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Day 296: The Hanged Man

August 1, 2013
The Hanged Man in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

The Hanged Man in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

Looking to Waite for an idea of the Hanged Man’s meaning is one of the most maddening exercises in all of Tarot.  For example, on page 22, he says the card means ‘prudence’ but on page 116 he clearly says it is not prudence, and then finally on 285 he says it means ‘wisdom’!  The most detailed description, obtuse as it is, follows:

The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure–from the position of the legs–forms a fylfot cross. There is a nimbus about the head of the seeming martyr. It should be noted (1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death. It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled. One of his editors suggests that Éliphas Lévi did not know the meaning, which is unquestionable nor did the editor himself. It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card a of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty; but we may exhaust all published interpretations and find only vanity. I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe.

He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection.

Thanks, Waite.  That’s really helpful.  But let’s examine some of the salient details he’s noted anyway, beginning with the tau cross and the fylfot cross.

A basic tau cross and a basic fylfot cross.  If we're to be very technical, a fylfot cross differs from a swastika in that it has shorter arms extending from the central cross.

A basic tau cross and a basic fylfot cross. Both are symbols used in Freemasonry.  If we’re to be very technical, a fylfot cross differs from a swastika in that it has shorter arms extending from the central cross.

As we can see, a tau cross resembles a T, or a tau in the Greek alphabet.  It’s a very simple symbol and, as such, pops up in many different cultures.  Obviously, under Christian symbolism it has come to be aligned with salvation salvation through the identification of the tau with the sign which in Ezekiel 9:4 was marked on the foreheads of saved persons.  In Egypt and Sumer, it was more an emblem of immortality or generally of life (sometimes specially as a phallic symbol).  In this, it is connected to Tammuz, the dying and rising God, and through him the Greek deity Attis and the Roman Mithras.  In Mayan culture, a similar cross was considered a “tree of life.”  These correlations with life or a life cycle seem to be more of what Waite had in mind than Christian salvation, given his direction to observe “that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon.”

Upon this tree of life, then, a man is hanged in a manner used in the era of the tarot’s birth as an execution or a humiliation.  This overlay of death would seem to be a perversion of the tau, but–as Waite notes–the man is clearly not suffering.  Moreover, his body is twisted in such a way that it resembles the fylfot cross or the swastika, a symbol that has long been used within Hinduism to evoke Shakti, the personification of primordial cosmic energy or of divine feminine creative power.  The word “swastika” also translates as “to be good” or “to be with the higher self.”

So perhaps this card is using a horrible image to show a greater truth.  Even if this does show a torture or an execution, it is still within the realm of Life.  Even as the life of the man is held in suspension, Life still continues, and the amazingly powerful, benevolent, creative cosmic energy that birthed Life still resides within the suspended man.  Even if that man does die, that energy will live on and be reborn in his new form.

Rachel Pollack seems to be drawn most to the inner calm that comes from a realization such as this.  She says that the Hanged man feels life through this inner awareness and that he “affects us because it shows a direct image of peace and understanding.  The calm shows so strongly in the card because the Hanged Man has surrendered to the rhythms of life.  In the old initiations surrender involved joining the rituals instead of just watching them.  For many modern people it involves releasing the emotions they have locked up for years.”

Another very literal interpretation of the card is simply to change your perspective.  Sometimes looking at things “upside down” gives you a new insight that wouldn’t have been achieved through conventional means.

This is more the interpretation Robin Wood had in mind when designing her card, which to her “means suspense, change, looking at things from anther viewpoint” or “willing to surrender to higher wisdom, or sacrifice to gain this wisdom, especially in occult or spiritual matters.  An inner search for the truth.”

Wood consciously removed the ropes from her Hanged Man, which makes his inversion entirely voluntary.  Like Waite’s tau, Wood suspends her man from living trees, which are ash to call to mind Yggdrasill, the world tree from which Odin hung to gain the knowledge of the runes (upon which he died, but used the knowledge he’d received to immediately restore himself).  Unlike Waite, however, her man is between two trees to show the two vantages he balances:  old and new.  These trees are also reminiscent of the rune hagalaz, which has connotations of an ordeal or a drastic change:   a wake-up call from the Gods.

