words + photo + playlist: Zoë Madonna
The Hierophant, our last card, can look like all sorts of things. It’s a pope! It’s a book! It’s a bird!
But it’s pretty invariable that the Lovers card is going to look like a couple in love. Sometimes there's an angel eavesdropping on them, but in more modern decks, usually not. Next to Death, the Lovers is probably the most commonly misinterpreted card. “I got the Lovers! Am I gonna find true love tomorrow?”
Sorry, don’t shoot the messenger. But that’s not what it means. At least, not the way you’re thinking about it.
If the Lovers comes up in a reading, it’s inviting you to think about how you express your love, where you choose to direct it. Where your bonds (with individuals, groups, communities; with a passion, a job, a hobby…) are strong, and where they have frayed. The Lovers can indicate life-changing love, but not usually new life-altering love.
It also sometimes comes up when you’re at a fork in the road, when you have to choose between one thing and another, or it feels like that’s what you have to do. If you feel like you made some kind of promise (to another or yourself) in the past to do or be one thing, but doing or being that thing wouldn’t serve you well in the present, the Lovers have a message for you.
Because most importantly, the Lovers also invite you to love and encourage yourself like your best beloved beings love and encourage you, or like you’d like your best beloved to love and encourage you. Just like the Hierophant’s lesson is at heart that you’re the best teacher you’ll ever have, the Lovers invites you, dear reader, to be your own number one.
It’s not encouraging you to move through the world without giving any thought to how your actions affect others, but it’s giving you the gentle question: “what if you treated yourself like you’re the most important person in your life?”
Yeah, easier said than done. I know from experience. It’s been pretty difficult to love myself since for-fucking-ever ago, since I can remember. Self-love is hard work. I have Very Mixed Feelings about the oft-repeated adage to the tune of “you can’t actually love someone else if you don’t love yourself!!”
But the Lovers card reminds us that at least we can try.
Teardrop - O’Hooley and Tidow
Because love is a doing word, and because O’Hooley and Tidow’s tiny cover of this song strips it down to the very basics.
Heaven Is A Place on Earth - Belinda Carlisle
Have you seen the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero?” Well, if you have an hour to spare, open a new tab, open up Netflix, and watch “San Junipero.” I’ll forgive you for abandoning this article.
I used to think of this song as the kind of stuff I’d hear rattling out of the PA system at Walgreens, and then I saw “San Junipero,” and now I can’t fucking listen to fucking “Heaven is a Place on Earth” without getting the shivers. In fact, I had a hard time making this playlist because after seeing “San Junipero,” I couldn’t think of any song better than “Heaven is a Place on Earth” for the Lovers, and if Black Mirror ever made the world’s bleakest tarot deck, Kelly and Yorkie would be on the Lovers card.
“Heaven is a Place on Earth” shows up twice during the episode. The first time, it’s just establishing the setting and time period. The second time...well, in the context of the episode, “Heaven is a Place on Earth” goes on to all the meanings under the umbrella of the Lovers; life-altering love, life-altering decisions, seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you, and ultimately making what you feel is the best choice for yourself NOW, not your past self.
I can’t talk about the particulars without spoiling it, and I owe everyone who hasn’t seen “San Junipero” the chance to watch it unspoiled. So you’re just gonna have to trust me on this one.
Oops (Oh My) - Tweet
When this certified bop dropped in 2002, people heard these lyrics and thought it only could be about one thing:
"Oops, there goes my shirt up over my head (Oh my)
Oops, there goes my skirt droppin' to my feet (Oh my)
Ooh, some kinda touch caressing my legs (Oh my)
Ooh, I'm turning red
Who could this be?”
Parents didn’t let their kids sing it. A DJ introduced it as “that nasty, nasty, nasty song.” Thirteen years later, Pitchfork included it on its list of best songs about women masturbating.
But ever since it came out, Tweet’s been saying that the song wasn’t actually about masturbating. As she told Bustle in 2016, she got the idea after a guest on Oprah advised viewers to look at themselves in the mirror naked.
"It was empowering for me to write the song because I felt like I didn’t love myself. I came from a time where my skin — being a dark-skinned woman — it wasn’t really 'in'. I would always be teased for my skin color. I would always be called different names for my skin color, so I was empowering myself in writing the song."
But if her song made you more comfortable with your body in any way, she’s happy for you.
Stuck With Me - Tinashe and Little Dragon
What I Need - Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani
Little Cup - Thao and Mirah
The Lovers card encourages us to love ourselves, and decide who we connect with from a place of self-love. Tinashe arranged her collaboration with Little Dragon by her own self; the longtime Little Dragon fangirl literally slid into their DMs. Hayley Kiyoko (a gay woman) and Kehlani (a queer woman) got together to make the TREMENDOUS love song “What I Need,” with its video that, for once, doesn’t fetishize girls kissing for straight men. (See also: Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer.”) And Thao Nguyen and Mirah’s collaborative album doesn’t sound particularly like either of their solos - which you should totally listen to. They gave some of themselves, and got something even bigger back out.
Sick - Den Mate
I was struggling to find the perfect eighth song for this playlist. I always have a hard time finding the last ones.
Then I caught up on reading TGE posts and found something perfect.
Jules Hale of Den-Mate said to Stereogum:
“Sick” is a song that is really defined by how you interpret it. It could be looked at as a big love song, but I personally see it more as a self-love song through making difficult decisions. When you’re upset and you lose sight of yourself, it isn’t a pleasant experience but there’s a sense of relief once you get something off your chest and express yourself earnestly. It’s self-love through a hurdle of a harrowing experience.
Let’s Dance - David Bowie
Sometimes I think hearing a certain song will always slightly improve my mood or give me a boost of confidence. make me feel like the world is a little brighter, a little less hostile, a little more worth exploring.
Then something happens and that gets tied to a particular person, place, thing, memory.
This has not happened for this song for me yet. I hope it never does. I hope I can keep hearing that Beatles-style stack of “ahhhs” and feeling that irresistible compulsion to move my body and grin like a doofus.