My Lover, My Love, My Reflection

The desire for love is a universal one; it shows up in nearly every reading I have ever done, a fact that emphasizes the centrality of human relationships in health and well-being. Everyone wants to see The Lovers card come up in their readings. People commonly ask, “Will I meet someone soon?” “Is this person The One?” “When will I find love?” “How is my relationship?” In fact, the desire for love is so primal that I have seen the sheer force of desire influence readings, steering them away from the truth, towards merely reflecting the querent’s overwhelming desire to fall (or stay) in love.

This awe-inspiring drive can cause us to be less than rational, inspiring incredible hopes that illicit lovers will leave their spouses to be with us, constant suspicions that a faithful person is cheating, dreams of abusive partners realizing the errors of their ways and changing overnight, even fantasies of people falling madly in love with us in spite of the fact that they have no idea who we are! I’ve seen each of these during tarot consultations, and many more. It’s easy to roll our eyes and laugh at the silliness of it all, but be warned: the slings and arrows of love and heartache catch us all at some point or another—usually many times throughout life.

Yet, The Lovers card represents so much more than just a romantic relationship or a flourishing sex life. The Lovers card represents relating in all its forms: all kinds of love, all kinds of partnerships, all kinds of dualities. This card is Gemini—the twins Castor and Pollux of Greek mythology, yin and yang, sibling deities Apollo and Diana, male and female, black and white. While clients are often tempted to believe that The Lovers card represents purely lovey-dovey-squishy romance, the card can indicate marriage, an affair, a business partnership, or even a sibling rivalry, depending on the context of the question and the cards that surround it.

The point of The Lovers card is this: in any relationship that is healthy and functioning, 1) both part(ner)s have to be equal, and 2) they must be equally special. That power and control must be balanced between the two people is (hopefully) the obvious piece of the equation. The less frequently noted piece is that each partner must be held in equal esteem and value—neither person should be more important, more valuable, or more desirable than the other.

In romantic terms, The Lovers represents a relationship in which neither party takes precedent over the other, and both parties prize their beloved beyond measure. Furthermore, each partner is able to love with this kind of depth and intensity because they look at their beloved and see themselves reflected back to them through their beloved’s humanity. Each partner knows that both people deserve to love and be loved. It is a perfect example of the Sanskrit blessing Namaste: “the divine in me recognizes the divine in you.”

On the other hand, when The Lovers card is ill-aspected, it can represent all kinds of disasters that occur in relationships, such as abuse, control, infidelity, immaturity, sexual issues, and insecurity.

As The Lovers are card VI in the major arcana, the sixes in the minor arcana support The Lovers by illustrating the ingredients of any healthy relationship: intellectual honesty (6 of Swords), the desire for win-win outcomes (6 of Wands), a willingness to engage in fun, pleasure, and healing (6 of Cups), and the ability to work towards success (6 of Disks). The presence, absence, and position of these cards appearing in a reading can tell us much about where the relationship needs support or adjustment.

Outside of romantic interpretations, The Lovers can indicate: an important decision that establishes independence; adolescence; a difficult choice between two desirable options; a commitment of some kind; the primacy of a particular relationship or partnership in a person’s life; and the life-force energy created by the synergy of relating. Ways in which people, situations, and paths are different, yet alike, are highlighted. After all, every pair of seeming opposites is but both sides of the same coin.

The Hierophant and the Illusion of Struggle

For the first third of my life, I strongly identified with the number 5. The association existed for a variety of reasons, including my affinity for the symbolism of the pentacle, with its five points representing the four elements and Spirit. I also appreciated the human form as a five-pointed star: arms, legs, and head, similar to Da Vinci’s “The Vitruvian Man.” Numerologically, my name was also a five; there were several other coincidences in my life that contributed to this association of my identity with the number 5.

When I began working with the tarot, the fives came out to play! Unfortunately, I quickly learned that in the tarot, fives represent struggle. And truth be told, struggle was also a large part of my identity. For many years before and after I began reading tarot, my life seemed to be a constant struggle to feel safe—in my finances, in my career, in my love life, in my family, and on and on. It seemed like everywhere I went, struggle wasn’t far behind. The cards reflected this back to me, showing up in every reading I did for myself. I grew so tired of seeing Worry (5 of Disks), Disappointment (5 of Cups), Strife (5 of Wands), and Defeat (5 of Swords), that I even came to dread seeing The Hierophant, the number 5 in the major arcana.