From the viewpoint of the man’s normal orientation, his upper body forms the inverted triangle which is the first-degree sign of Wicca, which indicates he is on a new path to wisdom and changing his priorities.  He wears a white shirt to show the purity of his resolve on this path.  (This is also the symbol for water.)  His legs form a slightly-cockeyed upper-pointing triangle, which represents the symbol for fire (along with his red trews, which also represent his courage), and will.  All the Hanged Man does, he does through his own free will.

Wood’s Hanged Man has a nimbus of light around his head to show the spiritual radiance his inversion has given him, and it stands out against the grey background, which represents the balance of night and day mingling equally.  It can also stand for the drabness of the views the man held before his inversion, which is being lighted by his new outlook.

As a final note, it may well be worthwhile to consider the interplay between water and fire in all the versions of the Hanged Man.  In Waite, for instance, the man’s leggings are red (fire), and his tunic is blue (water).  Wood’s man has his upper body in the water sign and his legs in the fire sign (from his perspective).  He brings activity and passivity into balance through his inversion.

KEYWORDS: New point of view, Unconventionality, Letting go, Suspension, Sacrificing.

This meditation is designed to help you learn to release to life and to embrace the power of surrendering.  Close your eyes and begin to take deep breaths.  Imagine that you stand before the ocean.  Waves are crashing powerfully against the shore.  Walk into the ocean and feel that it is warm and soothing.  Allow the waves to sweep over your body.  With each wave that caresses you, imagine that you become increasingly transparent.  Slowly you become one with the tide itself.  See yourself as nothing but ocean–a tide that moves in and out, free and boundless.

Daily Practice
Keep the Hanged Man card with you or place it on your altar.  Difficulties do not cease of their own accord.  When left unattended, they become worse, uglier, and meaner.  Do not run any further from a difficult life situation.  Face it today.  Get to the bottom of it.  Determine what it is you can and cannot do.

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

The Dark Side of the Hanged Man

July 31, 2013

It’s taken me several days of behind-the-scenes work to be able to write anything about the Hanged Man.  I do not have any major issues with how contemporary tarot readers interpret the card.  It was my research into the historical imagery that churned my stomach and made me wonder if there’s more to the card than what we typically ascribe to it.

Prior to this research, I never had a strong visceral reaction to the Hanged Man.  In part, it was because I thought the very suggestion of it depicting an execution was hilarious.  Certainly there are far more expedient ways of dispatching someone.  Hanging someone by the neck, for example, will result in death in a few minutes, at most.  And young children frequently hang upside-down for hours.  My own brother would watch whole television shows while standing on his head, and it never did him any harm.  With this in mind, could prolonged inversion actually result in someone’s death?

Well, as I found out, it can. In sustained periods of inversion, the heart struggles to pump blood into the legs, while the blood in the head struggles to return to the heart. (Keep in mind that the brain has no muscles to help circulation along, and relies much upon a regular blood pressure and gravity to keep an even circulation). Subsequently, the heart works extra hard to keep circulation flowing. This extra effort can cause it to fail. If it does not, sustained circulation problems can lead to blood clots and swelling in the brain, which can lead to stroke. Blindness can occur through increased ocular pressure. Blood can pool in the lungs and result in pulmonary edema and respiratory failure: in other words, the victim drowns in his or her own blood without any visible wound. No matter what, death can certainly occur, but it will be a long, torturous time in coming.

An old image depiction a medieval German Judenstrafe, or Jewish Execution.

An old image depicting a medieval German Judenstrafe, or Jewish Execution.

