The Lovers: Waite’s Symbols

We continue our series of posts regarding the symbols in the Waite Colman Smith tarot deck. We compare Waite’s descriptions in the Pictorial Key, the textual descriptions by predecessors and contemporaries such as the Boot T and Mathers, as well as any “undocumented” symbolism in the illustrations, which may represent enhancements to Waite’s instructions by Colman Smith, or the latter’s own ideas.

For other posts in the series, click here or on “symbol” in the tag cloud.

6: The Lovers

ID symbol meaning
LOV Adam and Eve Waite: “youth, virginity, innocence and love… she is rather the working of a Secret Law of Providence than a willing and conscious temptress. It is through her imputed lapse that man shall arise ultimately, and only by her can he complete himself. The card is therefore in its way another intimation concerning the great mystery of womanhood.” To a certain extent, Waite may be fleshing out his point-of-view that the card does not just portray marriage, as tradition may have suggested. In the next few symbols, there will be a focus on inspiration from above, and I think that that is the ultimate message of the card: divine inspiration as the source for romantic and physical love. But as regards Adam and Eve specifically, note how Waite moves away from a simple archetype of man and woman together (compare to Plato—the Phrygian myth of Attis and Cybele, in which men and women were physically joined to make one being. That was the underlying archetype, in my opinion).
LOV serpent Waite: (it contaminates Adam and Eve) “by gross material desire.” I think the phrase reveals more about Waite than anything else. There is no similar stress on gross desire in the Book T or Mathers.
LOV sun Waite: “at zenith pouring down influences” The Book T describes the Lovers card as symbolizing “Inspiration (passive and in some cases mediumistic).” It appears that the Waite Colman Smith portrayal does indeed convey and even emphasize this. Mathers also emphasizes the pouring down of influences, more specifically, from the crown of the tree of life (Kether).
LOV tree of knowledge Waite: “Knowledge of Good and Evil… she (Eve) signifies that attraction towards the sensitive life which carries within it the idea of the Fall of Man.” This statement may be influenced by beliefs such as Mathers’ that this card represented “the Influence descending from Kether,” as already mentioned.
LOV tree of life Waite: “recognized by its twelve fruits.” I only wish to note here that the Seffirot (tree of life) of the Kaballah, of which Kether is the crown (known to more recent movie-goers, perhaps, as the Zohar) has eleven nodes.
LOV winged angel Waite: “with arms extended, pouring down influences.” I’m sure this wasn’t my original idea, or if it was, something had a heavy hand in suggesting it to me (perhaps having recently seen the film Dogma again): but notice… that angel’s hair is on fire! That means he can be one and only one angel in particular: Metatron. Since Metatron functioned as the voice of God, Colman Smith clearly marks this moment or scene as the one in which God (via Metatron) tells Adam and Eve the consequences of their sin of disobedience.
 
I should explain the reference to Metatron’s flaming hair, because it seems to be a little difficult to find: a Jewish scholar named Elisha had a vision of Metatron, ca. 1000 C.E. In the vision, Metatron appears to be almost an equal to God, because Metatron is the only angel who is allowed to sit down in His presence. This, however, is not because he is an equal, but because his job as recording angel required him to sit. In Elisha’s vision, Metatron received 60 blows with fiery rods to demonstrate that Metatron is only an angel, not equal to God. Elisha apparently explained the last part only after some time, because he was severely punished for apostasy. One final note on Metatron: the very red wings in the illustration may also be meant to identify him.

Conclusions

Waite goes to great lengths (a good long paragraph) to separate this card from what he described older illustrations conveyed, namely, marriage, conjugal faith, honor and love. His interpretation appears to be much more physical, though he appears to paper over his fixation on sexuality by blathering about “the great mystery of womanhood,” and stating that man needs woman because “only by her can he complete himself.” At some point we must brush aside the preoccupations of Victorian England (and shortly thereafter) and concern ourselves with the basic archetypes.

The Lovers

John Iacovelli

I have spent 30+ years in the computing industry. In it I've pretty much done everything from tech support for elderly people doing genealogy, to documenting compilers, to software evangelist, to direct mail guru, to CIO of an international corporation. And here I am, older and gray, getting interested in Tarot? 😉

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