6. The Lovers

Love … we endlessly sing, write poetry, and philosophize about it. Anyone who is struck by Cupid’s arrows has only one thought, only one desire: that other person. Cupid’s blindfold represents what love does to us: when the heart is on fire, our reasoning faculties disappear through the back door.
Or not? Do you have a choice? This is the theme of card number 6 of the tarot: The Lovers!

The Visconti Tarot

Already in the 15th century, this card had a deeper layer that is seen by only a few: the primal forces of love as a catalyst for the process of God-realization.

The two hand-painted cards of The Lovers from the Visconti Tarot (it was not called tarot at the time), which have been preserved, seem to be about a union between a man and a woman, with a role for Cupido. However, the entire staging of both cards is about inner processes: about the sacred marriage and the sublimation (transformation) of the sexual energies that is required for this inner union.

What first of all stands out with both cards is that Cupid is not depicted with his usual bow and arrow, but with two sticks, which he holds to left and right of his body. This represents the three energy channels that are involved in a kundalini awakening. Cupido himself stands for the energy – the divine kundalini – that flows through the spine. The two sticks represent the feminine and masculine energies (the inner polarity), which flow on the left and right side of the spine. The yoga tradition calls these two energy channels, respectively, the ida-nadi and the pingala-nadi.

Visconti di Modrone deck (15th century)

Energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening.

Rosarium Philosophorum (ca. 1550)

On the image from the alchemical manuscript Rosarium Philosophorum (above right), the kundalini energy is personified by a naked woman with golden hair, and a crown that is topped by a tree (another metaphor for the kundalini). She also holds two sticks (with a flame on it). The sun and moon next to the sticks confirm that they represent polarity.

The Visconti di Modrone Lovers

The man and woman on the Visconti di Modrone card are standing in a tent. This too is an indication that the scene is about an inner process. A tent – a temporary housing – is a common metaphor for the body.

The tent pole with a woman and a man on either side is a second metaphor on the card for the three energy channels. The woman and man shake hands; this stands for a unification of the polar energies. The man’s clothing shows – barely visible – a hexagonally shaped fountain. The same fountain can also be found on the Ace of Cups card of the Visconti-Sforza deck (below left).

A fountain is a universal metaphor for a kundalini awakening. A hexagram is the symbol for the unification of the opposites (male and female energies). The man’s tights – one leg white and one leg red – fit beautifully with the fountain on his clothing: red and white are the colors of the polar energies in alchemy.

A hexagram

Visconti-Sforza Tarot, Ace of Cups,
with hexagonal fountain.

A symbolic representation of the THREE ENERGY CHANNELS, with a FOUNTAIN as a metaphor for the awakened KUNDALINI. The healing and trans- forming, divine energies flow in three streams to body, heart (feeling) and head (thinking). Rosarium philosophorum (1550).

The tent is covered with five-petalled flowers. These refer to the ‘Rose of Venus’, an ancient symbol for the kundalini energy. On the illustration on the right an alchemist is covered with the same five-petalled roses: the kundalini energy has completely purified and transformed his body and mind.

Read more about the goddess VENUS/Aphrodite as a personification of the KUNDALINI energy.

On the roof of the tent is painted – barely visible anymore – in gold letters AMOR, as the god Cupido is also called. The Latin cupid means ‘desire’. When two people are attracted to each other, this stirs up primal forces in the lower abdomen, the area where the kundalini energy is also located. This energetic turmoil can be used to awaken the kundalini. In order for the divine energy to rise to the sixth and seventh chakra, it is important that it is not ‘spilled’ by the lower chakras through sexual activity. The energy of Amor must be brought to ‘the roof of the tent’!

On the rim of the tent is painted the coat of arms of the Visconti family: the red / white cross of the House of Savoy, with whom there was an alliance, and the so-called ‘Biscione Viscontio‘: a blue dragon-like creature spitting out a red man. Interestingly, no one seems to know the meaning of this biscione on the weapon. What exactly does it represent and what is the connection with the Vicontis? Is it a snake or a dragon? Is it a child or an adult in the mouth of the biscione ? Is it eaten or spewed out? These uncertainties are – as with alchemical images – often an indication that there is a deeper meaning behind it that people could not, or did not want to, communicate in public.

Alchemical illustration (15 the century) of the Magnum Opus (completed process of God-realization). The shell and the FIVE-PETALLED ROSES both refer to the goddess VENUS, who personifies the KUNDALINI energy.

Read more about the goddess VENUS/Aphrodite as a personification of the KUNDALINI energy.

The coat of arms of the Visconti family (Bibliothèque Nationale de France,
16th century)

Valentina Visconti depicted with the coat of arms (Miniature from ‘De Natura Deorum’ by Cicero, circa 1400)

The god Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs

Biscione comes from the Italian biscia, which means ‘non-toxic snake’. The Visconti-biscione has all the characteristics of a metaphor that refers to a kundalini awakening. A serpent is the universal symbol for the kundalini energy. The biscione is blue in color; a reference to heaven / the divine.

