On repeated occasions I have stated that perhaps the card that I dislike the most when reading with the Marseille Tarot is the card of the Lovers. Here is a man choosing between two women. On the one hand, listening to the one who has her hand above his heart, hence symbolically appealing to his brains, and on the other hand, perceiving subtly the hand of the other woman on his heart, and acknowledging it by stroking her crotch. Hmm, to think or to fuck, that is the question. ‘Who should I pick?’, our Lover boy asks, forever ambivalent and indecisive.

Photo: Camelia Elias. Cards: Wilfried Hodoin

Photo: Camelia Elias. Cards: Wilfried Houdoin


Not being able to decide is a though one, no matter what context. Consequently, experiencing a bit of celestial intervention is often welcome. Cupid shoots his arrow, and boom, the three become two. The Sun card is such a warm one, and so validating of the fact that one has made the right choice. But hey, what in the Devil? Cupid shot his arrow, and he missed? How can that be? And yet, that’s where it’s at in this three-card spread that ends with the mighty Devil.


But now to the question of agency. One of my favorites. While we may be able to determine what’s happening in the string, it’s not always guaranteed that doing nice pedestrian work, such as following the symmetry and the rhyming elements in the cards, yields satisfactory answers.

Say, we have three figures in the Lovers card rhyming with the three figures in the Devil card. In between there are only two figures in the Sun card. So what exactly are we dealing with here? Traditionally, the French would say, it’s a question of pride. The Lovers card is about partnership and the pride one feels about having made the so-called right decision. Buy why only ‘the so-called’? Well, simply because the Devil following the Sun indicates that the pride is there for the wrong reasons. L’orgueil, the French say, which has a different ring to it than in English. Hells bells.


What else are we dealing with here, if we want to rule out of the equation the boring pride connected with possession and non-negotiable control? What we are dealing with is this: The Lover having to choose between two women has a flash of insight. He makes his choice and it works for a while. But then, what in hell’s name? The Sun turns into the Devil’s head. Rays into a bat’s wings too. The two in the middle card sharing things on a mutual basis – everyone’s naked under the Sun, so the suggestion is that there’s no hidden agenda here – have now turned into puppets. So, what’s going on? Is Cupid the Sun, pretending to make the right choice for the poor Lover, and then showing off his real intention, namely, that of enslaving the ones who made a bond, whether for the right or the wrong reasons? Has the Lover turned Devilish, perhaps having regretted his choice, and now determined to enslave the women who showed interest in him? Not so easy to see what’s going on.


And yet, regardless of the context of the question – which is crucial in discerning who’s doing what to whom and why – the trajectory here is pretty forward: The Lover cannot decide. Cupid intervenes. All brilliant. But. One thing is clear: Someone gets fucked and not in a nice way. Perhaps the reason why the Lover emerges as the Devil has to do with the fact that he realizes that he made a mistake. Since he can’t live with that, he obsesses about the ‘what if’ situation. ‘What if I had gone for the other one?’, he seems to whine. Either way, this is a nasty situation.


To the Lover boys out there: when in doubt, make sure you go and consult a wise fortuneteller before you make any major decisions as to who you fancy spending your time with. To the women caught in an ambivalent situation: Walk, or remember what your mothers told you when they taught you how to stitch: use your scissors some more. Make those cuts, and don’t swoon as soon as you see Cupid coming to your rescue – supposedly. It’s not sure Cupid has a clean agenda, or your best interests at his heart.


One last point. If you are wondering about that which others call ‘real love’, here’s a fact. Love is just a construct like everything else. At the experiential level, what we call ‘love’ is a form of appreciation of the other, or concern for the other. That’s all. The sex part has nothing to do with ‘love’. At the pragmatic level, a man caught between two women, or his lover and his mother, has even less to do with ‘love’. It has more to do with choosing a path. Some are well travelled and some are not. And sometimes a man can wonder what the path he hasn’t chosen might have led to. But that’s all speculation, which in my example here leads to a form of obsession. I wish I could say that I don’t know men who obsess about ‘what might have been’, but I do. So I take that form of misery seriously.

The fact is that if we didn’t have language we wouldn’t have any of all that emotional stuff we carry around. Good stuff, for the most part, but stuff that simply wouldn’t exist without our ability to express just what we feel or what we want. Next time you say, ‘I love you,’ remember that what you’re expressing is words not ‘love’. Love is for the ‘doing’ not ‘saying’.

camelia elias, wilfried houdoin


Note on the cards: Tarot de Marseille, Edition Millenium, as reconstructed by Wilfried Houdoin, 2011.

More of this? Check out my books in the divination series: Marseille Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading and The Oracle Travels Light: Principles of Magic with Cards


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