To my horror, I learned that this has, in fact, been an execution method. In medieval Germany (late thirteenth century to early seventeenth), this execution came to be associated with Jews and developed the name Judenstrafe, or “Jewish Execution/Punishment,” and it was specifically devised to be inhumane.  The standard punishment was to hang the Jewish thief by the feet and similarly string up two dogs beside him, but there were several variations upon this theme. The dogs could be alive or dead, or one instead of a pair, or the offender would be suspended by one foot alone. Obviously, if the dogs were alive–as they are in this image–they would snarl and bite and scratch the offender as they tried to free themselves. If other crimes were committed during the theft, the execution may have other layers. For example in Ottingen in 1611, a Jewish thief who had stolen silverplate and tried to cover up his theft through arson was condemned to suffer the Judenstrafe whilst simultaneously being burned, the variation of which is shown in this image. No matter the variation, though, the indignity and torture were both extreme.

Germany is, however, not the only nation to have practiced an inverted hanging. As many taroists know, it was a practice in medieval Italy, too. However, unlike Germany’s Judenstrafe, it appears that Italian inverted hangings were not the primary form of execution, but rather practiced as part of a “hung, drawn, and quartered” grouping of methods or as a way to desecrate a corpse afterwards. The methods of medieval Italian executions are shockingly creative, and they fell on a spectrum of decency: it was far nobler to beheaded like the saints than to hang as Judas–especially if one belonged to the upper classes. For the common man, execution was frequently hanging, no matter the crime. For a nobleman to hang, though, was a mark of his shame. For all, though, to be hanged upside down–either before, during, or after death–was a special infamy and especially humiliating.

It’s from the Italian practice and its intense associations with betrayal and humiliation that many tarot historians believe the Hanged Man imagery originated. The Italians not only physically hanged people, they metaphorically did so in frescoes. Between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, artists were frequently commissioned to paint images collectively known as pitture infamanti (defamatory portraits) on the walls of the main centers of justice in northern Italy. They were intended to act as effigies and to humiliate and insult traitors, debtors, thieves, and frauds. As with modern effigy practice, the people these images depicted were rarely killed.

Preparatory drawings for pittura infamante by Andrea del Sarto.

Preparatory drawings for pittura infamante by Andrea del Sarto.

While none of these frescoes survive today, a few of Andrea del Sarto’s practice sketches for a commission do exist, and are shown above. Clearly there’s more than a little visual similarity between these sketches and the Tarot’s Hanged Man, and as the earliest Tarot decks were made in northern Italy in the mid-thirteenth century, it certainly is easy to make a historical connection between the archetypal image and these objects of extreme humiliation. When you add in the facts that the Hanged Man was also called Il Tradatore (the Traitor) in some early decks and that his number in the Arcana is always twelve in every known deck (twelve referring to Judas Iscariot, the twelfth of Christ’s apostles and the one who betrayed him to the Romans), you really don’t get the sense that any original meaning of this card was positive.

After a lot of soul searching and reflection, I’ve decided that interpreting the Hanged Man in the conventional way is completely appropriate and wholly preferable in how we consider the Major Arcana as the Fool’s journey into a holistic knowledge.  And yet, we should be aware of the horror behind the image.  There will certainly be readings where the betrayal and humiliation behind this card will be far more relevant than other interpretations.

Day 295: Justice

July 30, 2013
Justice in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

Justice in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

While it is true that Justice was originally card 8 and Strength card 11, I’m glad Waite switched them around.  It makes sense to me to have this card–the card of judicious balance–to be the one linking the first ten numbered cards with the second ten numbered cards.  It also marks a distinct change in the pattern of the Major Arcana.  In the first half, different cards stood as different pairs of a duality.  The Magician and the High Priestess formed a dyad, as did the Emperor and Empress, Empress and High Priestess, Emperor and Magician, High Priestess and Hierophant, Hierophant and Magician, Hierophant and Emperor.  Eventually the Chariot emerged as a master card, holding the dyads and controlling them so that they could work together.  Justice, however, takes it a step further and brings that control internally, so that different dyads can exist in one figure.

In the Waite card, this unification can actually be seen in the Justice figure herself.  She sits, like the High Priestess, between two pillars.  But she is clad in the Magician’s red rob, and has one arm up and one arm down, just as the magician does.

