We have a Tarot controversy! In the Rider-Waite Tarot, the 9th card in the Major Arcana is Strength. However, if you look back in Tarot history, and look at different decks — including my beloved Goddess Tarot and the well-respected Thoth Tarot — you’ll see that the 9th spot (card VIII) is instead Justice. (In the Rider-Waite, Justice is card XI, whereas in other decks Strength is card XI). How can this be, and which way is “right”?
There’s a good deal of writing on why Waite changed the order of the Arcana from the classic arrangement (Justice at VIII and Strength at XI). I’ve read a great deal on this, and I’ve worked with decks that use both numbering systems — I’ve never found it at all problematic to move back and forth between the systems. For the purposes of this blog series, I will be treating Strength as card VIII and Justice as card XI, even though these are reversed in the Goddess Tarot (which is the subject of the Goddess Arcana portion of this series).
Who is Strength?
Strength is a iconic card, one that even people who don’t read Tarot (or have their Tarot read) recognize. The woman attempts to pry open the lion’s jaws, yet there is an air of gentle determination rather than a struggle of wills here. The Strength embodied here is not physical, or at any rate not just physical. There is a strength of character, of will, of spirit in the woman on the card that allows her to tame the lion not by overpowering him, but by holding power with him.
The woman on this card wears the white robes of innocence, evoking the image of The Fool, and she is crowned with the infinity symbol of The Magician. She is adorned with greenery, reminiscent of The Empress. As she cradles the lion’s head and works to open his jaws, this woman represents the ways in which humans grapple with our animistic nature as we move through The Fool’s Journey. The lion represents our instinctual, animal nature, while the woman represents the spiritual and intellectual self. The lion is also sometimes seen as the forces of the unconscious, and the woman is using spiritual knowledge and the growth of The Fool’s Journey to open the unconscious to learn more about the mysteries that are so often locked away from us.
When Strength appears in a reading, She is reminding us that we have the strength, determination, and Will to accomplish our desires. Ruled by fiery Leo, Strength assures us that we know where we are headed (echoes of The Chariot!) and we have the stamina and persistence to get there. And yet Strength also reminds us that we can take a compassionate approach — we can give others the space they need, and we need not overpower others to accomplish what we want. Instead, we can gently tame our challenges and find ways to surmount any obstacles. Strength’s other message is that of self-mastery: as we explore our subconscious and tame our animal nature, we know ourselves better and have deeper confidence in our strengths, talents, and abilities. We learn to balance all the aspects of ourselves — animal and human, instinct and intellect, logical and emotional — and thus walk the world as whole beings.
I also read Strength as an exhortation to step into one’s own power, to recognize one’s inherent strength. Which is one reason why I love what Kris Waldherr did with this card for The Goddess Tarot….