Exploring the Tarot: Understanding the True Meaning of Strength

 
 From the Rider-Waite Deck

From the Rider-Waite Deck

A lot of people assume that strength is brute force, physicality, or at the very essence the concept of being dominant in any given situation. If any of these statements are true a definition of Strength, it’s interesting to see a woman in standing beside a lion on this card. Wouldn’t the Lion alone be enough of a representation for Strength? What is this card telling us that we might be missing?

 From the Pagan Otherworlds deck

From the Pagan Otherworlds deck

Depending on what deck you are looking at, Strength is either the eighth or ninth card in the Major Arcana. For us in this reading, it happens to be the eighth. The order the card is in also tells us astrologically Leo rules and that it has the element of Fire.

In the Rider-Waite, you see a sideways eight hovering above the woman, which as many know is the symbol for Infinity. Realistically this animal could easily kill her, but it’s letting her grab it by the mouth. It doesn’t look as if she’s forcing the lion either. She’s calm, gentle and looks at peace while she is doing this. She even has one hand on top of the lion’s head, like an owner with their domesticated house pet. It’s obvious she is in control. She has so much control over the situation the Lion even forgot what it is. It has its tongue hanging out much like a dog. It’s enough to say this animal has been subdued. So this cards tells us Strength isn’t about brute force, it’s much deeper than that. There is a kind of control going on, but perhaps companionship is in the mix as well.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. -Gandhi

Who Does the Woman & the Lion Represent?

Well, of course, they’re both about you. And how you interact with you. We could externalize these archetypes and make them about your spouse or your neighbor, co-worker, “fill-in-the-blank.” Except immediately externalizing the problem has gotten all of us into trouble, hasn’t it? We are quick to control and dominate each other because we don’t have the discipline to do this very act toward ourselves.

 Samson (Left) Forcing Lion’s Mouth Open, David (Right) Removing Lamb from Lion’s Teeth; Both taken from Google Images

Samson (Left) Forcing Lion’s Mouth Open, David (Right) Removing Lamb from Lion’s Teeth; Both taken from Google Images

How Are We the Lion?

The Lion is merely a symbol of the animalistic side of ourselves. It’s instinctual, and it’s continually prowling around without us being aware of it because we have been identified with it. It’s not all bad, however. It’s what helped our species survive up to this point. The very second you feel a threat, the animal in us is ready to protect us from harm. Unfortunately, if it’s allowed to be let loose during inappropriate situations, there’s a guarantee it will do significant damage.

The Woman Is Also Us?

Not quite. At least not yet. The woman is a symbol of someone who is honestly paying attention. The reason why it’s a woman instead of a man is that she represents an Inner Knowing. It’s a deep sense of self-awareness, intelligence and confidence. Some call it being Spiritually Mature, but it’s not like Samson or David in the Bible, where they killed the lions to demonstrate their power. Instead of attempting to end the threat, the woman has turned a potential danger into her favor. She understands what this Lion is capable of and doesn’t hesitate to befriend it. Neither the Lion nor the Woman perceive each other as a threat. They equally trust one another. There’s a relationship. A harmony.

I’m not saying we should look down on what Samson and David did. These characters have fascinating stories we can learn from. It doesn’t really matter if they were real people or fictitious. I think what matters most is seeking the highest ideal of how we should conduct our lives as individuals. Unfortunately, Western Society adopts this method for every single situation: If you can’t control the beast, then the only solution is to dominate it.

 

The Threefold Nature of the human soul

 

Our thoughts can be broken down into three distinct parts that we can focus on. Intellect is our ability to reason based on the information we are given. Emotions are the impressions we receive from the external that become internalized. Will is the interaction of the thought concerning the world. These three aspects are separate, but also profoundly linked with one another. I will briefly talk about the imbalance of the views we have as well as balanced willful action that is genuinely expressed in the card.

 The Threefold Fig. 1

The Threefold Fig. 1

 
 

The Rationalist (Fig. 2)

Fig. 2 is what has been encouraged in Western Society. The Intellect alone dictates to the Will what must be done. Emotions are set aside. The Intellect does not consider what it knows is bound by subjective experience.

 The Rationalist Fig. 2

The Rationalist Fig. 2

 
 

The Reactionist (Fig. 3)

Fig. 3 Our Emotions dictate how the Will should react to outside forces. The Intellect observes this reaction in hindsight and comes up with a justification. This is how most of us behave. We are not conscious of the Lion. This creates biases and logical fallacies. We saw a lot of this from both sides during our recent election.

When the Intellect and Emotions compete with one another, it creates a feedback loop we get ourselves caught in. The circuit builds upon itself to the point we can no longer bear it, resulting in potentially devastating consequences.

 The Reactionist Fig. 3

The Reactionist Fig. 3

 
 

True action (Fig. 4)

Fig. 4 is the equal relationship between Intellect and Emotions. They are in constant communication with each other and do not act until they both come to a unified agreement. This is the Woman stepping beside the Lion and knowing what to do.

The Challenge the strength card presents

Do you truly know you have the strength to withstand your own thoughts from controlling you?

 True Action Fig. 4

True Action Fig. 4