl Jung gave to modern psychology the related concepts of the anima and the animus. The anima is the “feminine” or Yin portion of the overall psyche, while the animus is the part of the psyche that’s what we traditionally think of as “masculine” or Yang. Everyone, regardless of their sex or gender, has both an anima and an animus. The problems start, though, when those two components of the self aren’t successfully merged into the whole of the individual’s personality. Maybe one of them is undernourished while the other is over-developed. Maybe one of them causes its possessor shame or guilt for whatever reasons.
So with some of this Jung-stuff in mind, many readers like to essentially treat The Lovers’ tableau of Divine Being and two mortal partners as a symbolic way of depicting a person’s Higher Self or overall psyche striving to integrate its own anima and animus. Or, to put it another way, the Lovers card asks us to try to better integrate any parts of ourselves that aren’t as ideally assimilated into the whole of us as we maybe need them to be…
When the Lovers card appears in a reading, then, it’s helpful to keep all three of its primary possible meanings in mind: love, choice, and the integration of parts of the self. It can be even more helpful to think in terms of both the presence and the absence of these things in the life of the querent, so as to keep tabs on the full range of potential meanings. As always, the surrounding cards (outside of single-card draws, of course) will help to point you toward the meanings that are the most on-point in a given situation.
You can ask whether the card is flagging an existing relationship…or highlighting the absence of, or need for, such a relationship. The Lovers can applaud the benefits of having or not having a primary partnership, or the card can bemoan the fact that an existing such relationship is ill-fitting or actively toxic.
You can examine whether the Lovers card is advising the querent to make a difficult choice at this time…or whether it’s forecasting that such a choice is looming just up ahead…or whether it might even be scolding the querent for not making such a choice when the time for making it had ripened. And keep in mind that Lovers choices are generally of the very binary variety that demand you select one option while completely foregoing the other.
And you can analyze possibilities revolving around the concept of integrating parts of the psyche more fully. Is the querent being too Yin at the expense of cultivating sufficient amounts of Yang-energy in life, or vice versa? Is the querent stifling impulses of a traditionally feminine or masculine nature for reasons that aren’t actually worthy (such as, “Society says that since I’m a bio-male, I shouldn’t like romance novels…so even though I love romance novels, I’ll cave in to societal pressures, and never read them…”)? Or is the card possibly even saying that all major component-parts of the self have already been successfully integrated, and it’s now time to try something completely new and different…?
The Lovers is the first Major Arcana card to focus on not just one main character in its concept and imagery, but at least three. The Majors’ sequence kicks off with a string of solo players: The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant…but then it switches here to a card that centers on either a Higher Being and two mortals, or a Higher Being and three mortals, depending on which of the most widely-used deck templates you’re working with. It therefore shouldn’t be too utterly surprising that the card also then carries with it several primary interpretational possibilities. Remember, then, when this card appears, to give each of these main possibilities some consideration, and to show each of them some love…