To my mind, The Hierophant was the representation of the patriarchy—particularly patriarchal organized religion. After all, The Hierophant is the teacher of tradition, the priest who presides over the flock, the enforcer of social constructs, the family, and the rules. He represents The Church, which benefits from a system of subservience. In my mind, he was associated with the devaluing and debasing of the Divine Feminine, and the struggle of the common people, whose labors support the existence of the state. I was a little jaded.

And guess what.

The Hierophant is all those things.

But he is also so much more.

Take, for instance, The Hierophant as the representative of The Church. If there is one thing The Church has, it’s wealth. Think of the Catholic Church and the Vatican, with its own economy, bank, jewels, gold and precious metals, priceless manuscripts, antiquities, and on and on. Not to mention cold, hard cash. The Church has abundance in spades.

We can look at this as evidence of power plays and wrong doing, or we can see The Church as a microcosm of the Universe, in which there is no such thing as poverty. There is no limit to the resources of The Church, or the Universe. There is nothing it cannot reach, cannot help, cannot save, cannot endure.

Now, apply that idea to the Hierophant and the fives. The Hierophant represents the unending abundance and providence of God/Spirit/Universe. The fives are the lessons. There is no such thing as not enough, so when the fives come up in readings, it is to remind you that there is no such thing as limited resources in the Universe:

  • Worry: there is no “pie” of economic security, for which you must fight for your slice.
  • Disappointment: there is no such thing as having to prove yourself worthy of love–you ARE love.
  • Strife: there is no separation between you and God/divine inspiration.
  • Defeat: the truth is the truth, regardless of whether it is spoken or acknowledged.

The pain of struggle is the illusion of separateness from the abundant flow of Universal love and harmony.

The struggle is not real.

The pain is not real.

The fear is not real.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert, “Litany Against Fear,” Dune


Did we just defeat fear and solve all our insecurities with a simple card? I think we did.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Hierophant is the teacher. He represents education and the leveling of the playing field that comes with it. He is the spiritual sustenance we gain from studying the lessons of whatever spiritual path we follow. He is the safe harbor of the family and its loyalty. He is the sense of one’s heritage, past, and identity. He represents growth, faith, trust, practice, and familiarity in all forms. To learn from The Hierophant is to learn and trust your place in the Universe—both integral and insignificant—and to rejoice in it.

Calling In (and Calling Out) The Emperor

Card IV of the tarot’s major arcana, The Emperor is the very picture of stability. Like the four legs of a table, the four walls of a fortress, or the four cardinal directions, The Emperor has his bases covered. His boundaries are clearly defined and enforced. His tools are the four of each suit—the 4 of Disks (power), the 4 of Cups (luxury), the 4 of Wands (manifestation), and the 4 of Swords (negotiation).

The Emperor, Crowley-Harris Thoth deck

The Emperor doesn’t just ask for his boundaries to be honored, he demands and expects it. In so doing, he provides for himself and those in his care. He is power and authority, sacred masculinity, leadership and dominion. He is the representation of society, commerce, and government during safe and prosperous times. He is also the bearer of tradition and the representation of the father.

The Emperor card often brings up thorny issues for people. How many of us struggle with making and enforcing personal boundaries? How many of us are afraid or distrusting of authority? How many of us have unresolved issues with our fathers?

How many of us thwart our own success and prosperity, because we are afraid of it? I can speak from years of experience: lots, and lots, and lots of us. In spite of all the wonderful things The Emperor has created, the bounty is not without its dark side.

Sometimes The Emperor takes his power too far. He becomes domineering, egotistical, abusive, or tyrannical. Then the question becomes, who’s going to stand up to him? Who will be the first to point out that he is, after all, only human? How do we stop the despot we installed? Remember the story of The Emperor who was wearing no clothes? The persons and institutions that have power, only have that power because “we the people” imbue them with it.

