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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An Exploration of Strength ~ by Zanna

One of the first cards I look at when considering whether to purchase a Tarot deck is the Strength card. The card draws me and I feel a very strong connection to it. This could be because Strength often shows a human (typically a woman) with a beast of some sort -- and with my Sun sign being Sagittarius, I am comfortable with that "dual nature" thing. Or maybe it's just that I love animals, and I want to see how the lion or other creature is depicted on the Strength card.

In any case, I thought I would share some of my favorite Strength cards here.

Thanks to Tierney Sadler's recent post on Facebook, I remembered how much I LOVE the Strength card from Legacy of the Divine Tarot, rendered so beautifully by Ciro Marchetti. Just look at the gold and red and amber -- the colors of Fire. The OGD (Order of the Golden Dawn) assigns this card to the zodiac sign Leo, a Fire sign, so the color scheme and presence of cats all makes perfect sense. The woman on this card seems to have a marvelous rapport with these magnificent animals. Ciro writes: "She stretches out her hand, emitting a glow of inner energy. These beasts are not caged or chained, but nevertheless they are controlled by this force of will alone. The power is within us."

In Ray Buckland's Romani Tarot, the beast is not a cat but a bear. This fits with the deck's theme, as the Roma were known to feature trained bears in their carnival shows. This bear opens its mouth in a manner that seems threatening, but the juvvel (Gypsy woman) next to him is calm, almost serene, as she places her hands in and around his jaws. This same woman is depicted on The Magician card and the World card in this deck. Whether she is opening the bear's mouth or closing it, we get the strong sense that she is in control, not through brute force but through gentleness and kindness.

Lisa Hunt's Animals Divine Tarot offers the expected lion on its Strength card, accompanied by Tara, a Buddhist deity. Note the pleasant expressions on both faces. These two are clearly in harmony with each other. The lion can be said to represent male energy, with Tara representing female energy. Among the many stories about Tara is one in which she is advised to pray to be reborn as a man in order to make faster progress on the journey to enlightenment. Tara rejects this suggestion, resolving always to be reborn in a female form.

Instead of the more traditional "lady with a lion," the Strength card in Antonio Lupatelli's Tarot of the Gnomes depicts someone called Kaitavranos holding open the mouth of a lizard (at first I thought it was a frog or toad, but then noticed the tail!) It is also interesting to note that the OGD associates Strength with the Hebrew letter Tet (or Teth), meaning "a serpent." Lizards and snakes are close relatives. Lizards are commonly associated with the element Fire, which connects with the OGD association of the Strength card with the zodiac sign Leo, a Fire sign. The card seems to emphasize the struggle for control over our "animal nature" rather than mastery of it. Getting there is half the fun?

In Tarot of the Spirit, Pamela and Joyce Eakins offer us a serpent instead of a lion on Strength, reflecting the card’s Hebrew attribution (Teth, the serpent). The lion is not ignored, but is found in the astrological attribution Leo (the symbol for Leo is in the lower right corner). Paul Foster Case makes an interesting connection by pointing out that the astrological symbol for Leo (typically said to represent the lion’s mane and tail) resembles a serpent. In this version of Strength, the polarity frequently represented by a woman and a lion is shown in other ways. Two serpents climb a pillar of light, which is a flame. They move in opposing directions, symbolizing the tension between Chesed (creation) and Geburah (destruction) on the Tree of Life, and between intellect and intuition. These dualistic forces are also seen in the black and white pillars to either side of the central pillar (the Pillars of Severity and Mercy). The central pillar, the Pillar of Mildness on the Tree of Life, mediates between the opposing forces, bringing them into balance.

This has been fun for me and I hope it is interesting to at least some of our blog readers. As always, I welcome your comments and observations!

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
  • Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti (published by Llewellyn Publications)
  • The Buckland Romani Tarot by Raymond Buckland. Artist: Lissane Lake. (published by Llewellyn Publications)
  • Animals Divine Tarot by Lisa Hunt (published by Llewellyn Publications)
  • Tarot of the Gnomes by Antonio Lupatelli (published by Lo Scarabeo)
  • Tarot of the Spirit by Pamela Eakins, Ph.D., Scribe, and Joyce Eakins, M.F.A., Painter. (U.S. Games Systems, Inc.)
  • The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages by Paul Foster Case (Macoy Publishing Company) 

1 comment:

  1. I certainly enjoyed seeing the comparisons between the different Strength cards. Even though we all know the traditional meaning for the card, seeing each of the illustrations shows how we can add a newer dimension to this traditional meaning.

    This was indeed an interesting and informative post. What a good idea it was! Thanks for sharing!


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~ Zanna