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:
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.
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, learntarot.com.