The Emperor teaches us that we are each and every one of us a ruler. We decide our fates, by choosing to be active creators or passive consumers. As we come into our own, we must first learn society’s rules, so that we can go on to develop our own standards of conduct and become our own agents. If we ever hope to lead, we must develop our own vision, sense of efficacy, and code of ethics.

Traditional Rider-Waite Emperor card

The strength of The Emperor is flowing through us when we finally set boundaries with those who tread on us. We channel him when we approach problem-solving with a rational and logical mind. He is present when we follow our own instincts to decision and action. We are working through his archetype when we know just what to do and we move forward with surety and confidence. Ultimately, The Emperor teaches us to maximize our potential, to seize the day, to maintain our integrity, and to lead by putting the good of all above the advantage of the self.

The Empress, the Trinity, and the Motherhood Question

The Empress card is Venus, signifying beauty, mercy, abundance, and love. She is associated with deeply experienced emotion—often seemingly without rationale or reason—as well as sexuality and creativity generously and joyously inhabited.

The Empress is also the number 3 in the major arcana of the tarot, which recalls the Trinity, a concept present in spiritual, psychological, and philosophical traditions across time and around the world. The Trinity often represents stages, phases, levels, or roles in the human experience. Consider these examples of ways the number 3 crops up in our collective conscious:

  • The Maiden/Mother/Crone
  • Father/Son/Holy Spirit
  • Mother/Father/Child
  • body/mind/spirit
  • id/ego/superego
  • unconscious/subconscious/conscious

As the second card of the Divine Feminine in the tarot, The Empress symbolizes motherhood, sensuality, and emotion. And with the number 3 as considered above, she echoes the suggestion of creation, as in mother, father, and the child they produce; or as in the maiden progressing into the fullness of motherhood before dying back into her croning.

One of the lessons the tarot so deftly teaches is that we all experience every archetype at one time or another in our lives, although we do not experience them in the same ways. Regardless of gender, spiritual path, culture, or age, the archetypes themselves are universally present for all humans. The Empress is a really profound and poignant example of this point.

It is tempting to believe that she only represents motherhood—specifically, women who are pregnant or mothers. Yet, not all humans are woman-identifying. Not all women can physically become pregnant. Not all women choose to carry and birth children. At any given time, perhaps a fifth of the world’s population is actively engaged in pregnancy, lactating, and raising their birth children. What about the other four fifths of humanity? How does The Empress manifest in their lives?

Today, we understand The Empress in a much broader context, because we interpret the ideas of pregnancy, incubation, and nurturance differently. We are “pregnant with possibility;” we have “fertile” minds and fields; we “incubate” businesses; we “nurture” partnerships; and so on. In this spirit, we are invited to consider that The Empress can represent our involvement with art, projects, businesses, relationships, homes, gardens, families, associations, and any other entity that exists outside ourselves, purely because we made the effort and emotional investment to make them real.

The Empress’s presence is felt whenever we act with both love and wisdom; whenever we approach life with a trusting and balanced heart; and whenever we reconnect with nature and the joy of being alive. These are things that know no gender, no age, and no race. Therefore, she is present not just at every birth, but at every adoption, every grand opening, every graduation, and every marriage. She is the energy behind a flourishing garden, a beautiful meal, a warm and inviting home, a book finally written, and an idea whose time has come.

The High Priestess and the Angel of Rainbows

I have been to many readers and intuitives over the years, and I have learned from and found value in nearly every intuitive reading I have ever received. But I have only met one true psychic (and by psychic, I personally mean someone who gives intuitive readings without using any outside tool such as cards, runes, crystals, etc.). His name was Bobby Drinnon, and he was honestly one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Bobby read for no less than three generations of my family, and although he is no longer with us, his predictions are still coming to pass in our lives today.

