The 8 of Lives represents a marriage or handfasting. Two hands, touching, are embellished with traditional symbols of union: golden rings, and a loop of ribbon. Rather than clasping tightly, they touch gently, fingers tentatively preparing to intertwine. This is a reminder than even when united in marriage, partners need to preserve the erotic charge that comes from approaching one another in a spirit of anticipation and exploration.
For centuries, our culture has seen marriage as the ultimate expression of romantic union. How many fairy tales end with the wedding of the prince and princess? In our current era, when alternative arrangements are becoming more open and commonplace, we need to take a more serious, sophisticated look at marriage.
In the Intimacy Tarot, marriage is assigned to the 8 of Lives, not one of the Union cards, as might be expected from the traditional, fairy-tale view of marriage as the culmination of true love. The experience of union can and does occur between unmarried people, and the act of marriage alone does not guarantee union. What marriage does do is to create a stable structure for the long-term sharing of lives. It is an arrangement with responsibilities and boundaries that both parties accept and support. It takes the open-ended potential for intimacy that flows through our nature as sexual, emotional, communicative beings and gives it a specific form, that of committed partnership.
The details of the marriage agreement - the specific boundaries, expectations, responsibilities and duties the partners vow to uphold - vary from culture to culture, and from marriage to marriage within a culture. Each person must therefore reflect on the bonds of marriage (or other type of committed relationship) and draw a personal meaning from the card. Invariably, though, the card is a reminder of the responsibility of agreeing to share lives with another, and challenges us to ask whether the structures imposed by such an agreement further intimacy or hinder it.
The security of a healthy marriage fosters intimacy by creating safety, a zone of predictability in which partners can reach into each other without fear of the whole relationship unraveling from a mis-step or unhealthy mood.
However, marriage can also foster complacency. With the expectations all laid out in advance, we can take the relationship for granted, and neglect exploring the complexity of the motions of our partner's spirit - or our own. For intimacy to thrive in a marriage, the commitment and agreements must not be left to stagnate, but must be held consciously in the thoughts of both partners, with a profoundly felt appreciation of the fact that they might be otherwise - the pattern might shift or break open, the comfortable habits might rearrange in response to an influx of new energy. A conscious marriage is a resilient marriage.