On many images, the Visconti biscione has feathers or a crown. Both are a reference to a full awakening. When the kundalini process has been successfully completed, the serpent is often depicted with wings or feathers. A well-known example is the god Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs, whose name means feathered serpent. Coatl means serpent and the quetzal was a beautiful native bird.

On the illustration above on the right we see how Quetzalcoatl devours a man. Being eaten by the kundalini serpent symbolises a transformation process. The Visconti biscione spits the man out: the process is complete. The color red of the man (he is not skinned, as some suggest) is an element from alchemy and is the color of a completed Magnum Opus.

The well-known Italian car brand Alfa Romeo has adopted the Visconti’s coat of arms for their logo.

The Visconti-Sforza lovers

The card The Lovers of the Visconti-Sforza deck has the same esoteric message, wrapped in slightly different images. Amor now stands on a pillar, between the man and the woman, at the height of their head: this is where he must be brought – inwardly -, this means. It is a spiraling pillar, referring to the movement of the ascending kundalini serpent. A hexagonal pattern is applied to the clothing of both the man and the woman: a reference to the hexagram. The top of the pillar is also hexagonal.

Visconti-Sforza deck (15th century)

Dish with tarot players, 1480-1510, Louvre museum

Surprisingly enough, people in the noble circles of the 15th century were very well aware of (forbidden) esoteric knowledge. This is not only apparent from the very first tarot decks, but also, for example, from a decorative dish from that time that is now on display in the Louvre Museum (above right).

The man in the middle makes with his right hand, with which he also holds a playing card (the name tarot was given to the decks later), the sign of the sacred marriage (two fingers together, 2=1). With the index finger of his other hand, he touches the index finger of the woman standing next to him, also depicting the sacred marriage.

Click here for references to the SACRED MARRIAGE in Christian art.

The Tarot of Marseille

The Tarot of Marseille presents the theme of this card as a choice. A young man is standing between two women. Both are asking for his attention. Cupid hangs above them with his bow and arrow. The details of this card are important in determining its meaning. In the versions of Jean Noblet and Nicolas Conver, the young man’s left hand stretches out to the crotch of the woman with the flowers in her hair. With his other hand he holds the belt around his waist. This combination stands for controlling the sexual drive.

Tarot of Marseille,
Jean Noblet (circa 1650)

Tarot of Marseille,
Nicolas Conver (1760)

Tarot of Bologna
(Giacomo Zoni, 1780)

In the centuries that follow, we see that the woman with the flowers looks increasingly sensual, representing seduction and sexual attraction. The other woman is wearing a laurel wreath. She stands for chastity; for overcoming the animal urges. This woman will look increasingly spiritual on decks that follow.

On The Lovers of the Tarot of Bologna (above right), the woman wears a crown instead of a laurel wreath. The esoteric meaning of a crown is spiritual mastery. The young man is standing on a road junction. He has to make a choice. We also see this element on The Lovers of the Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889) and on the mosaic of Château des Avenières (1917) below.

Also worth mentioning is the card of the Swiss Besançon Tarot (manufacturer Renault) from 1820 (right). The prominent vertical circled hem on the left woman’s dress is probably a reference to the spine.

Tarot de Besançon, 1820.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

Château des Avenières (1917)

John the Baptist, Francesco Squarcione, 1449.

The spiritual aspect of the The Lovers card is very important and can be easily overlooked due to the seeming antiqueness of its morals. It is not simply a call to chastity. The card shows that a choice must be made between either sensory pleasure or God. Not for moral reasons, but for the energetic consequences. To experience God the primal forces of our animal drives are needed. These must be saved and purified. In itself there is nothing wrong with sex and sensory pleasure, but if you long for God, then you have to choose what you will use your energies for. As the English say: you can’t have your cake and eat it too ...

In the Bible, Jesus tells his disciples: “Keep your loins girded and your lamps burning” (Luke 12:35). This is an admonishment not to waste the sexual/kundalini energy but to save it for the higher chakras (the lamps). In the painting above right, the artist has incorporated the message (veiled, but still clear enough) that John the Baptist abstained from sexual activity, as a result of which he transformed into the Christ. Read about this in my book ‘John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ’.

If you choose God, it is certainly not required that you shy away from love. On the alchemical emblems of Johann Theodor de Bry and Basilius Valentinus (right and below) we see that Cupid has an important role in the process of God-realization. The illustrations tell us that the energies of love must be stimulated. After distillation (transformation) they produce the ‘elixir of life’ (drink of immortality) that is coveted by the alchemist.

Right: emblem from ‘Proscenium vitæ humanæ sive Emblematum Secularium’ (Johann Theodor de Bry, 1627). The long tunnel represents the spine. The RED MAN and WHITE WOMAN refer to the merging of the polar energies/SACRED MARRIAGE (click here). 

