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Tarot Reflections


  September 15, 2003

Shadow Meanings of the Strength Card
Sandra Thomson, CTGM

Sandra Thomson's specialty within tarot is that of an author and teacher. She is the co-author of three books (The Lovers' Tarot, Spiritual Tarot, and The Heart of The Tarot), the author of Cloud Nine: A Dreamer's Dictionary, and the author of a dictionary of tarot, Pictures from the Heart, published by St. Martin's Press.

She teaches tarot classes at the Philosophical Research Society (PRS) in Los Angeles, where she resides. Although she learned to read with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, she is very fond of the Ancestral Path and the Shining Tribe decks, and uses them for comparative or special readings. She reads online for the ATA reading networks, and privately.


Psychologically the Strength card refers to "harnessing" or acknowledging our polarities: the feminine and the masculine, the divine in the body and the divine in instinct, conscious vs. instinct.  Christine Jette in Tarot Shadow Work identifies the polarities as rage vs. compassion. 

In the Ancestral Path card (XI: Strength) an African woman sits beside a lion.  Her touch "lulls," while the cloud lemniscate (many Strength cards depict the lemniscate, the figure eight on its side) above them suggests that in their "oneness" they are invincible (divine). 

The idea of harnessing comes into play in the notion that we must "control" our instinctual ("beast") personality component, its strength being symbolized by the body of the King of Beasts—also the concept of the spiritual "taming" the physical.  In Meditations on the Tarot, the anonymous author speaks of the card as representing "holy animality which bestial [or primordial] animality obeys."  In many Strength cards that which is clearly weaker (the female) controls that which is clearly stronger (the lion).  She is the Holy Lion, before which the earthly lion yields, as Meditations on the Tarot suggests. 

One way the shadow of this card is activated is when we fail to acknowledge the polarities within.  In the Ancestral Path and Robin Wood cards, the lion and the maiden are clearly not enemies—or, perhaps, the "harnessing control" has already occurred.  The failure to acknowledge, recognize, or integrate our polarities leaves us "possessed" by, i.e., in the grips of, one or the other.  In the passive sense, failure to acknowledge our destructive, aggressive impulses leads to an inability to identify with those who act out (or act on) their aggressive impulses ("No way am I like him!"  "I could never be the bitch that she is!") and gives us a false sense of superiority, covering insecurity and unrecognized doubt.  

Failure to acknowledge, in the more active sense, leads to the possibility that we will be power hungry, ruthless, and brutal in our aggression, as well as the possibility that we will be caught up in the plans or actions of such people (as Hitler was able to "catch up" his followers).  In following him blindly, they did not have to acknowledge their own aggression and personally resolve it; they remained unintegrated and unaware of their own inner rage and abusiveness.  They were, after all, only following their leader.  And isn't that what many on trial for their prison camp atrocities said, "I was just following orders"?  Not me, I'm not mean-spirited, cruel, and abusive.  I could never be that way.


It seems to me also that failure of a male to recognize the feminine aspects of his personality could result in a bully or a homophobic person, while the failure of the female to recognize her inner masculine could result in an extremely compliant, clinging female, or a condescending, hostile female with no respect for, or enjoyment of, men (other than to "conquer" them in some way according to her own definition).  All these situations are the result of lumping together all "threatening" individuals, i.e., all "inferiors" (in the case of the bully), all homosexual persons (in the case of the homophobic), all men (as protectors or "infidels" to be conquered) in order to not be called upon to make some discriminating choices about others and oneself.

In the Tarot de Marseilles, the card is Force (XI), while in the Nigel Jackson deck the card also is XI, Fortitude.  Whatever its number and name, the Strength card is one of many cards in the deck that calls upon us to live in paradox.  The Egyptian lion-headed goddess Sekhmet was a goddess of war and destruction, yet at the same time she was also a goddess of medicine and healing.  Paradox.

In identifying what he calls the "survivor personality," psychologist Al Siebert has discovered that people who possess it are more comfortable than most in living in paradox and appreciating their own paradoxical nature.  He says they could also be called the "synergistic" or the "serendipitous" personality because they can see the positive in adversity, can develop coping strategies for a new/changed reality, can toy with their crisis and even poke fun at it, and in these varying perspectives become able to turn the situation around into something that turns out well rather than suffering in victimization.

So part of the shadow of this card would include failure or inability to turn adversity into something powerfully meaningful personally, and to "wallow" in the passive shadow aspect of this card, i.e., to remain a "shadow victim."      



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