I met Bobby when he was around 50 years old. Even then, he had snow-white hair past his shoulders, and the most radiant face I’d ever seen. His energy glowed, similar to the way women “glow” when they are pregnant, and his kindness was unlike anyone I had ever met. To be near Bobby was truly like being in the presence of an angel. As soon as he saw me, he hugged me and told me how excited he was to meet a member of his family, and that he and I had been having a lovely time talking all morning! We sat down across from each other at his desk, surrounded by rainbows (his favorite symbol of God’s love), and he began to simultaneously read for me while dashing off important notes—with illustrations, no less!—at a furious pace. I watched and listened in utter amazement.

In addition to giving psychic readings and reading auras, Bobby could also read the energy of people in photographs and the energy of important objects. On that first visit, I took him my tarot deck. He held the cards in his hands, closed his eyes, and smiled. “These are a powerful tool, and you are good with them,” he said. “But you don’t need them.”

I chuckled nervously and he reassured me, “You can do everything I can do, and you don’t need them. One day you’ll read for people just like I do, without these.” As he reached across his desk to hand them back to me, he said, “They are very nice, though.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but he was telling me exactly what he had been told by his mentor years before, when he was also a card reader about my age. It is the one of Bobby’s predictions for me that has yet to come to fruition, but it is the most precious to me. For all I know he may have delivered this message to every card reader he ever met, but it gives me great hope that I could perhaps grow to be like him in even the smallest measure.

Being near Bobby, for me, was like receiving a glance from the archetype of The High Priestess. Talking with him, and experiencing his other-worldly peace, was the closest I had ever come to looking beyond the veil. Bobby wasn’t just comfortable with ambiguity, he was at home in it. He was confident in what he knew, without feeling the need to justify or explain how he knew it. He had a deep pool of faith, in himself, in God, in humanity, and in the intricate workings of the universe. He often said, “God is in charge, and everything is on schedule.”

The High Priestess from the Rider-Waite and Crowley-Harris Thoth decks.

The High Priestess (number 2 in the deck) is the archetype that embodies this quiet inner knowing that I was drawn to in Bobby. The High Priestess is the moon, illumination in the darkness, mystery, hidden knowledge. Anyone can see reality when it is lit by the bright, golden sun, but it takes a certain kind of mysticism to discern reality by the dim, silver light of the moon. Like Bobby, The High Priestess feels safe and calm in the dark corners of the psyche, because she knows that the dark holds the keys to understanding and properly using the light.

The High Priestess is also one of the faces of the Divine Feminine in the deck. She is the dark half of the feminine—not motherhood and sensuality (which is the Empress), but mystery and intuition. She is Shekinah, Sophia, Isis, Diana, The Papess, The Psychic, The Witch. She is menstruation, virginity, celibacy, menopause—a whole unto herself. She is comfortable with introspection and solitude, the dark and the unknown.

Even though the archetype is feminine, The High Priestess energy is available to us all, and is a part of the human experience. The High Priestess is at work in our lives any time we have a deeply meaningful experience or profound realization—sometimes we witness birth or death, or we fall in love, or make some intense discovery about ourselves. We feel undeniably changed by it. It was absolutely real, and yet, when we try to explain it or express it to others, the gravity of the experience slips through our fingers like grains of sand. The attempt at rationalizing or sense-making kills the wonder, the magic, and the profundity of being a spiritual being in a human body.

She is also present in our lives when we, for no apparent reason, just know something. Intuitive insights come in all forms—not just pictures, sounds, sensations, and symbols, but also in information that simply pops into our minds and that we know in our gut is true. The ultimate lesson of The High Priestess is to be comfortable with and to trust the unknown, the inexplicable, and the inexpressible.

Tarot Becoming The Magician

Sometimes an archetype’s impact on our lives only become clear in retrospect. My own journey to launching my first business, The Hermit Priestess, is one example that I look back on and clearly see moments when I both embraced and admittedly ran from the lessons The Magician was bringing me. In the two decades since I first encountered the cards, I have discovered my calling in spiritual counseling with the tarot.

I found my partner, Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris’s Thoth Tarot, shortly after I began learning to read tarot, and it has been my faithful companion since. In these early years, I also developed a spread of my own, as none of the traditional spreads really resonated with me.

