On the First Septenary of the Tarot

By Singer Joy

Illustration by Carabella Sands

Illustration by Carabella Sands

In a play I once wrote and then hid in a drawer, I styled myself after the Magician and my parents after the Lovers. It made structural sense for the play, in which each scene was modeled after a card of the trumps major in order from beginning to end. I had a monologue which introduced the piece(1) and five scenes later my parents had a lover’s duet. Without realizing it, I had hit on a great convergence within the trumps major that would begin a two year journey of study and reflection on the pairing of the Magician and the Lovers. Though they are but a small piece of the trumps major and an even smaller piece of the tarot, aside from divinatory uses the trumps major have qualities which tend to embody elemental forces and the machinations of the spirit. Understanding their symbolic and formal similarities not only enhances the ability of the reader, but his/her/their recognizance of universal patterns and archetypes.

To begin formally, the numerological coincidence of these cards is significant. The first septenary of the trumps major contains what are by far the most human and emotional incidences of all subsequent septenaries. The Empress and the Emperor (3+4), the High Priestess and the Hierophant (2+5) and, of course, The Magician and the Lovers (1+6). The Empress and Emperor are two sides of the same coin, and each other’s obvious complement. They straddle the exact center of seven, and face off as the representatives of human wisdom at the heart of this septenary. The High Priestess and Hierophant similarly are two halves of holy wisdom, farther removed from worldly affairs.

But what of the Magician and the Lovers? They seem to represent both earthly and holy wisdom, both subjective and objective truths, both personal encounters and universal forces. It is the most asymmetric of the pairings, and yet somehow also the most symmetric. Whereas the Empress/Emperor and High Priestess/Hierophant have the same form (a single person), but complementary content (garb and environment), the Magician/Lovers have opposite form and opposite content.

To elaborate we will begin first with one, and then take a parallel analysis of the other. The Magician is, as his numerical value suggests, the essence of Oneness. He is “the unity of individual being on all planes,” (“The Magician,” Pictorial Key to the Tarot) and a representation of man in the position of the Divine. Whether or not we ascribe to the notion of the Creator being male, the Magician has in every incarnation I have come across been male. Interesting, considering that unlike the Emperor/Empress, his gender is not an integral part of the form of the card. His energy, however, embodies some characteristics we associate with masculinity; self-assertion, forcefulness, and mastery of himself and his domain,

It is not only his skill and prowess with the elements which indicate his maleness, but his solitude. He is the first man. He exists before his creations; the magick emanates from him, but he himself is pre-magical. In his mastery of magicks he has immunized himself against its effects. He is victim to the sadistic paradox posited by Sartre; his need for dominance and sovereignty presupposes that there is something which resists his domination. He must have something which he does not know in order to learn it-- something which he does not dominate in order to obtain it.

The Lovers, by contrast, are the essence of submission. They exist only for and because of each other; they are Gemini. Their interdependence reflects the dependence not only of actual lovers but of humans generally. The Magician is self-contained and isolated, but the Lovers are of the world; in most decks they are not depicted alone, but under the watchful eye of the Divine, or among the flora of the Garden of Eden. This social and interdependent quality is distinctly feminine; the two springs from the one much the same way that Eve was made of Adam’s rib, and that absence is only knowable in contrast to presence.

Another way of analyzing this intersection is to view its placement on the sacred kabbalah. Godfrey Dowson and other tarot scholars have placed the path of the Magician along the kabbalah from Kether (Crown) to Binah (Intelligence/Understanding), and the Lovers from Binah to Tiphareth (Beauty)(2). They are the only cards within the first septenary to meet at a common point. This would make them pivot on Binah, both hinging on a kind of mercurial intelligence and wit required both in spellcasting and in lovemaking. The Magician is in the position of going toward or acquiring knowledge and the Lovers going toward beauty. But does this mean that the Lovers are “moving away” from understanding-- that “love is folly,” as the saying goes? I do not think so. Though the kabbalah does imply motion from top to bottom, we ought to think of the pathways as making connections between points, rather than explicitly moving to and from them. The Lovers are caught between Understanding and Beauty(3), the Magician between primal Essence and Intelligence. Where he is always reaching outward, hands outstretched to the heavens and the earth, casting and creating, the Lovers do not reach for anything but each other. They tap into the same spiritual energy as the Magician, but they are being created(4); they are under Love’s spell, within the grasp of a force they cannot comprehend but somehow constitute.

The Magician in my play was dependent upon the Lovers for her life, and the Lovers dependent on the Magician for their depiction, their animation on the stage. As characters, my parents were a magick I could control, and as lovers they were a magick I could represent, but not inhabit. I; the playwright, the child, the Magician, and the arbiter of my own story. They; the parents and the first Lovers, whose momentary physical fusion of two into one subsequently created one.

1 The Fool, as I recall, had a sort of recurring and yet never-occurring presence, never taking a scene of his own.

2 This is but one of many interpretations of the intersections of the kabbalah with the tarot. Other scholars place these cards in other paths, but I find this to be the most true to the spiritual natures of the cards.

3 Consider Socrates’ treatment of love being inspired by the Form of beauty in the Symposium.

4 Consider Sartre’s “Concrete Relations with the Other” in Being and Nothingness.

Singer Joy, age 21, is a musician, philosopher, theatre-maker, and polytheist. She lives part time in NYC and Bennington, VT. Current projects include: writing a lesbian fantasy musical, rehearsing Kitty Brazelton’s opera "The Art of Memory," continuing her zine “Venus in Leather,” and contributing to Erotic Review Magazine. You can find her online at singerjoy.tumblr.com