The Tarot of Authentic Love

A Tarot for Reflection and Insight

The Tarot of Authentic Love spread out

his tarot is the fruition of a lifelong quest for authenticity in love, as well as a longtime interest in the tarot and its origins. It is a pictorial representation of ideas presented in The Authentic Lover.

The Marseilles tradition is the root of our modern understanding of tarot divination. This tarot has evolved since the early 18th Century both as playing cards and as divination cards. To this day, a 78–card play deck, very different from a divination deck, is still popular in France. But most fascinating is a certain tarot tzigane or tarot des Roms (Gipsy tarot) by Tchalaï Unger, which contains very ancient Hindu elements of mythology: the King of the World, Ashok Chakra (the Wheel of Origins), Samballa (Shambhala), and others. How far back in time do the roots of the tarot go? And what is more important, what does the tarot mean to us today?

The images were drawn faithfully by renowned tarot artist Beth Seilonen.

The relationship spread

This spread was devised by the author of this tarot and of The Authentic Lover.

The card positions are as follows:

  1. You
  2. The other
  3. How you feel
  4. How the other feels
  5. How you manifest
  6. How the other manifests
  7. Concrete outcome
  8. Emotional outcome
  9. Spiritual potential
  10. What the future holds

Of course, other traditional spreads, such as the French five–card spread, the Celtic Cross, the horseshoe, etc. can also be used, depending on the practitioner.

The Major Arcana

0. Simplicité

There is nothing simple about sexual relationships. We are dealing with another person in the most intimate way, therefore we are asking for trouble whenever we engage in such a relationship. It is a burden we take upon ourselves. It is always worth asking why we make this choice, and likewise it is always worth contemplating the option of simplifying our life by being celibate, if only as a thought experiment.

Straight card
The beginning, a blank page; travel, freedom; confidence, innocence

Reversed card
Instability, foolishness; chaos; lack of self–confidence; obsession or inner turmoil

1. La galerie de soupirants (the array of suitors)

A young woman is surrounded by many suitors, each dressed elegantly. She seems to have a lot of choices, but is this really the right way to proceed? With the advent of Internet dating, we may think we have an infinite array of choices, and that finding true and long–lasting love simply depends on finding the right person… who never seems to materialize! This card suggests taking a closer look at our existing options, rather than confusing ourselves with an unnecessary large number of choices.

Straight card
Strong but correct intuitive or counterintuitive decision; action rather than words; dealing with what is in front of you without confusing priorities

Reversed card
The illusion of choice; many options, but none of them satisfactory or outstanding

2. La sagesse (wisdom)

Just like we cannot intuit higher mathematics without proper tutoring, likewise we cannot figure out sexuality merely by trial and error. If the intellect needs education to flourish, how much more so our ability to love!

Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.
— Otto von Bismarck

Straight card
The civilizing influence of culture, society, and community; secret knowledge; deep reflection; something waiting to be revealed; sentimental or sexual education

Reversed card
Uneducated sexuality; relying on base instincts; self–centeredness; excessive intellectualism; hidden flaw; gossip, betrayal

3. Le jardin secret (the secret garden)

We all have our own secret garden somewhere in our heart, and should never let anyone or anything disturb it, let alone invite such disturbance.

Straight card
Deep intimacy; deep trust; a rich inner life; being in touch with one’s sexual energy

Reversed card
Lack of trust or intimacy; breach of privacy; lack of insight or vision; disordered sexual energy

4. Souveraineté

The universal monarch or wheel–turning monarch is a fixture ancient Indian mythology. The wheel represents his ability to rule unobstructed, so long as he governs according to benevolent and wise principles. Just as benevolence and wisdom are a source of power in a principled government, so for us they can be an unassailable source of strength.

Straight card
Freedom, independence; choices made without interference

Reversed card
Loss of freedom or autonomy; excessive reliance on advice; peer or family pressure; embroilment

5. Consécration

This card corresponds to Le pape (The Hierophant) in the Marseilles tarot. A couple is receiving blessings in front of an altar. On the altar rest a crystal ball, which signifies spiritual enlightenment, an olive branch, which represents the successful negotiating of conflicts, and a red stone. The stone (the philosopher’s stone?) which represents the power inherent in their relationship, which the spiritual tradition recognizes.