In other respects, Justice is exactly what her name entails:  Justice.  She wears the red of passion and courage, but it is tempered with a green cloak:  compassion.  Her scales are also level–noting that truth is often a matter of balancing the different perceptions of others–and her sword stands fully at the ready, and will cut both ways.  It is also to be noted that Justice here is not blindfolded.  Rather, her stare is a challenge to the querent to honestly examine his or her own life, free from the past and from the frames we’ve placed on it through time, culture, and other limitations.  It is a challenge for us to shift these artificial restraints and exact our own free will.

Robin Wood’s card shares many of the symbols of Waite’s.  Wood, however, notes that she gave Justice a fair complexion to show the ‘fairness’ of her nature, and a laurel wreath to show Truth’s ultimate victory.  Her Justice is especially strong in countenance, and very steady.  She is comfortably and solidly seated:  she will not rush to judgement in order to make sure the truth will out.  She is calm because passion plays no part in her decisions.  Her eyes are open so that she may see all sides to the argument.

Wood makes the observation that the Red/Green colors of Justice’s robe and cape are the respective colors of the God and Goddess, and their energies of courage and vitality are balanced in her.  Her clothing is lined in purple to show the depth of her wisdom and the majesty of her justice.

Unlike Waite’s Justice, who sits before a purple cloth, Wood’s sits before nature:  open air, trees, hills, and sky.  This is to show that her justice is calm and as ancient as the hills, but also vibrant and alive!  The epitome of open-thinking!

KEYWORDS:  Fairness, Justice, Truth, Self-Examination, Self-Honesty, Unbiased Thought.

Close your eyes and visualize a situation that you believe is causing difficulty in your life.  Allow the image of this scene to become a blur of many colors.  The colors blend and become a single hue.  Simultaneously, imagine that you become hollow.  Then imagine this empty space within you becoming the entire universe of planets, stars, and vast empty space.  Once you see this, inhale deeply, taking in the color that represented your situation.  See the color pass through you and dissipate in the vast neutrality of empty space.

Daily Practice
Keep the Justice card with you or place it on your altar.  Focus your attention on your judgements and discriminations throughout the day. You do not have to change your actions or your thoughts.  However, at the end of the day, take time to consider how often you deferred to the judging, discriminating mind.  How did your thoughts influence your actions and decisions?  How might daily judgement-influenced action add up to change the course of your life?  What might a judging mind keep you from achieving or attaining?  How does it affect your relationships with other people?  How does it affect how you relate to the world?

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

Day 294: The Wheel of Fortune

July 29, 2013
The Wheel of Fortune in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

The Wheel of Fortune in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

In the Rider-Waite deck, the imagery on the Wheel of Fortune card seems to come out of nowhere.  Along with the World card, it’s one of the least realistic of the cards.  There’s no landscape, no “character” humans…just a lot of symbolism in the sky.  And very weird symbolism at that!  There’s a mysterious wheel with Hebrew writing, Egyptian figures, and all surrounded by Christian symbols for the four evangelists (the authors of the approved gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  What does all of it mean?

Waite calls the corner figures “the four Living Creatures of Ezekiel,” which refers to the first chapter of Ezekiel in the Bible where he sees four creatures that are amalgams of man, ox, lion, and eagle.  Eventually, wheels appear next to each creature and these wheels contained the spirit of each creature and followed them wherever they went.

Rachel Pollack, however, notes that these four figures “ultimately symbolize the four fixed sins of the zodiac: the angel for Aquarius, the eagle for Scorpio, the lion for Leo, and the bull for Taurus.  These signs represent the seasons and thus the wheel of the year as it goes round and round.  The figures also stand for the four elements of the Minor Arcana–lion/fire, eagle/water, angel/air, and bull/earth.”  She also notes that Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith imported these figures from the Marseilles World card.

