My first set of cards to contrast are The Lovers and the 2 of cups.
Each of these cards portrays a happy pairing, and is generally considered a fortuitous card to show up in most readings.
After seeing how long this discussion can get, I’ve decided to start with a comparison between images of each individual card before I move on to the contrasts between two or more cards. (While this will make for a long series, I think it will make the most useful reference in the long-run.)
The Lovers, like most cards in a tarot deck, has a range of interpretations.
It can mean love, union, intense attraction, finding value, making connections (interestingly, not always lasting connections).
It represents truth, value, opposites meeting (Consider, below, the gold crown and the flower crown, both removed from the lovers’ heads in the Shadowscapes image. Or the metal lamps-post opposite the flowering tree in the Steampunk image).
It can represent hope.
It can also be interpreted as a choice-card. In older decks the third figure was sometimes a second woman, presenting the implied duality of life-choices (often with racist undertones) that the man had to choose between.
Even with current imagery you can see the choice if you look at the pairings as a meeting – sometimes with attachment, but not necessarily a commitment – one of the differences I see between this card and the 2 of cups. In this context a choice – whether to stay or leave – is still on the table.
In most decks you have a very obvious couple, usually male-female, and often there is a third (or more) someone looking on. Perhaps witnessing or blessing the union.
As more relationship structures and the spectrum of gender identities are acknowledged, artists have responded in different ways. For example, slightly obscuring, or allowing a question of one party’s gender. There are also the animal depictions which leave more up to the readers’ interpretations.
Sometimes the picture of the Lovers offer a twist on the traditional imagery: An interracial couple, or an active (if formal/scripted) partnership, rather than a static portrait.
Then there are the broader interpretations of artists who emphasize the first-love, core essence of the Lovers card, as seeing/accepting the self (Mermaid Tarot) and/or making room for multiple and different combinations of partners (Numinous Tarot).
All these create visual commentary as they invite us to consider – or expand – our vision of what we consider love, or value in a relationship.
Next time I’ll lay out the images for 2 of cups and we’ll start to see the overlap in art and interpretation.