Straight card
Deep commitment; spiritual relationship; giving tradition its rightful place; ancestral wisdom

Reversed card
No serious commitment; false spirituality, opportunistic use of spirituality; conformism, dogma, unhelpful law or custom; disrespect
of traditions

6. Amour juvénile (youthful love)

In the Marseille tarot, L’amoureux has an awkward expression as enigmatic as Mona Lisa’s smile:


In this modern version, cupid is also hard at work, and the lovers are young people looking at each other hesitantly. A half–open Spanish poppy stands for their awkwardness. The poppy does not burst into a full bloom right away. Youthful love simply cannot be perfect.

Straight card
Immature love, infatuation; a pleasant but shallow diversion

Reversed card
Inappropriate or confining sexual relations; a hasty choice; hesitation

7. Cheval de vent (windhorse)

Tchalaï Unger’s tarot tzigane contains a card named o grast (the horse), whose meaning entirely overlaps Le chariot of the Marseilles tarot. It also corresponds with the notion of windhorse, a living tradition seen on Tibetan prayer flags:

Windhorse (Wikimedia)

Straight card
Energy, vitality; right effort, discipline, steadfastness

Reversed card
Lack of energy or discipline; health problems

8. La cour d’amour

This card depicts a court of love as could be held in a Tuareg tribe not so long ago in the Sahara desert.

The art of love is at the center of a significant part of [Tuareg] culture, as expressed in the poetic meetings, the ‘Ahal.’… Since ancient times, the Ahal has also been at the core of Tuareg culture; it allows men and women to meet each other in the context of poetic singing, with the aim of beginning new love relationships.
— Heide Goettner–Abendrot, Matriarchal Societies

The queen of the ahal plays an imzad, a kind of one–string violin central to the ahal culture, played by women and greatly appreciated by men. Sexual jealousy is frowned upon in Tuareg culture. This prevents pettiness.

Straight card
Love as part of community; having friendly relations with one’s lover, or making a friend into a lover; absence of jealousy or possessiveness; good advice, commonsense, fairness; facing up to reality

Reversed card
Furtiveness; jealousy or possessiveness; excessive individualism; unhealthy separation between love and friendship; bad advice, or ignoring good advice; inflexibility; legal entanglement, injustice

9. La solitude

We all need alone time to recharge and reflect. If we are unable to be with ourselves, we will seek others’ company for the wrong reasons. We must therefore make peace with being alone, so as to be able to relate with others.

At this point, having completely renounced his own comfort and privacy, paradoxically, the warrior finds himself more alone. He is like an island sitting alone in the middle of a lake. Occasional ferry boats and commuters go back and forth between the shore and the island, but all that activity only expresses the further loneliness, or the aloneness, of the island. Although the warrior’s life is dedicated to helping others, he realizes that he will never be able to completely share his experience with others.
— Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior

Straight card
Serenity, fullness; not needing anyone; making few demands on each other; being approachable

Reversed card
Loneliness, or too much company; being unapproachable; perfunctory spirituality

10. L’impermanence

A Buddhist teaching states: All compounded things are impermanent. Change is an inevitable part of life. It is as much about creation as it is about destruction. Life is a cycle of growth, decay, and renewal, with hardly anything remaining the same. We need not be surprised that our relationships obey the same laws.

Straight card
Welcome change; evolution; impermanence

Reversed card
Lack of change possibly leading to a crisis; delay or interruption; clinging to the past

11. La violence

Since the dawn of humanity and maybe even long before, violence has inextricably been a component of our reproductive behavior. It is useless to demonize the opposite sex, or our own for that matter. Whether we have a male or female body, we can benefit ourselves and others by acknowledging, and taming, our own violence.

Straight card
Recognition of one’s own violence; appropriate response to aggression; forgiveness

Reversed card
Unexamined darkness or violence; pent–up anger, ill will; danger; victimhood as an escape

12. Le paon (the peacock)

Both men and women experience tremendous pressure to maintain their sexual attractiveness. Criteria differ for men (money and social status) and women (physical appearance), but both men and women enforce those criteria on themselves and on the opposite sex.