Marseilles influences on Waite's Wheel of Fortune

Marseilles influences on Waite’s Wheel of Fortune

I, like Pollack, think that this importation is the primary reason for these four biblical figures to be on this card.  If we look at numbered cards of the Major Arcana, an obvious division pattern is two groups of ten, connected by 11 Justice.  The Wheel of Fortune, then, is the halfway card in the pattern.  It marks an attainment of sorts, but there’s still a lot of lessons to learn.  Therefore, on the Wheel the Ezekiel figures are reading books.  In the World, the books are absent:  all the lessons have been learned.

Waite got much of the imagery for animals flanking the wheel itself from the Marseilles card, where a sphinx-like creature holding a sword temporarily sits secure at the top while other beasts cling to the the spinning rim.  Waite made his sphinx far more Egyptian-like and turned his beasts into the Gods Seth (the snake, whom the Greeks called Typhon) and Anubis (the jackal-man).  Both are figures of death, but while Seth is more associated with darkness and chaos, Anubis is more closely linked with guiding souls to new life.  The capping sphinx, Pollack says, holds the sword of truth “so we know that all our deaths and rebirths, and the ups and downs of daily life, flow from inner laws.”

On the face of the wheel, the signs at the compass points are the alchemical substances needed for transformation:  mercury (north), sulfur (east), water (south), and salt (west).  The rim holds English and Hebrew letters.  The Hebrew spells out the name of God–a formula for creation–while the English could read “rota” (Latin for wheel), “taro” (Tarot), “orat” (Latin for speaks), or “Ator” (a spelling of Hathor, the Egyptian Goddess of joy, feminine love, and motherhood.  She also helped guide souls into the next life and presided over childbirth).  In a sentence, those letters could mean “the Wheel of Tarot speaks of Life’s joys.”

For all that arcane symbolism, though, the card means the same as Robin Wood’s illustration.  The mysteries of fate, and the turnings of luck and life cycles.  The trick is that everything is in constant flux, so the only way to find balance is to accept that “this too shall pass.”  Wood describes her images as such:

[The Wheel is] a roulette wheel, to show that the whole thing is a gamble.  All that you can really depend on [...] is that the situation is going to change.  But there is a pattern to the change [... constant revolution around a fixed center].  This demonstrates the interplay [...] between the principles that don’t change and the things that do.  [...] It’s the same ball, on the same wheel.  By accepting the idea that it will land in a different section another time, you can gain balance.  Whatever is going on now, this too shall pass. [...]

The eight spokes symbolize the wheel of the year, from summer to winter and back to summer again, over and over in endless turning.

The silver ball stands for the unconscious, from which our thoughts and feeling spring.  It travels the golden rim which is the path of change.  The speed of travel may vary, but the path repeats.  This illustrates the underlying order in all things.  It travels clockwise, deosil, in harmony with the motion of the universe.

The young woman in the card is going through the emotional roller coaster.  [...]  As the wheel continues, she makes the same transitions, in the reverse order, until she is back where she started, in boundless delight once more. [...] If she can grasp the concept that wherever she stops it’s just a temporary thing; that the wheel is going to go round again; then she can keep her balance, not get dizzy, and not invest too heavily in the ball stopping in any particular place.

My own personal thought on the matter of the card is that we could do worse than to think of the Wheel of Fortune in Emily Dickinson’s poetic terms.  For Dickinson, the word “circumference” was practically synonymous with ecstasy; with everything awful and sublime.  We can never in this life get to the eternal “center” that controls that outer experiential rim (namely, for Dickinson, the Christian God):  our best bet is to approach the constant change of the circumference as an amazing, awesome adventure…and one whose varied delights must all be captured by the center all at once.

KEYWORDS:  Cycles, Fate, Karma, Luck, Roller Coaster, Circumference and Center.

Close your eyes and bring into your imagination your current life situation.  Now change the image to show your desired outcome.  Take note of how this causes you to feel.  Now change the image to show an undesirable outcome.  Take note of how this causes you to feel.  When you are finished, ask yourself this question:  Why is it thatone outcome versus another cause you peace of mind or emotional turmoil?  Is it the outcome that propels your emotions?  Or is it your interpretation of how things out to be?  Contemplate any habitual grasping on to personal desires and how this might contribute to a deluded, disempowered life.