Left: engraving of ‘The Fifth Key’, from the alchemical manuscript ‘The Twelve Keys of Basilius Valentinus’ (circa 1600). The alchemist fuels (man with bellows) the fire of love (Cupid). The sexual energy that is released during this process is sublimated (lion with crown). This makes the heart and the chakras fully bloom (the heart with the seven ROSES OF VENUS). The inner duality merges into oneness (one leg of the woman is shown). The top of the huge distillation flask is attached to the head of the woman: stimulated by the rising energies, the pineal gland and pituitary gland produce hormones and endogenous opiates (the ‘elixir of life’).

The Rider-Waite-Smith Lovers (1909)

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

The RWS-Tarot uses the Bible story about Adam and Eve to make clear exactly the same as all previous decks. Because the first people ate the forbidden fruits, they were driven out of paradise. This age-old story, which everyone knows, is about the choice that man has between short-lived earthly pleasures (the fruits) or the eternal divine (paradise).

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat from God, is in us, just like the Tree of Life, which stood in the middle of paradise. If we choose sensory pleasure, our life energy flows through the ida– and pingala-nadi . This is the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” If we choose God, the kundalini awakens and flows up through our spine to the crown. This is the “Tree of Life.”

Read more about the symbolism in the Bible in my book ‘John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ’

On the RWS card Eve stands in front of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the tree we see the serpent trying to seduce her to eat the forbidden fruits. When the kundalini energy is used for sexual activity, it is the serpent that seduces and incites ‘evil’ (i.e. the animal drives). The Tree of Life, which Adam stands in front of, is full of flames; a reference to the kundalini fire. The angel gestures with his arms that Adam and Eve have a free choice between the two trees.

Right: there have always been people, in esoteric circles, who knew that most Bible stories are about inner, spiritual processes. We see proof of this in countless paintings in churches and museums. In this painting by Lambert Hopfer, Adam puts his hand on Eva’s breast, when she offers him a fruit. With this Hopfer wants to make clear to us in images what the deeper meaning is of the ‘forbidden fruits’.

Below: Michelangelo dared to go one step further. On his fresco in the Sistine Chapel, in the heart of Rome, the body posture of Adam and Eve suggests oral sex.

Lambert Hopfer, 16th century,
Detroit Institute of Arts, VS

The Thoth Tarot

This card of the Thoth Tarot is also full of symbolism. Some elements refer to the sacred marriage: the inner union of the polarities (king and queen). The required sublimation of the animal instincts is symbolized by the red lion and the white eagle in the foreground.

In alchemy, a red lion represents the transformed animal forces. His tail, standing straight up, refers to the risen kundalini (see also emblem below). An eagle symbolizes completion of the process of God-realization. The color white stands for purification. Aleister Crowley himself explains these elements somewhat differently. If you are interested in his view, I recommend his book The Book of Thoth.

The Thoth Tarot (1969)

Left: The lion eats the kundalini serpent and is transformed (raised tail). In this alchemical illustration, the polar energies are represented by the red and white rose, as well as the sun and moon. (The Twelfth Key, Basilius Valentinus, circa 1600)


With many modern tarot decks, the deeper meaning of The Lovers card has disappeared. Perhaps the original meaning is best summarized with the words of God himself in the New Testament.

When Jesus wants to visit Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, he instructs his disciples to go and get him a donkey. Then We read: And they went and found the colt tied by the door, outside at a crossroad, and they untied it (Mark 11: 4). Jesus takes a seat on the animal and enters Jerusalem with loud cheers from the crowd.

The meaning of this Bible quote is: our donkey (animal / sexual energies) is at a crossroad (we have a choice). If we release the animal (not suppress the energy, but let it flow) and bring it to Jesus / God (bring it to the higher chakras), He can use it to enter Jerusalem (our heart).

Right: Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. The image on the cloth that is laid before Jesus symbolizes the rising of the kundalini to the PINEAL GLAND (click here). With his right hand Jesus makes the sign of the SACRED MARRIAGE: two fingers together: 2=1, click here. (unknown artist, 15th century, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg)

Read more about the symbolism in the Bible in my book ‘John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ’

The Magic Gate deck

(Vera Petruk, 2018)

The cobra, with its ability to rise itself and spread its hood, is used in many traditions as a metaphor for a kundalini awakening. On the card, Adam and Eve stretch out their arms to the falling blossom of the tree of life, behind the cobra. Between the roots of the tree, at the bottom of the card, lies the ‘forbidden fruit’: if the cobra / kundalini does not rise, man will be driven out of paradise. Click here for the SERPENT as a kundalini metaphor in Christian art. 

Tarot of the Spirit,
(US Games, 1992)

The sacred marriage combined with the alchemical symbol for Mercury: the god who personifies the kundalini energy. Click here for the CADUCEUS as a symbol for a kundalini awakening. 

Pagan Otherworlds Tarot
(Uusi © 2016)

With its powerful symbolism, this card hits the nail on the head!

Pearls of Wisdom Tarot
(Caeli Fullbrite, Roxi Sim, 2007)

A striking metaphor for the sacred marriage: two trees (the ida nadi and pingala nadi) merge into one (kundalini) tree.

This article has been published in Paravisie Magazine (July ’19). Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2019

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

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Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres

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