Straight card
Inner enjoyment, self–appreciation; inner beauty; valuing what is important

Reversed card
Excessive attachment to sexual attractiveness; low self–esteem; pride


Traditionally this card has no name. To paraphrase Mark Twain, to call it Death would be a great exaggeration. It is a cheerful card, one of cleanup and renewal. The ground is littered with broken hearts. A moribund, severed hand is hopelessly reaching for an engagement ring. If we look at our situation courageously, we may find to our amazement that heartbreak is an incredibly luminous and peaceful state of mind, a genuine treasure.

Straight card
Major change; the end of a phase; rupture with the past; heartbreak as renewal

Reversed card
Resistance to unavoidable change; clinging to the past; painful or traumatic breakup

14. Mezura

Mezura is an old Provençal word used in courtly poetry and discourse, meaning moderation and reason. It can also signify not going above or below one’s social station.

He who can keep Measure can boast of courtesy. He who wants to comprehend all and accumulate all that he sees, needs to reduce excess in all, or else he will never really be courteous.”
— Bernard de Ventadour, 12th Century troubadour

Straight card
Balance, stability, cooperation, diplomacy, harmony; equality, reciprocity

Reversed card
Inequality or imbalance; unresolved conflict; pettiness; lack of communication or cooperation

15. Le désir

Desire is a necessary component of a healthy relationship, but what is our attitude toward it? Are we feeling compulsive or impoverished? Are we objectifying our partner? Or do we rather see desire as a chance to expand our horizon and experience joy? Can we experience desire without panicking?

Straight card
Desire not as a need or a lack, but as an ornament of love; tantrism; healthy attraction, vitality

Reversed card
Unfulfilled desire; lust instead of love; pursuing the wrong goal, ending in frustration and defeat

16. Le musée des positions sexuelles

The museum’s exhibits are made of live people enacting every kind of consensual sexual act, arranged by floor from raw physicality on the ground floor, to unalloyed ecstasy on the roof. It represents diversity of expression, and also all the torment and sublimity that can be experienced, heaven and hell, or samsara.

The building appears to be of normal size from the outside, but its galleries are practically infinite. It is neither possible nor desirable to visit it in its entirety. The unwary visitor might well end up partaking in one of the exhibits, and remain there for a very long time!

A pen went scribbling along, but when it tried to write love, it broke. If you want to expound on love, take your intellect out and let it lie down in the mud. It’s no help.
— Rumi

Beware of experts: they know nothing about love. They just beat around the bush with meaningless little specialties.

Straight card
Great diversity; being able to contemplate our dark side, so as to transcend it; large view, not getting bogged down in details

Reversed card
Superfluous knowledge without wisdom, false erudition; diversity as a pretext for bad behavior; conformism

17. Don de soi (gift of self)

This card is self–explanatory. There is no love without selflessness.

Straight card

Giving oneself; receptivity; total acceptance of one’s destiny; consecration

Reversed card

False altruism; clinging to the past; lack of emotional fulfillment

18. Fertilité

Fertility in all its forms certainly is a part of love, but as a byproduct rather than a goal. We cannot be too preoccupied with its outcome, or try to accomplish anything because of love.

Straight card
The fruition of love, however it may manifest

Reversed card
Narrow–minded sexual morals; reducing sex to reproduction; fear of homosexuality

19. Shambhala

Shambhala is a kingdom present in the mythologies of many Asian countries. People of all nations and religions live there is perfect harmony, cooperative and appreciative of their inherent goodness. The great eastern sun of Shambhala stands for the indestructible reality of the goodness (or divinity, or enlightenment) inherent in everyone’s heart. No one knows where Shambhala is, but His Holiness the Dalai Lama maintains that it is an actual place on Earth. Could it be our own community?

Straight card
Vision becoming reality; relationship well integrated with the rest of society; beneficial social action; calm confidence

Reversed card
Relationship at odds with the community, or lacking its support; pipe dream, utopia; distrust in human goodness

20. Le vagin ailé (the winged vagina)

A giant winged yoni hovers above a restive ocean. A man can be seen standing on the shore. He is trying to draw the yoni’s attention, but to no avail.