Daily Practice
Keep the Wheel of Fortune card with you or place it on your altar.  Whatever actions you take today, make your best efforts and accept the outcomes–no matter what they may be.  Stay focused on the quality of yoru efforts as opposed to the outcome or effect.  As Vietnamese author Thich Nhat Hanh says, “There is washing the dishes to get them clean, and then there is washing the dishes to wash the dishes.”

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

Day 293: The Hermit

July 26, 2013
The Hermit in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

The Hermit in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

Like the Strength card, there’s not oodles of detail pouring out of this card, but what symbols there are are important.  The first is the figure of the hermit himself.  As Rachel Pollack notes, he is a contrasting archetype to the fool–a Jungian paring.  Both the Fool and the Hermit “stand on mountaintops, but where the the Fool appears ready to leap off, the Hermit–who has climbed a higher peak–seems content to remain where he is.”  Indeed, the hermit is at the very summits, which–in the language of tarot–means he has achieved an enlightenment that was only a distant possibility for the Fool.

In his right hand, the Hermit holds up a lantern–a symbol of wisdom.  As Pollack notes, this makes him a teacher, like the Hierophant, “but where the Hierophant imparts laws, the outer teachings of a cultural tradition, the Hermit hods out the light of inner truth.”  The light within that lantern is a powerful symbol of unity:  the hexagram, the upward triangle of potent, masculine fire and the life-giving womb of water joined together.  The Hermit, then, lights the way to a self-mastery that holds the loving balance of the Lovers and the directed balance of the Chariot within oneself.  As Waite said, his beacon is a sight of “Where I am, you also may be.”

Overall, the card is one of meditation, the search for truth, teaching, good counsel, inner wisdom, and centering withdrawal.

Robin Wood’s Hermit looks much the same as Rider-Waite’s, but with a few more details.  For example, he stands upright–not stooped–to show he is tall for his age.  His grey clothing–”a sign that the positive, masculine day forces and the negative, feminine, night forces have finally become completely balanced and joined”–is clearly tattered to show that function is more important to him than form, and that he has little interest in the material anymore.  He does, however, have bright new red shoes, to show he walks in courage and delights that old knowledge constantly expresses itself in new ways.

His lantern holds a star too bright to see, and it emits eight beams of light to show he stands there throughout the year in a cycle that never ends.  His staff–a symbol of will and life in the tarot–shows that he has found his place through his own will.  The staff is capped with the fool’s red feather, to show how much the fool has learned in his journey, and two medicine pouches to show how he has distilled his needs to only the most important.

KEYWORDS:  Meditation, Contemplation, Solitude, Wisdom, Guidance, Maturity.

Close your eyes and imagine that you walk upward along a mountain path.  Continue walking and notice that the further you climb the mountain, the more silent you become internally.  When you reach the peak, you find a robed old man.  Ask him what question you would like.  Do not waste his time by ignoring his counsel.  Do as the Hermit instructs you.  Once you receive your message, open your eyes and take action.

Daily Practice
Keep the Hermit card with you or place it on your altar today.  Go someplace in nature where you can be alone.  Sit in silence, taking in the sights and sounds of your environment.  If you have a situation that needs attention in your life, watch the natural world around you to see if it can offer you any wisdom.  For example, a bird in flight may suggest that you get an overview of the situation.  The sound of crickets may tell you to count your blessings.  Who know what it all may mean to you?  You do.  What is important is that you open up and let the wisdom of your own nature come forward.

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, along with a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key.  I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

Day 292: Strength

July 25, 2013
Strength in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

Strength in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

Because we’re working with Rider-Waite inspired cards, the next stop in the Journey of the Fool is Strength.  It’s a profound jump, for–having gained some amazing mastery of balance and will in the Chariot, the Fool then has to sort of ‘give up’ that success to undergo a strange inner journey–one that will develop his spirituality and eventually lead him to be able to read the High Priestess’s scroll.

