To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, I’ll be writing on themes of love, passion, and marriage in the cards. For each weekly post, I’ve chosen some of my favorite cards that speak to each topic.
- Love: The Lovers, 2 of Cups, 6 of Cups, Temperance
- Sex: Devil, Knight of Wands, Knight of Swords, Ace of Wands
- Marriage: 4 of Wands, Hierophant, Justice, Queen of Swords (Today’s post!)
- Lovers-themed tarot decks
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Marriage in the Cards
Marriage is a more complex subject than love or passion, and accordingly can be more difficult to pick out in the cards. And weddings, a beast entirely unrelated to marriage as far as I can tell, are more difficult yet. It seems like too often when I read weddings I get cards that symbolize conflict, loss, sadness, and disruption—not surprising to most of us who get the chance to look at the situation with the panoramic perspective, but frustratingly hope-dashing to brides-to-be. (Incidentally, watch for this big picture vs. small picture conundrum with any kind of coming-of-age ritual, such as going to school out of state or starting a new job distant from the current life.) I remember musing about an unexpected card for heartbreak or loss in a spread on an upcoming wedding only to finally hit on, assisted by a dialogue with the querent, that, although it was not the current plan, there was a possibility that she and the new husband would move out of state, away from her friends and family. Voilà. Yes, her partner was committed, their love true, and the marriage would be a success—but the sadness would come from the ending of her current relationship with her family as she began a new one.
To identify marriage in the cards, it is helpful to identify whether the current relationship is the right one, whether the commitment is there, and finally whether a formal ceremony or legal contract is indicated.
Pairs for Partnership
I asked my friend Linda yesterday what cards she sees for marriage. First and foremost is to establish love, as discussed in an earlier post. Linda particularly liked the Two of Cups to indicate the type of love that leads to marriage. She also mentioned the Emperor and Empress or any of the matching court cards. Seeing any of these matched pairs, such as the King and Queen of Cups, the King and Queen of Wands, or any of the tarot couples can indicate a perfect partnership. Linda noted that the gender of the cards doesn’t matter–it’s common for any combination of romantic partners have a yin yang balance. The cards tend to express this balance, not the gender of the people involved. Seeing this balance in a spread can indicate that you’ve found The One.
Coins for Commitment
Helpfully, although marriage is tricky to pick out, it is much easier to see in the cards the security of commitment. Pentacles cards, also called the suit of Coins, are associated with the solid, fertile element earth and will address the important relationship concerns of stability and devotion. The steadiness and abundance of this suit tempt you to settle down.
The Ace of Pentacles is a new, committed relationship. The Five of Pentacles is lacking trust and/or a foundation of security in relationships. The Ten of Pentacles is a positive conclusion, lasting commitment and security, an indicator of family, and a card for co-habitation or buying a house together. The Knight of Pentacles is someone who moves slowly—this is the partner you might not even know you are dating—you get together weekly for coffee (same time, same place) but nothing says “date” about it. Meanwhile, with his friends he is bemoaning the fact that you’re not responding to his overtures! If you are patient, this Knight is one who is much more likely to stick around and grow into one of the Kings than our flighty Knights from last week. Finally, the King of Coins is the marrying type—secure, committed, financially stable, ready to make it real.
Now on to cards that address taking the step from feeling that commitment to making it legal!
4 of Wands
The Four of Wands shows four wands foregrounded with a garland of greenery and flowers draped between two of them. They form an archway-like opening through which we can see in the background the tall red turret of a gray stone castle. Framed in the portal of the wands and set in the midground are two women in white gowns, swathed in colorful mantles. The women hold bouquets and wave as they run out to welcome us. Further back, crowds of colorfully dressed people greet each other.
I saw a movie once with a scene of a Jewish wedding, including the chuppah, a canopy that the couple stands under for the marriage ceremony. I had previously been unfamiliar with this tradition. The image immediately brought to mind the Four of Wands. Ever since then I have understood the celebration shown in the card to be a wedding.
But there is more to the card, and these further influences layer on ideas of long-term commitment, with or without a formal ceremony. The number four represents solidity and boundaries. For many years (especially before knowing about the wedding ceremony), my primary understanding of the card was “hearthfire.” The four wands outline the corners of a home, the element fire adds warmth and comfort. The combination represents safety and family, food and drink, the weighty center that the household gravitates towards. When ensconced by the fireplace, there is a coziness we feel that wraps around you, letting you sink into a luxurious indolence. This is a place you could stay awhile. A relationship, a job, a home, whatever it is, the Four of Wands says you can linger here.