The meaning of this card is left to the reader’s interpretation.

Straight card
If love seems elusive, that is perfectly normal. There is nothing you need to do. You cannot grasp the ineffable.

Reversed card
Pursuing that which cannot be pursued; wanting love for the wrong reasons; impatience, rushing

21. Le monde (the world)

According to renowned sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, the purpose of sex is not reproduction but diversification. We therefore have inherited a world vibrant with diversity and not a uniform one based on a single life form optimized for “survival of the fittest.”

Straight card
Accomplishment, attainment, fulfillment; entering a new world

Reversed card
Confinement, isolation; lack of room to grow

The Court Cards

Traditionally, the major arcana stand for important spiritual ideas, while minor arcana stand for more mundane details. There is limited interest in expounding mundane aspects of love here, therefore the suits are made up of only two “court cards” each.

The wands stand for violence and gentleness; the coins for pettiness and grace; the swords for vanity and charm; and the cups for our reproductive agenda versus the mystery of love. Those four dichotomies are described in detail in The Authentic Lover.

Wands: La cabane (the cabin)

A log cabin sits by Rocky Mountain scenery, where two cowboys live contentedly, a veiled reference to the movie Brokeback Mountain. The four fenceposts remind of the Four of Wands in the traditional tarot.

Straight card
Contentment, having enough; financial freedom with or without surplus; self–reliance, hard work; sexual freedom

Reversed card
Lack of means or investment; excessive ambition or aggressive pursuit; not enough privacy

Wands: Continence

A loving couple enjoys intercourse. Their subtle anatomy (yogic energies) is shown in cross section. They do not rush, but enjoy a deep commingling of their subtle energies. A rod lies nearby, symbolizing their victory over violence and physical materialism. This image refers to ancient practices of orgasm postponement as found in ancient Chinese, Indian, and Tibetan texts. This also includes the simpler karezza method presented by Dr. Alice Stockham as a crude form of birth control. For men it means sperm retention, but it can be practiced by both sexes and can offer immense spiritual benefits. See Chia and Stockham in the bibliography.

Straight card
Self–restraint as a way toward lasting nonviolence; exploration of one’s impulses

Reversed card
Disrespect, sexual exploitation; excessive physicality; impatience or impulsiveness; premature ejaculation

Coins: Sweet young thing

A young man and woman are becoming engaged. Relatives stand behind them. A stack of gold coins and a pair of shackles lie by the side. No one seems to be paying any attention to those, but people are just pretending! Behind them is a nice house with a white picket fence. It is not clear whether the house is real or imagined. The snakes are harmless and symbolize the terror that has been instilled into the young couple should they have the idea of choosing freedom instead of marriage.

Straight card
A gift or a promise, which entails many unforeseen obligations; stereotypical expectations; a burdensome relationship

Reversed card
Shallow thinking or trickery causing a bad relationship choice; family interference; excessive gifts or demands

Coins: Courtoisie

The French courtoisie can mean either courtesy or courtliness. A medieval knight in armor with a lady in finery stand as equals in a beautiful room. A coin with the Cross of Agadez design can be seen in the background.

Straight card
Nobility of spirit, generosity, forgiveness, superior ethics

Reversed card
Pettiness, jealousy or infidelity, distrust or betrayal, slander, drama, hypocrisy

Swords: L’amour platonique

This scene depicts Tristan and Isolde in a courtly practice called the asag. In order to prove their love, they would practice self–restraint by sleeping together naked, but without any erotic exchange. Only then would they be assured of the purity of their love for each other.

Straight card
Purity of sentiment; love before sex; lack of self–interest; reconciling sex and love

Reversed card
Denial of sexuality, prudery; fear of intimacy; involuntary celibacy

Swords: La rose

A hand attempts to grab a rose by the stem. There are many thorns. Bleeding scratches can be seen in the hand.

