Tarot Talk

February 1st, 2016

I love comparing cards! This month we will look at the Major Arcana Strength card and then come to understand it even further by comparing it to The Chariot, the card we examined last month. If you haven’t yet read last month’s column, please do so now.

Next, a quick review.

There are 22 Major Arcana cards in a Tarot deck, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives. An archetype (pronounced “ark eh type”) is a generic, idealized model of a person, an object, or a concept which can be copied, patterned, or imitated. The term archetype often refers to one of two concepts: a “stereotype,” a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type; stereotypes can be positive or negative, or an “epitome,” which is the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; epitomes can also be positive or negative.

So archetypes present personality traits that are common enough to be known by us all, through images (rather than words) that contain symbolism that connects with our subconscious in a universal manner. Each of us can understand the symbolism of archetypes and connect with that symbolism because each of us has (or will) personally experienced these archetypes.

Each Major Arcana card corresponds to an archetype, an image, a number, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. Let’s start breaking this one down; we’ve got a lot of work to do!

Many Major Arcana cards represent archetypes of people in our lives. The Empress is The Mother, The Emperor is The Father, The Hierophant is The Teacher; we easily understand these archetypes because most of us have them in our lives. Other Tarot Majors represent ideas or feelings or concepts or stories, rather than people. The Strength card is one of these, as Strength is the archetype of goodness and endurance. Like The Chariot of last month, Strength is about courage and self-discipline; however, Strength has an inner focus that allows us to tame and live with our instincts or animal nature.

The traditional image associated with Strength is a woman and a lion under a blue or golden sky, with the woman appearing calm, gentle and cultured, gazing peacefully at the lion; not a figure typically associated with the ability to dominate a wild beast. Often the woman is clasping the jaws of the lion or petting or combing his mane; on a few versions she is prying open the lion’s mouth. Some cards show the lion sleeping at the woman’s feet, others show the woman riding the lion. Many Strength cards contain a lemniscate, a geometric shape also found on The Magician. There are often flowers, green grass, and mountains in the distance. The lion is a symbol of our passions and instincts and desires, and it is interesting that while The Chariot offers us the Warrior, Strength presents a woman to tame the lion. Here is the first hint that Strength is not about physical strength at all. The woman tames the lion with gentleness and patience; in many images the woman’s left arm (representing mental effort) is exhibiting effort while her right arm (representing physical effort) is merely resting on the lion.

Strength is the number 8 card, which tells us that we have skill to move forward, and the time has come to move, and to follow our instincts. This number represents the concept of a Remedy or a Reaction to the degeneration of the number 7; 8 is the number of building and of destruction that asks us to present a conscious and deliberate response to what has been presented to us to date. In some decks, Strength is switched with Justice and thus is numbered 11. The number 11 reduces to 2, the number of balance, polarity, diplomacy and the energy of “distance between.” This number offers the concept of comparison.

Strength corresponds with the element of Fire. Fire corresponds with the Minor Arcana suit of Wands, playing cards suit of Clubs, the cardinal direction of South and the color Red. It represents creativity, ideas, ambition, and growth. This element represents seeds being planted and things being born; Fiery energy encourages us to move forward and to take action based on Divine Will rather than our ego-based Self. In its natural state, the element of Fire is hot and dry. It tends to bring spontaneous change or impulsive, energetic effects. Fire transforms everything in our world. Fire can sanitize or cleanse, and it can destroy everything in its path; Fire can warm us and keep us safe, or it can kill us. Fire is associated with our ability to experience joy and passion (including sexuality), and can represent enthusiasm and a pull towards being physical or artistic; it can also represent recklessness and apathy, a lack of energy and potential health issues.

In astrology, Strength corresponds with Leo (“I am,” passionate, dramatic, egotistical). The Sun sign of Leo is connected with the Lion, the king of the jungle, and the Lion plays a huge part in the Strength card. Leo also corresponds with our Sun, the center of our solar system; it is a fixed Fire sign. In Astrology, Fixed Signs are associated with stabilization, determination, depth and persistence. This means that Leos are powerful and willful in all they do, often achieving more than expected. Of course, they can also be inflexible, rigid, stubborn, opinionated and single-minded. Leos are passionate and courageous; they can combine dignity and strength in order to be effective leaders who have a talent for inspiring others to also go above and beyond what is expected. They tend to plunge into a situation without a second glance, but since they thrive on risk and competitive situations, the end result is often good.

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe, and they express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter. Strength corresponds with the Hebrew letter Teth, the tail or the coiled serpent, the 9th letter in the alphabet which falls into the archetypical level. A coiled serpent has built up its power and is ready to strike; this is seen as a hidden spiritual awareness the release of which creates a reminder of our divine origin.

On the Tree of Life, Strength represents Path 19, running between Geburah (the place where forms and structures are challenged or affirmed) and Chesed (the place where forms and structures are stabilized and nurtured), representing Spiritual Intelligence. The 19th Path tells of the balance between strength and severity, and affection and gentleness. It encourages us to endure the tests and challenges that give us the strength and skill to wield Perfect Love and Trust. The 19th Path is one of the Paths that crosses the Tree of Life horizontally, moving in both directions between the sephiroth and spanning the Pillar of Form/Restriction and the Pillar of Force/Expansion. If you remember, The Chariot is a vertical Path, also originating in Geburah, the center of the Pillar of Form/Restriction, but moving upward into Binah and remaining on this Pillar.

The Chariot tells of having the control necessary to focus on our goals, and to avoid distractions, and it represents the ability to get to where we need to go, perhaps even the ability to get there quickly, rather than walking. Sometimes The Chariot can represent our mind and intellect and the way our feelings can affect them; both our mind and our feelings need to be controlled with a firm hand.

Strength does not tell of physical strength or the use of strong muscles. This is energy without brutality, a feminine strength, irresistible in its gentleness. The Strength card is seen as being connected to The Magician (they both contain that sideways 8, the symbol of eternity), however, The Magician must learn his skills, while the Strength card represents the ideal to be attained and strived for. The lesson The Magician must learn is that gentleness tames violence.

Like The Chariot, the Strength card also represents determination focus and power, however there are differences. The Chariot represents the Will, Strength represents Endurance. Two powerful forces, one with an outer manifestation and one with an inner manifestation. Originally, Strength was called Fortitude, one of the cardinal virtues (the other two are Temperance and Justice). Fortitude tells us that we need to moderate our expectations regarding pain and danger, for while we don’t usually want either of them, they can’t be avoided but rather endured. The Chariot has strength and focus, and is able to direct the forces around him in order to arrive at his chosen destination. Strength adds patience and composure to the mix, taming the unpredictable energies so they no longer present obstacles.

Strength has a powerful yet subtle message for those who seek to understand the energies of this card: it is not holding on that makes us strong, but it is the act of letting go.

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