In most decks, the two main figured upon this card are a woman and a lion.  Rachel Pollack notes that early Strength images showed Hercules clubbing the Nemean lion to death (the first of his 12 tasks), which would imply we could beat our lower desires into submission.  Since the Virtues were often depicted as women (how many virtues are now girls’ names, after all?), the image eventually became a woman with a lion.

Interestingly, in the older decks, it strongly appears as though the woman is wrestling with the lion.  She straddles it with her legs, pinning it to the ground, and she pulls its upper jaw open with one hand and pushes the lower jaw open with the other, as seen below:

Strength in the Marseilles decks.

Strength in the Marseilles decks.

Waite, however, changed the relationship between woman and lion in his card.  He shows a moment after the lion has been subdued.  It is now being led by a chain of flower the woman fastens to her own waist, and she lovingly closes his mouth instead of opens it.  He noted that this card had little to do with self-confidence; rather, it was the confidence of those whose strength was God.  This is explicit Christian symbolism, but it factors in with the “one aspect in which the lion signifies the passions”.  The Strength figure is free from those passions.  She is the one who now leads them, and she has silenced their insatiable roar.  Devout Christians often find the strength to free themselves from such passions through their God, but others can find the same in an inner resource.

Strength can be seen as a counterpart to the Magician.  Not only is she the introductory card of the second stage of the Fool’s journey as the Magician is in the first, but she also shares his colors and the lemniscate above her head.  She is a master of energy and its cyclic flows, just as he is.  But she is not such a creature of desire.  The red roses that symbolize desire are only a tether, not an outer purpose.

Robin Wood’s card shares much with the Rider Waite card, but I find that it’s message of “Strength of Spirit” is more about compassion and empathy than it is about relegation.  The passionate lion reclines in her lap and lets her close his mouth because she loves him and has a kinship with him, and so he trusts her in return.

Instead of roses, Robin Wood’s Strength wears daisies (for the freshenss of her spirit), violets (her sweetness), forget-me-nots (her caring), spring beauties (joy), and baby’s breath (her childlike-ness) in a wreath to show their eternity.  Her white dress of purity is trimmed in yellow to show her joy and lemniscates which show her mastery and the balance of forces at her command.  The lion is the symbol of all masculine qualities–vigor, strong passions, etc.–and the flowers she’s strewn in his main show that her own good qualities are shaping him by association and making them better by her control.  So instead of being a symbol of tamed passion, he is more an example of learning self-control through another’s example.

The oak in the corner is another allusion to strength, but–as in the Lovers card–a reminder that strength can lead to greater mysteries.  Wood has placed all in an alpine meadow, since mountains mean enlightenment.  But higher peaks yet await.

KEYWORDS:  Inner Strength, Compassion, Soft Control, Love and Trust.

Close your eyes and imagine that you stand near a cliff pounded by the ocean’s waves.  Observe the serene strength of the cliff.  Observe how it requires no effort.  It stands by its own natural strength.  In a flash, you become the cliff.  Feel your sturdiness, your mass.  Feel how the ocean swirls and crashes against you, yet does not move you in the slightest.  Breathe deeply.  With each inhalation you draw into your being this sturdy inner strength of the cliff.  When you feel as though you have assumed the full virtues of the sea cliff, open your eyes.

Daily Practice
Keep the Strength card with you at all times today, or place it on your altar.  As you go throughout your day try taking action with a sense of calm courage.  Try the meditation above and then go about your day doing your normal activities as though you were this great, poised, unmovable cliff.  How might that internalized image affect your daily life?

