Lovers' Locks

The New York Times reports today on a compromise solution that has been reached in Rome concerning the conflict between preserving an ancient icon and allowing a new tradition to cover it up. I thought several aspects of this story were resonant of certain conflicts which take place in Tarot today.

At the ancient Milvian Bridge, the place where Constantine defeated Maxentius, which helped open the door to Christian domination of the Empire, modern Romans have started a new ritual—lovers' locks. Following an idea from recent pop culture (novels and a movie), young Romans, wishing to ritually and informally pledge their undying love to one another, recently took to writing their names on padlocks, hanging the locks on lampposts on the Milvian Bridge, and then tossing the keys into the Tiber.

Sounds great, huh, modern romantic symbols adorning the symbol of ancient imperial and religious strife.

But, as the Times tells us: "reality quickly set in, as it often does after passion. Thousands of locks and chains piled up. The lamps atop two light posts crumbled under the weight. Neighbors complained of vandalism. Politicians who tried to solve the problem were accused—and this is bad in Italy—of being anti-love."

They worked out a compromise, wherein the lampposts and the bridge would be spared by the placement of "six sets of steel posts with chains on the bridge". Of course, the compromise, being a bridge between ideal love and hateful reality, has created a new rift, as the lamppost traditionalists claim the new, less damaging, steel posts are "less romantic" and the resultant padlocking on them "more like a fashion".

If only passion had the civic interest to clean up its own litter, there might not be a problem. In other words, if lovers were required to come back to the bridge to remove their padlocks when their love turns out not to be everlasting, not only would there be a lot fewer locks, but the endless signs of love's failure that would confront any new hopeful padlockers might discourage their vandalism in the first place.

In Tarot too we have the modern, or postmodern, phenomenon of traditional Tarot symbolism being covered over, and some might say defaced and destroyed, by the symbols of present and temporary passions. Often this is done in an effort to make the older structure and symbols more accessible or useful to modern audiences who no longer feel as if the old Tarots are any longer relevant to them as a conveyance to what seems the the universal destination of the modern Tarotmaniacs—self esteem.

As with the Milvian Bridge, the padlockers of new and personal Tarot symbols are not required to report back and remove their improvements when they have been found wanting or ineffective at delivering the self-esteem seeker to his goal or Tarot to a better place. Instead, because many modern Tarotmaniacs favor novelty over substance, the padlocks are regularly changed in style and alleged accessibility, so that the seeker is encouraged to keep constantly hanging more and more locks on the old bridge, while tossing endless keys into a burgeoning mound of metal clutter which now threatens to clog up the Tarot-Tiber altogether.

Yet, since the true bridge is not made of stone, or cardboard, this headless-chicken-sprinting by the pomo muckers has not yet damaged the old icons. They exist in the minds of those who have spent the time, not to clutter them with symbols of personal and utterly transient passions, but to understand them for whatever lasting values they may possess.