In relationship readings, the Four of Wands represents marriage or a long-term commitment to fostering and growing a relationship.
Called the Pope in older decks, the word Hierophant derives from the Greek hieros “holy, sacred” plus phainein “to show,” meaning one who reveals what is holy. He is the earthly magistrate of sacred laws. He knows the rules imposed by holy texts and is entrusted with the administration of their justice.
Religious authority and spiritual hierarchy in a time of the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd can make this card seem out of place and time. But the traditions of heredity and culture are exactly what this card symbolizes: following societal rituals and family customs, regardless of whether or not they make sense.
If you want a big church wedding, this is your card! In fact, I have heard some readers suggest that the two acolytes kneeling in front of the pope can represent a couple seeking a blessing on their matrimonial union.
Notice that the robes of the supplicants are embroidered one with the rose, the other with the lily, two symbols addressed in the post on Love in the Cards in the discussion of the Six of Cups. The rose with its fivefold symmetry is change and growth, the six-petaled lily perfection and completion. In addition, red is passion and white purity, appropriate symbols for lover’s troth. Back in the 90s when I was first learning tarot, I was living in a small three-bedroom apartment with my sister. Towards the end of the year we took in a third roommate, an exchange student from Hungary. One day we were discussing color symbolism and weddings and I said I didn’t see why a wedding dress needed to be white. Red would represent passion, or green could be used to invoke fertility if a family was desired. Our new roommate said that in Hungary the bride wore white, but always changed into a red dress for the reception.
The Hierophant also represents things institutional—including not only churches, but government and large corporations—the types of institutions that impose rules and regulations on their populations. Consequently this card can mean following the rules. For lovers, that might mean legalizing their partnership, usually for reasons such as tax benefits, getting health care, or other benefits the law offers.
In readings on love and marriage, the Hierophant can represent a church wedding, following family customs or societal traditions, or formalizing a commitment according to, or to reap the benefits of, the rules of legal institutions.
You might be completely surprised to see the Justice card in a list of cards for marriage. But using the Golden Dawn’s astrological associations, Justice is associated with Libra, which also corresponds to the seventh house in the astrological chart, signifying marriage and partnership.
The tropical sign of Libra begins with the Fall Equinox, when day and night are equal. The idea of balance and equality reinforces Justice’s association with fairness and impartiality. In terms of relationships, the balance is through partnership, two parties equally invested, equally committed, offering equal value to each other. Although not addressing the emotional needs of the relationship, this card tells us that the partnership is strong and balanced.
The Justice card can be associated with the legal system, so like the Hierophant, this card can indicate legally formalizing a relationship.
Qabalistically, Justice is the Path of Lamed. Lamed means “ox-goad,” a stick for prodding recalcitrant livestock. But what is relevant to our discussion (at least I hope the ox-goad is not relevant to our discussion!) is that lamed is the tallest of the Hebrew letters, extending above the top line (if you imagine writing on the lined paper used to learn to draw letters when you were a kid) and coming down to touch the bottom line. If we think of the symbolism of Temperance, which included the idea of climbing upwards towards a higher, more spiritual connection, then Justice brings us from the height of that love back down to earth where the practical details of forging a relationship come into play.
When the Justice card makes an appearance in love readings, it can indicate marriage, balanced and equal partnerships, legally formalizing a relationship, or bringing a spiritual love connection down into the physical world of reality.
Queen of Swords
The Queen of Swords, like Justice, is associated with the astrological sign of Libra, so many of the meanings listed above apply. But the Queen of Swords is a Minor Arcana, not a Major, so she is more personal and more human, less archetypal, than Lady Justice. The Queen of Swords emphasizes fairness, equality, and partnership. She would rather be with a partner than alone and values cooperation.
The Queen of Swords in a relationship spread shows up as someone who welcomes a partner. To contrast her with the other Queens, the Queen of Wands (Aries) values independence and leadership, the Queen of Cups (Cancer) is nurturing and wants to take care of others (this is a wonderful quality, but doesn’t necessarily express itself in a balanced way in relationships–it is a good significator for having children though), and the Queen of Pentacles (Capricorn) needs to establish her own security first before partnering. The Queen of Swords is ready to share equally in all aspects of a relationship. She is ready for consensus decisions and joint checking accounts!
What are your favorite cards to represent marriage and partnership in the tarot? Please share in the comments! And please visit next week–we’ll be previewing love-themed tarot decks!