The Lover's Path: Desire - Tristan and Isolde


In The Lover's Path, the Chariot is represented by Desire, embodied in the story of Tristan and Isolde. Desire is the key card for the suit of Cups, which tells the lovers' tale in further detail. While I would think of a natural link from the Lovers card to Cups, connecting the ego driven force of the Chariot to the suit of Cups provides an intriguing perspective. In this model, the driving energy of the libido engages us in the emotional pursuit of love and unity: the life force of our instincts awakens us and brings us to passion.

There are several variations on the story, but in each there is a deception in which Tristan of Cornwall appears to Isolde of Ireland as her potential lover. When she discovers this trickery, her interest turns to hatred. Isolde is then obliged to enter into a political marriage with King Mark of Cornwall. As Tristan escorts Isolde to meet King Mark, they drink the love potion together, Isolde believing that it is a death poison which will save her from loveless union. And in a sense it is, for in the potion they die to the past and to themselves, living henceforth in each other.

This new passion brings both lovers into further deceitful situations, for now Isolde will betray her husband, and Tristan will betray his friend and patron. In a perfect world the rare beauty of their transformative love would prevail, but in this story their passion soon brings them both to an early death.

In John Haule's online book, Divine Madness: Archetypes of Romantic Love, this powerful story is a continuing theme. In Chapter One, John suggests that even within the moral framework of the time, the depth of their love was valued and favoured:
Unlawful as this love may be, however, the stories agree that God surely tolerates and may even actively favor the union. For example, in the story of Tristan and Isolde, the lovers are brought together again and again by fortuitous (God-directed) natural events, such as the currents of the sea and the birds of the air...they are confronted by the Hermit Ogrin who tells them they are living in sin. They protest that it cannot be sin, as they have drunk a potion that puts it beyond the power of their wills to separate. The Hermit accepts the argument and takes them under his roof.
For me, the most moving expression of this story is Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde. Although the First Act gets off to a bit of a slow start, the Second and Third hold profound treasures, particularly the exquisite duet, O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe - Sink Down Upon Us, Night of Love. In this exquisite music we plunge into the endless depths of an erotic love fueled by inexorable desire.

In the card itself, Kris has painted and extremely romantic and powerful vision of these two tragic lovers. Standing above the wind forced cliffs of Cornwall, the pair press together in tight embrace, Tristan's black cloak extending behind Isolde to cut off the storm, an image of the intimate inner world they are creating together. Within this glorious space, Tristan lays his head tenderly on Isolde's passionate red hair, and enfolds her body in his arms. Isolde responds in absolute surrender, burying herself in his shoulder with the trust of a child. No matter what happens in the world outside, there love is all consuming, vital and eternal. Desire has transformed their lives forever.