When a rose has good thorns, it proves to be a good rose, a healthy rose. A thornless rose does not blossom so well, and it is too reachable to the flower picker’s hand. Such a castrated rose becomes colorless.
— Chögyam Trungpa

When the lover became parted from the beloved, the beloved carried off the airs of pride, the lover the pains… Since the beloved has begun to show airs, endure his airs, lover, and do not battle against them. I am like a thorn and my master is as the rose; they are twain, in reality they are one.
— Rumi

Straight card
Accepting love as both painful and glorious; patient courtship

Reversed card
The pain caused by grasping; overreaching; loss caused by rushing

Cups: Le philtre

Tristan and Isolde on a ship, one innocently giving the other the love philter in a cup. The cup is made of gold and studded with jewels, but that is of no concern to them. In their minds, they are just quenching their thirst with ordinary wine. From this mishap, they fall hopelessly in love.

The highest love happens without design. It does not guarantee a pleasant journey, only a rich and profound one.

Straight card
A fated relationship, soulmates; trust in the world’s magic; good fortune

Reversed card
Manipulative behavior, seduction, dishonesty, sexual magic, black magic

Cups: Roumi et Shams

Rumi and shams sitting cross–legged and gazing at each other. In the foreground, a cup filled with wine. In the background, a caravan of loaded camels passing through a ruined town in the desert. The two were known for their intense spiritual love, fueled by the practice of gazing at each other, wordlessly, for hours on end.

See my wasted heart and look fondly on me, / for the sun gazes fondly upon ruins.
Go gaze, so that, by that one gaze which you gaze, / marvelous trees will emerge from a single seed…
We will come to the garden of your face and break up the house;
we will manually turn a thousand houses into a desert.

See that caravan of camels / loaded up with sugar? / His eyes contain that much sweetness.

no need to ask for wine and the drinking cup / your eyes write a new chapter
about the lessons of love
— Rumi

Straight card
Meeting of minds, deep communion; auspicious coincidence

Reversed card
Avoidance; distrust; missed opportunity

Card combinations

Some cards, when combined, amplify a common meaning, as follows:

Simplicité and La solitude:

Both cards’ meanings stronger

La galerie de soupirants and Le musée des positions sexuelles:

Both cards’ meanings stronger, if at least one card is reversed

Le jardin secret, Don de Soi, and/or Continence:

Deep intimacy and trust

Consécration and L’amour platonique:

The meaning of Consécration stronger

Amour juvénile, Fertilité, and/or Sweet Young Thing:

Commitment that will cause regret if any card is reversed

Cheval de vent, Le désir, Souveraineté, and/or Shambhala:

Great energy, enthusiasm, and vitality

La sagesse, Consécration, La cour d’amour, and/or Mezura:

More emphasis needed on community, common sense, and/or decency

The back design

The back of the card shows a grid pattern of the Cross of Agadez, symbol of love among the Tuareg. (See 8. La cour d’amour)


Archer, John. “Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review.” Psychological Bulletin 126, no. 5 (2000): 651–80.

Buss, David M. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. New York: Basic Books, 2003.

Chia, Mantak. The Multi-Orgasmic Couple: Sexual Secrets Every Couple Should Know. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2000.

Goettner–Abendroth, Heide. Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe Revised Edition. Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2013.

Jodorowsky, Alejandro, Marianne Costa, and Jon E. Graham. The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2009.

Johnson, Will. Rumi’s Four Essential Practices: Ecstatic Body, Awakened Soul. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2010.

Midal, Fabrice, and Ian Monk. Chogyam Trungpa: his life and vision. Boston: Shambhala, 2012.

Piver, Susan. The Wisdom of a Broken Heart: How to Turn the Pain of a Breakup into Healing, Insight, and New Love. New York: Free Press, 2011.

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī. Mystical Poems of Rūmī: Second Selection, Poems 201–400. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979.

Stockham, Alice B. Karezza, Ethics of Marriage. Forgotten Books, 2008. First published in 1903.

Unger, Tchalaï. Le Véritable Tarot Tzigane. Escalquens, France: Éditions Trajectoire, 2001.

Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.



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Chris Hakim

Longtime student of Love and of Buddhism. Author of The Authentic Lover ( and experimenting with my book in blog format.