Sunday, 21 June 2015

Strength | Summer Solstice | Blog Hop

Welcome to the Midsummer Blog hop! If you've happened here by chance, then you are in for a treat if you follow the links below to all the other blog hoppers who are providing a chain that runs from 0 The Fool through to XXI The World.

My card of choice is Strength.

Most decks published today show Strength as Major Arcana VIII, however this wasn't always the case. In older Marseille-style decks Justice is found at position VIII.

So why the switch? Well, Back in the early 1900s, The Golden Dawn's 
A E Waite (the creator of the Rider Waite Smith Tarot) was keen to add astrological references to the Major Arcana.  But if Strength (Leo), kept her position at Major XI, then pesky Justice (Libra) would disrupt their plan to show all the Astrological trumps in their correct order. 

And Lo! The switch was made!  Righting some ancient Tarot wrong, no doubt :)

Aleister Crowley, another but more notorious member of the Golden Dawn, stuck resolutely to the traditional numbering for his Thoth deck. But changed the names of the cards - Strength became Lust.  Contrary ol' coot!

Does this order-switching matter? Probably not really, because back in the day, the old decks didn't have numbered Major Arcana cards. 

Why were numbers added? I fondly imagine that the various City States of Italy – each more powerful and vainglorious than the next – ended up with different cards in different orders.  It's easy to imagine courtly gents in tights arguing heatedly about whether Temperance scored more points than Justice in their card game.  That's the sort of argument that can get you run through with a rapier....

But I digress, what I REALLY wanted to share with you is the evolution of the image:

Visconti Sforza - 1451
Hercules giving the Ebil Nemean lion a jolly good thrashing.
Pretty danged violent to our contemporary eyes, isn't it? 
The Sola Busca Tarot - 1491
A completely different viewpoint from a completely unique deck.
 This is Tulio, meditating on the night

Don't mix up card VIII which shows a child being dismembered over a fire by Nero - that's Justice, not Strength!

This is a deck crammed with alchemical symbolism :)
Tarot del Mantegna - 1470(ll Meneghello version)

A woman holds a club and wears a lion's mask.
There is also a lion behind her and a broken column.
The broken column is traditionally the symbol for Forteza.

BTW - this deck doesn't actually have anything to do with Mantegna :)

The Rider Waite Smith - 1909
The combination of lion, woman and physicality that we strongly associate with this card makes an appearance.

Tarot Sophistique - 2014
A contemporary version of a Marseille Tarot image 
Woman and Lion
we can see the nascent leminscate of the RWS in the circle of her hat.
Strength earned her place in the Tarot deck by dint of being one of the four Cardinal Virtues: Fortitude.

The other virtues are Prudence (The High Priestess), Temperance and Justice (represented by, erm, Temperance and Justice).

I like the virtue of Fortitude being part of the Tarot deck.  But Fortitude and Strength have slightly differing meanings:

Fortitude means courage in pain or adversary.

Strength means:

a) the quality or state of being physically strong
b) the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure

The subtle difference is that Fortitude brings a moral strength, a valour (indeed a Virtue!) to the heart of the card, which Strength alone does not.

And there endeth the Lesson on Strength!

Hope you're ready to hop onwards to the next card?


  1. Thanks Allison that was interesting. I didn't know that Beauty and the beast weren't always the main theme of the Strength card

  2. Grazie mille for the walk through Strength's provenance - fascinating!

  3. Nice point about the difference between Fortitude and Strength :) Sola Busca... hmmm.. interesting...!!! Looks like the poor man has lost his pants and is using a rubbish bin lid to retain his modesty! :)

  4. I definitely prefer the woman and lion imagery to the poor little lion being clubbed to death, so I'm rather glad it has evolved.

  5. I agree with Ania, I'm glad it evolved although the original of Hercules clubbing the Nemean Lion is more of his physical brute strength rather than the gentle flexible strength of the current Strength.

    Apart from the potential sauciness of the Sola Busca... it is an interesting image for strength. Would definitely show strength in Britain being "sans hose" in this weather :) BB

  6. That was an interesting jaunt... though now I am going to have to nip off and see if I can find that VIII with Nero... :)

  7. Thanks for showing the evolution of the cards!

  8. Thanks for showing the evolution of the cards!

  9. Very enlightening post. Btw, the sola busca version I don't quite get.

  10. After reading your post I kind of like the idea of Fortitude appearing as card XI, after The Wheel.... fortitude against the vicissitudes of fate and all that :-)

  11. I usually tell my clients that Strength used to be called Fortitude. It generates a good discussion on the strength of will it takes to make changes in our lives. Well done, Alison!

  12. Fortitude makes a lot of sense to me. Though Strength is still better than Crowley's Lust - that never made sense to me! Did he mean you have to be strong to resist Lust, or that when we can ride our physical passions we grow in fortitude... Fascinating post, Ali :D


Never mind what I think, what do YOU think? :-)

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