An alternate Magician card in The Thoth Tarot

After several years of working with the cards, I fell into a rhythm of reading for strangers by looking at the cards and allowing my mind to loosely create the story that they told. As I would begin to tell the story that my logical mind understood from the cards, at some point intuition would take over, and I would simply become the conduit for the querent’s (client’s) higher self. Frequently, folks would return to me and say, “Remember that crazy thing you said was going to happen? It happened!”

Of course, I often didn’t remember, because when I do my job well, I become the channel for higher truth—not my truth, but theirs—so I don’t really need to be “present.” In fact, the less I interject my own “common sense” into a reading, the more likely it is to ring true to the querent. I learned to say whatever came to me intuitively, no matter how little sense it makes to my waking mind.

When I graduated college and started graduate school to pursue a “real career,” I slowly drifted away from the sacred work I had been doing with the tarot and spiritual counseling. As I worked to progress in my chosen field—social work—I actively began to hide this part of myself. I was afraid if people knew I read tarot, I would lose credibility in the so-called “professional world.” So I stopped reading for the public, and only shared my secret with those whom I decided were “safe.” For ten years, I practiced my art in private with close confidantes.

All that was fine and well, until a few years ago, when people began encouraging me to share my readings more widely.

One dear friend said, “I have never seen you more powerful than you are when you have that deck in your hands.”

An alternate Magician card in The Thoth Tarot

Her comment hit me like a ton of bricks. Here was a person who had worked with me “in the real world,” telling me that my parlor tricks were more powerful than my degree and my license! I admit, I had the audacity to be hurt by my friend’s incredible gift of acknowledgement and validation, as if somehow I was less-than for having this skill. It took me years to re-think her words and how I felt about them.

More recently, another friend sat back in her chair at the conclusion of her reading with me, and said, “I’m just amazed that you aren’t doing this all the time!”

These and many other compliments are extremely nice things to hear, but anyone can learn to do what I do. We are all intuitive, and we each have access to our higher selves and Universal wisdom. All it takes is time and practice. I acknowledge that the tarot is not the specific tool for everyone, but I have learned that tarot reading is indeed for me; this I cannot seem to shake no matter how hard I try. I’m not perfect, and there are many things I have failed at, but this seems to be my gift—the unique thing I have to offer to others to help them be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled.

I eventually came to call what I do “spiritual counseling,” because I help clients make decisions that will be in their highest good. My readings often take the form of a conversation, and I regularly use what I learned in my years as a social worker to help clients access the resources and help they need. I take this work seriously and regard it as sacred and holy work. Clients come to me for help and solace in some of the most important times in their lives; it is an honor and a privilege to sit with them, hold space for them, and help them access the wisdom they need to move forward.

I also learned to charge for my services for several reasons. First of all, I charge because I have spent years learning my craft, practicing, meditating, and deepening my understanding of it. Doing readings for people is also intense work; it costs me in time and energy, for which I deserve to be compensated. Most of all, I charge because I have seen repeatedly that what people get for free, they do not use or value. When folks pay a premium for a service or product, they are more likely to take it seriously and use it to their advantage. By charging for my work, the client and I are engaging in an equal exchange, one from which we can both walk away feeling honored, valued, and fulfilled.

All these lessons and their accompanying epiphanies are examples of The Magician archetype at work in my life. The Magician’s number is 1, the number of unity, independence, action, and one of three representations of the divine masculine in the deck (the others are The Emperor and The Hermit). We all inhabit The Magician when we master our craft, become experts in our field, or become competent in something. The Magician is equipped with all the tools he needs—the wand (intuition and inspiration), the cup or chalice (access to emotion), the sword (knowledge and wisdom), and the coin or pentacle (physical health and tangible resources)—to manifest anything he desires.

The standard Magician card in The Thoth Tarot

The Magician is the channel, the principle of communication and infinite connectedness, and the conduit between thought and reality. You can see The Magician at work in your life during moments when you feel confident in your ability to complete a task, bring something into fruition, or achieve a certain outcome. It’s when you feel powerful and motivated. 

The Magician is also Mercury—the Communicator and Messenger of Ideas. When Mercury is retrograde (or reversed, in tarot terms), communication is bungled. What is intended is not necessarily conveyed, and processes are impeded. When we deny The Magician’s power in our lives, we deny our own capability and accountability for what our lives look like. In the worst case, an ill-dignified Magician is someone using their skills, talents, and tools—their power—for nefarious purposes.

