Integrating Opposites

Some cards have always felt to me like they go together. Like they represent complementary aspects of the same idea, and are therefore significant when they show up together in a reading. One of these pairings, I’ve already discussed with my talk about Death and the Hierophant. Today, I’d like to talk about the Lovers and Temperance.

As pretty much every beginner’s book on Tarot says, the Lovers card does not necessarily mean literal love. It can, in some cases (although I’ve only ever seen that once, in my personal reading practice). But more often, it represents the idea of perfect opposites–two halves of a whole that balance and complete each other. This card only represents love in its truest, purest form, when it’s two partners who really seem to have been made for each other and who balance each other in every way. Otherwise, the meaning of the card is (to my eyes) much more about complementary and opposing forces: masculine and feminine, yin and yang, eros and logos, protons and electrons, even (sometimes) good and evil.

When I see the Lovers, I understand that X is inherently opposite to Y, but that at the same time, X cannot exist without Y. The Lovers is about the link between two opposites, the sense of connectedness that underlies them even though they’re (supposedly) different from each other in every way.

And in a way, this makes sense. All opposites have something in common, some characteristic that defines the spectrum upon which they fall at the poles. There’s a common theme, which tells us in what way X and Y are opposite to each other. We think of “male” and “female” as opposites, but in actuality, the two concepts are intrinsically linked to the human experience and human biology. The two are opposite expressions of this central idea, but they are actually quite similar to each other by virtue of being manifestations of the same theme. If we really wanted to find an idea that had nothing to do with “maleness”, we wouldn’t talk about “femaleness”. We’d talk about the color white, or the Adirondacks, or the rings of Uranus. We wouldn’t just shuttle back and forth between the ends of a given spectrum, but would try to remove ourselves from the spectrum entirely.

But we don’t. When we hear the word “opposite”, we’re wired to think of something that is opposite in some ways, but in others is exactly the same. This is the core idea behind how I read the Lovers.

(TdM readers, please note that the interpretation I’m giving here is based on the RWS tradition, and not on the Tarot de Marseille‘s depiction of the card as a man having to choose between reason and passion. That is a discussion for another time.)

Now, let’s move on to Temperance. Astrologically, this card is linked to Sagittarius, the counterpart to the Lovers’ Gemini, but I felt that there was a connection between these two cards even before I started serious study with astrological correspondences in the Tarot. Where the Lovers is about identifying opposites, finding complementary forces that cannot exist without each other, Temperance is about bringing those opposites together to create something new. It is the concatenation of two halves (X and Y) into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, the synthesis of disparate elements into something cohesive, new, and more powerful. In short, it’s the creation of something new out of X and Y, something marked by their sameness but purged of their differences.

Bring together the male and the female, and you create new life. Bring together man and God, and (in the Christian myth), you get a savior who can bridge the gap between the divine and the profane. This is what Temperance means to me. It’s not just about balancing opposites–that, to me, is much more the energy of the Lovers–but about the apotheosis of those opposites and the way they are elevated above themselves when they are brought together.

What does this mean in a reading? Well, to my eyes, the Lovers and Temperance together represent the process of integrating disparate energies: we start by recognizing what those energies are and how they’re linked, and then we progress to bringing them together and making something productive out of them. This can be within ourselves (if you practice shadow work, the Lovers can symbolize identifying your shadow and Temperance can symbolize accepting it as part of yourself), in love (meeting a partner and building a new life together), in business (synthesizing various interconnected elements of a project), or really in anything else.

The process is always the same: identify the forces at play (which oppose each other but are inextricably linked) and then bring them together. In my experience, the end result is always something beautiful.

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