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To Be Among You: The Mystery of Love

BY Scott Neumeister May 15, 2023

Lovers card from Modern Way Tarot
The Lovers from the Modern Way Tarot by Jiri Bindels and Neil Fernando

I am not exactly sure when I first heard “Wedding Song (There Is Love)” by Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, but I am quite sure it evoked what Joseph Campbell terms (in a reference from James Joyce) “aesthetic arrest”—a moment of complete seizure when viewing a work of art. Mind you, this was in the 1970s and I was a preteen, so my stunned state was probably due more to the song’s musical rather than lyrical qualities. However, growing up in a church environment, I understood the basics of the words’ surface meaning: a Judeo-Christian view of what marriage “means.” Only later in life, did I come to realize the more expansive meanings associated with the vision Stookey evokes. So in the context of poetic images from “There Is Love,” I want to meditate on the tarot’s version of The Lovers.

“He is now to be among you”: I find it interesting that Stookey’s first word is “He.”* The song celebrates two people uniting in marriage, but this other—this third—occupies the prime spot, not “you” or “you both.” (Stookey later clarified, “In matters of theology, it’s wise that we remember, in Christ there is no East or West, in God there is no gender.”) The Rider Waite Smith tarot indeed shows this third figure as an angel hovering between the male and female. In conversation with Bill Moyers, Campbell contends, “By marrying the right person, we reconstruct the image of the incarnate God, and that’s what marriage is.” (This and all subsequent Campbell quotes are from The Power of Myth, Episode VII, “Tales of Love and Marriage.”) This incarnation of the third relates to Jung’s concept of the transcendent function, “a living, third thing…a living birth that leads to a new level of being.” (Collected Works, Vol. 8, 90) Stookey references this aspect later as he paraphrases Matthew 18:20: “Whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name.” (Lyrics by Noel Paul Stookey, ©1971 Public Domain Foundation) A joining in accord, a “union of spirits,” no matter its nature, summons the transcendent into their midst. And although “the two shall be as one,” in that one are three, the “something that you’ve never seen before” Stookey refers to later.

“At the calling of your hearts”: When Moyers presses Campbell on how one chooses this “right person,” Campbell replies, “Your heart tells you.” While the Lovers card depicts Eve and Adam naked in their pre-fallen state, their open-armed gestures indicate an even deeper vulnerability—an open-heartedness. Something about this core part–indeed, core comes from the Latin word for “heart,” cor–shows that the third is invoked and evoked from the inmost place, not the brain or the reproductive organs. Clearly Stookey wants to differentiate the “language” of the heart from that of the lower or upper chakras of the human being.

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“Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part”: The troubadours celebrated a much different view of love (Amor) than had been part of the earlier overculture—a person-to-person connection that transcends both the animalistic erotic and the generically spiritual. Campbell elaborates Stookey’s reference to the troubadour’s role when he suggests, “The troubadours recognized Amor as the highest spiritual experience,” even paradisical, as the Lovers card depicts. This is as opposed to Eros, a purely physical/psychological experience, and Agape, an impersonal, though noble, one. As the angelic presence in the card represents the third that appears in an Amor connection is both personal and of the highest spiritual order. Stookey as troubadour is reassuring the uniting couple that his work aligns with this supreme sphere of human self-actualization.

“Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again”: While overtly this alludes to the biblical story of Eve being created from Adam’s rib, a deeper reading awaits. If we use the esoteric approach of yin and yang—the feminine and the masculine as emblems—then the principle of “the receptive” drawing in, transmuting, and creating in reciprocation to “the directive” removes any hint of male primacy. Moreover, referring to the yin/yang relationship, Campbell asserts, “You couldn’t relate at all to something in which you did not somehow participate.” The male and female principles not only need each other but somehow contain each other; they are not absolute others. Nor, as he goes on to say, is the Divine. Thus Stookey encapsulates the mystery of the union of two opposites: woman and man, as well as human and divine.

“Is it love that brings you here, or love that brings you life?”: While most of us would define libido as just sexual drive or lust, depth psychology views it more subtly as energy itself, in particular the energy of life. “Libido is the impulse to life,” Campbell explains, “It comes from the heart…the organ of opening up to somebody else.” The Lovers card also portrays the Tree of Life and the serpent, symbolic of libido. So Stookey asks the philosophical question—are you getting married because that’s what people in love do? Or are you doing it because that’s what life does? “What’s to be the reason?” he wonders. Is your heart open enough to look beyond what you think of as an individual choice to see these greater powers at play? Self and other, the directive and receptive, the transcendent third, life energy itself?

I have been receiving so much pleasure later in life, having encountered the works and ideas of Joseph Campbell and many others in the fields of myth and depth psychology. And when I reexamine cultural “artifacts” from my early years—songs, books, movies, and so on—with a fresh set of lenses, I almost always find that the texts which I loved as a child hold so much hidden treasure that my childhood eyes failed to apprehend. Paul Stookey’s beautiful and seemingly simple song is a perfect example of this phenomenon, especially when contemplating the richness and complexity of the Lovers in the tarot. Perhaps it will get you closer to something you have never seen before.



Scott Neumeister is a literary scholar, author, TEDx speaker, and mythic pathfinder from Tampa, Florida, where he earned his PhD in English from the University of South Florida in 2018. His specialization in multiethnic American literature and mythology comes after careers as an information technology systems engineer and a teacher of English and mythology at the middle school and college levels. Scott coauthored Let Love Lead: On a Course to Freedom with Gary L. Lemons and Susie Hoeller, and he has served as a facilitator for the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s Myth and Meaning book club at Literati.

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Amor is neither of the right-hand path (the sublimating spirit, the mind and community of man), nor of the indiscriminate left (the spontaneity of nature, the mutual incitement of the phallus and the womb), but is the path directly before one, of the eyes, and their message to the heart.

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