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Lovers vs Two of Cups

February 28, 2014

The Lovers and the Two of Cups are two cards that seem very similar in meaning, especially based on their typical imagery.  (Compare the RWS versions).  But why should there be two cards for the same thing?  Shouldn’t there be some fundamental difference between their meanings? I would like to suggest one way to view their differences with regards to the word “love.”[1]

RWS 2.0 Lovers and Two of Cups

One reason for the conflation of these two cards is the fact that the English language has only one word for love.  The ancient Greeks, however, had several words that had different nuances.  Two of them are Agape, which means spiritual or unconditional love, and Eros, which refers to a more physical, passionate, or sexual love.[2]  There is, of course, some overlap of the two concepts, and they are integral to each other.  For example, we get married for both aspects of love.  However, their individual essences give unique flavor to the two cards, so for me, the Lovers card deals more with Agape and the Two of Cups with Eros.

With this association in mind, we can see that the Lovers card assumes a more spiritual or abstract quality while the Two of Cups is more earthy or practical in its approach.  Consequently, the Two of Cups represents the initial flush of passionate love that overwhelms two people as they fall in love, and the Lovers card indicates the concept of love and its pure essence that binds a couple many years down the line.  (This profound joining may be potential in their relationship at the outset, but Eros generally eclipses it for a time.)  The Lovers card may suggest finding love—the feeling or essential quality—generally in your life, and the Two of Cups might indicate discovering or cultivating a specific relationship.  The Lovers card may symbolize the spiritual quality of a relationship, and the Two of Cups might indicate the day-to-day work of maintaining that relationship.  The Lovers card may deal with a relationship as a separate, overarching entity that embraces and encompasses two people, and the Two of Cups may represent those two people as individuals acting within the relationship.  And so we may see the winged Lion’s head above the two people on the Two of Cups as a symbol of their passionate love and the angel above the people on the Lovers card as their spiritual connection.  In any case, a relationship is neither ONE nor TWO; it is not a single thing, and it is not simply two people.  It is both.  And these two cards deal more with one of those aspects than the other.

Recently, while reading Roger Housden’s book Twenty Poems to Bless Your Marriage, I was taken with the author’s discussion of the difference between the words Agape and Eros and how their difference was exemplified by two poems.  “We Take the New Young Couple Out to Dinner” by Carol Tufts, which is a poem about the ardor of a young couple and that of an older one, illustrates Eros.  In his poem “A Third Body,” Robert Bly describes a spiritual relationship between two people as a third body, something ephemeral which is above and beyond the two of them. That poem may be seen as a description of Agape. I would refer you to those two poems, which you can find in Housden’s book, to see if they, in their differences, might inform your consideration of the Two of Cups and the Lovers.

 


[1] Obviously there are other ways to consider the differences between these two cards.  There are many articles on this blog about both of them, and if you are interested, I would like to refer you to a list of them for the Lovers and another list of articles for the Two of Cups.

[2] Another word, Philia, has more to do with the love of friends.  The Three of Cups seems a natural fit for that one.

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