The lessons we learn at the hand of The Magician are to channel our energy into productive things, to work toward mastery of something we value, to be intentional with the ways in which we communicate, and to use our resources wisely and fairly.

The Fool and the Cards

I have been reading the tarot for over 20 years. Cards, in one form or another, have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, however. Some of my earliest memories are of playing Memory, Go Fish, and Old Maid with my mother. My father’s family has a longstanding tradition of playing poker at family gatherings, and I learned the family ethos of proper card playing—superstitions and all—by the ripe old age of nine. A deck of cards fit easily in my hands even when I was small, and I spent many hours learning to shuffle them, bridge style, just like my parents. I spent my teen years honing my strategy and skill in card-playing, always up for a game of Spades in my public high school’s bored classrooms, and becoming ruthless in my Phase 10 and Rummy tactics, which were endlessly sharpened against my unbelievably cunning and merciless kid-sister’s game.

So it should have been no surprise that I would find my divination tool when my best friend and I sat in her first “grown-up” apartment after high school and she brought out her brand new tarot deck. When we first began playing with this novelty, we spent many hours doing readings and taking copious notes on everything from the moon phase, to the weather, to any cards that fell out during shuffling—anything to help us make some sense out of what they were telling us. I knew enough to know that I didn’t know what I was doing yet, but I was irresistibly drawn to the archetypes on the cards, as well as the familiar form of the cards themselves.

Later, as a college student, I got a job at a local metaphysical bookstore that offered tarot readings. I had mentioned to coworkers that I was learning to read the cards, and one day the owner of the store casually asked me to read for him. I did—horribly—looking back now, I think I even used the little book that accompanied my deck! When we finished, he asked if I would like to read at the store, and I answered that I’d love to someday.

“All right then,” he said. “You start next Saturday. Better spend the week studying that book, because as of next weekend, you won’t have it as a crutch anymore.”

To say I was stunned is an understatement. Even though I was sure he had made a mistake, that I was not fit to charge people for my readings, I was excited in spite of myself. I spent the week poring over books at home and in the store, and feeling extremely anxious. The next weekend, I became The Fool, stepping off the ledge into the unknown, as it is for everyone who first learns to do something as a hobby and then makes the leap into doing it professionally.

The Fool, as depicted in the Rider-Waite and Crowley-Harris decks. 

The Fool’s number is 0. It is not really a number—it’s the absence of quantity, the absence of matter. It is nothing and everything at the same time, because it contains all possibilities. It is the unhatched egg, the pregnant belly, the empty stage, tabula rasa. When we embody The Fool, we pay no mind to all the fears and reservations we and others around us have. We simply move through inspiration, without expectation or demand, trusting that whatever is supposed to happen, will. This state of no-thing-ness, of neither-here-nor-there-ness, occurs multiple times in our lives—as a matter of circumstance and as a matter of choice. As that old song says, “Everybody plays the fool…”

However, when we resist being The Fool, things can get messy. We may still be having a new experience or entering a new role, but we may be going about it reluctantly or even recklessly. Being The Fool inevitably means making mistakes—that is crucial to the experience and the learning—but problems arise when we are unwilling to face that we are, in fact, a neophyte and not in control.

To understand the power of this archetype, think back to a time when you took a leap of faith. How would your life have been different if you hadn’t taken that chance, followed your instincts, and left the beaten path?

How would my life have been different if I had thanked my boss, but said no, thank you?
How would my life have been different if I had chosen a different college?
Taken that job?
Moved to that city instead?

We can point to these divergences of paths as points that changed us. We would literally be different people than we are now. The Fool teaches us that before each choice we make, there is a moment in which we stand in the unknown. It contains every possibility, every outcome. It is the moment of stasis, when all is balanced and in harmony, just before the scales tip and we make our choice.

Each of us will surely be The Fool again one day, stepping off the ledge into the bright and weightless air of the future, our hands open and empty. The great lesson of this card is learning to embrace possibility instead of being afraid of it.