Three “Lovers” Tarot Cards by Joanna Powell Colbert: Gaian Tarot, Pentimento Tarot, Herbcrafter’s Tarot
I remember buying my first tarot deck in 1970 — the venerable Rider-Waite deck (not yet called Rider-Waite-Smith in honor of the artist Pamela Colman Smith). I believe the Aquarian Tarot was also available in 1970, but that was it — at least in the dusty occult and metaphysical shops where I shopped in southern California.
Today we are blessed with an abundant, diverse cornucopia of tarot decks. So! many! decks! One of the most rewarding practices anyone can do is to think of a certain card that has caught your attention, then pull it out of every deck you own. You can search online for more versions, too. Then compare them. Which ones resonate with you, which ones don’t, and why?
The Lovers card in a tarot deck uses the metaphor of a couple (usually) to illustrate themes of partnership, cooperation, choice, balance, relationships, harmony, love, and reciprocity.
When the Lovers card appears in a reading for myself or another, I see it as an opportunity to ask the person if they are living a life of love, in alignment with their deepest values. I also like to ask:
“Who or what is the Beloved to you?”
As part of the May / Beltane session of my “Walking the Sacred Wheel” course, I created an activity centered on the Lovers card. I asked the people taking the course to do a comparison of the Lovers card from many decks, then consider what imagery they would put into a Lovers card if they created one (whether or not they intend to actually create artwork — writing a description is enough for this exercise).
As I created the exercise, I reflected on my own journey of creating three Lovers tarot cards.
Gaian Tarot Lovers
Back in the 2000s when I was creating the Gaian Tarot, my methodology was to create a thumbnail sketch that acted as a map for the finished artwork. Then I would do a photo shoot with friends who would embody the archetype of the card. I created the final artwork in colored pencil based on my own reference photos.
I asked a couple of friends of mine to pose for the Lovers card and was quite pleased with the results, although I realized that it made my Lovers card quintessentially heterosexual. I chose this couple to pose because I knew they could bring the erotic / loving energy to the card that I wanted, carrying it over from their own personal lives. The angel from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck became Aphrodite’s swan. I made sure to include doves, bees, wild roses, hawthorn, and a greenwood bower — all very May Day! — in the imagery too.
I considered creating two more Lovers cards, one of a gay couple and one of a lesbian couple, following in the footsteps of Stevee Postman’s Cosmic Tribe Tarot. In the end I ran out of time and creative energy. I didn’t create two extra, optional Lovers cards. It’s something I’ve always regretted.
Pentimento Tarot Lovers
Over the years, I had a lot of push-back from lesbian friends about the oh-so-very-straight couple in the Gaian Tarot Lovers card. I listened to them. I came to understand that depicting lovers who are outside the box of mainstream acceptance normalizes all kinds of love relationships. When I was creating my Majors-only art deck, the Pentimento Tarot, I decided to make the Lovers two women, thinking of those conversations. In my search for vintage photos to use in this collage deck, I stumbled across a photo of Frida Kahlo and one of her lovers, Costa Rican-Mexican singer Chavela Vargas. I particularly love this photo because they are laughing and full of joy. The photo is so delightful it never fails to make me grin. The Pentimento Lovers is one of my favorite Lovers tarot cards.
Herbcrafter’s Tarot Lovers
When Latisha Guthrie and I were creating the Herbcrafter’s Tarot a few years ago, I was especially pleased about the opportunity to express the Lovers as a botanical archetype and avoid human gender expressions altogether. I no longer remember whose idea it was to show two overlapping hawthorn crowns for the Lovers card, in the shape of the vesica piscis seen on the lid of Chalice Well (and on the Gaian Tarot 4 of Water card). I do remember being quite taken by the idea of frothy spring hawthorn blossoms overlapping fall’s blood-red berries, and highlighting the plant’s fierce thorns in the portion where the two circles intersect.
Hawthorn is the May-flower, the herb that heals our hearts on physical, energetic, and magical levels. The pithy wisdom statements in the companion book deeply resonate with me:
- Dance with the Beloved.
- Love blossoms, love wounds, love heals.
- Desire in spring becomes sustenance in fall.
The third statement is aspirational really, as my own marriage did not sustain me in the autumn of my life. But love did blossom and love did wound — and ultimately, love (a big, broad definition of love) did heal.
A Lovers Card for Today
As I was contemplating the three cards I created, I had to ask myself:
What would a Lovers tarot card look like if I created one today ?
I’m a woman of 70 years living alone quite happily (it took awhile to get here!). Drawing on my own experience, if I created another tarot Lovers card … I would show an aging woman who is a Lover of the World. She courts the Beloved (defined as a Place, a creative expression, friends, family, community, animal companions, the Divine) and is courted in return. She seeks out pleasure and beauty and delights in the necessity of both.
This Lover of the World doesn’t need to validate her self-worth by whether or not she is in a romantic or partnered relationship. She knows that sensuality and sexual expression is not limited to the young, the fit, the thin, the white, the able-bodied, the heteronormative, the partnered — all those things the dominant culture values so highly.
To be a Lover of the World means to allow your heart to break, over and over and over again. To allow yourself to experience the shattering. And then to rise up and love again — always.
As I was thinking about creating a new Lovers card that would reflect my experience as a Lover of the World today, I realized I already created such a card a few years ago. In 2015, I created the 9 of Pentacles for a collaborative tarot deck created by Andrew McGregor called the Triumph of Life Tarot. With “CANCER SUCKS” emblazoned on the box, the deck raised money for cancer research. (You can learn more about it here.)
Here’s what I wrote about this card for the Triumph of Life Tarot deck:
A woman deeply inhales the fragrance of a bouquet of flowers picked from her garden. Nature heals the spirit and the body. She is supported by a net woven from the prayers of all who love her. Nine spheres of light radiate compassion, comfort, and healing.
(The Sanskrit text in the background is a chant to Green Tara: “Om Tara tuttare, ture soha.” I learned this chant when a close friend was dying of cancer in 1994. A circle of friends chanted it for hours at her bedside, creating a forcefield of energy that we hoped might heal her body. Instead, it created a river of light that guided her journey to the other side.)
Lovers Tarot Cards. Top row, left to right: Modern Witch Tarot, Future Ancestor Tarot, Pride Tarot, Dark Goddess Tarot, Tarot for Kids, Forest of Enchantment Tarot.
Bottom row: Gaian Tarot, Shining Tribe Tarot, Pentimento Tarot, Herbcrafter’s Tarot, Gentle Tarot.
If you created a Lovers card, what would it look like? What imagery would you include? What would you leave out? Would you put two people in it? Three or more? Just one? No people at all? What genders would you show? What ages? What body shapes, colors, and sizes? What else would be in the card, other than the main character(s)? Who is the Beloved to you?
The world needs all kinds of lovers. What’s your vision?
What does it mean to you to be a Lover of the World?
(Pull a tarot or oracle card to spark an answer, if you like.)