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, along with a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key.  I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

Day 291: The Chariot

July 24, 2013
The Chariot in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

The Chariot in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

Some people struggle with the Emperor or Hierophant cards.  My own struggle has always been with the Chariot. To me, this has been a card without its own strong identity.  Instead, I’ve frequently seen images reminding me of other cards.  As Rachel Pollack notes, if you conceive of the Major Arcana as a journey of the Fool, by the time the Fool gets to card seven, it’s evident he’s taken the lessons of the other cards into himself.  In the Rider-Waite card, he carries a longer version of the Magician’s wand, and the moons on his shoulders evoke the High Priestess (note that one smiles and one frowns, “to represent he variety of life experiences”, though Waite himself thought of them as the Urim and Thummim or a divination device).  His crown is reminiscent of the Empress’s zodiac tiara and the square gray chariot is a reminder of the Emperor.  The black and white sphinxes remind one of both Boaz and Jachin as well as the Hierophant’s monks, and the lovers are represented by the lingam and yoni on the chariot’s shield.  (For what it’s worth, I always thought of the “Golden Snitch” above this shield to nod to the myth of Icarus:  a caution to not reach too high while unprepared.)

Turning to Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot, we can see that he, at least, saw the Chariot as the King who earned his kingship by virtue of being “the victorious hero” who “is conquest on all planes–in the mind, in science, in progress, in certain trials of initiation. [...] He is above all things triumph in the mind.”  (Which is why the sphinxes pull his chariot:  they are creatures who revel in logic and riddles.)  This triumph was also the key to the card’s problem, for “the liberation which he effects may leave himself in the bondage of the logical understanding” which, in turn, would mean that if he came to the High Priestess, he would not be able to read the sacred mysteries on the Tora or answer her questions.

However, this doesn’t really grab me either.  What I see here is a man trapped in a box and going nowhere.  His sphinx-engines are laying down, after all.  I don’t really see any ‘triumph’ here, either.  The Chariot is, after all, sitting outside of a city, not within it as you might assume if he had seized the city.  I suppose I can see a lot of “Will” here, what with the charioteer’s calm expression and his balance of symbols (as well as the polar sphinxes).  But it still is a card that leaves me cold.

This is a card that reminds me just how much I like the Robin Wood deck.  Her Chariot does away with the connotations of triumph and returns the Chariot to it’s basic meaning:  an object of transportation.  This is a Chariot in motion, as evidenced by the trotting unicorns, billowing canopy, and the clouds of dust behind all of it.  It is still a card that means “Will”, for the charioteer ultimately controls where the Chariot goes, but this is a will that understands the importance of balanced harmony in successfully attaining that will.

Wood specifically switched out the sphinxes for unicorns because “they will only obey the pure of heart”, which shows that the charioteer is a “paragon of purity.”  There are also no reigns upon these mythic steeds.  Instead of brute force, he controls them through song (as evidenced by the harp and his open, singing mouth).  This is a ‘riskier’ form of control.  The unicorns have to choose to follow the charioteer’s command and to bring their opposing selves together in concord in order to continue to hear that song.  These unicorns are fierce, so if the charioteer does lose control, the results will be disastrous…but if he can hold all in harmony, his chariot will fly!  This is noted not only by the chariot’s apparent speed, but by the wings, showing freedom of spirit in balance, that flank a blue jewel (depth of soul) above a yin-yang (balance, harmony, and unity.)  Together, that trio encapsulates the card’s sum meaning.

This is a carefully wrought balance that can lead to incredible direction and growth.  It shows a careful, but productive balance between opposing forces and bringing all to a common direction.  It is a tightrope act, to be sure, but not one begun without skill and pure intent.

KEYWORDS: Balance and Harmony, Victory, Will, Assertion, Hard Control.

Close your eyes and imagine a situation in which you would like movement or action to take place.  Vividly bring to mind all of the characters and situations that have come together to form the situation.  Once you have this in your mind’s eye, begin to breathe deeply.  On each exhalation, imagine that you imbue the situation with a brilliant light.  Fill each person involved with your motivating energy until all that you see before you is a brilliant light.  Now allow the light to fade.  As it does, envision the situation changing to reflect the preferred outcome.

Daily Practice
Keep the Chariot card with you at all times today, or place it on your altar.  As you act throughout your day, take mental note of what motivates you.  Are you moved by fear?  Anxiety?  Greed?  Anger?  Hope?  At the day’s end, journal about the experience and note what it was that motivated you the most.  What do your motivating factors say about you?  How would you like to change this?

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Anthony Louis’s Tarot Plain and Simple. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,


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