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
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