I have a special view of the Strength card. It is commonly described as showing our human/mental/rational traits subduing our animal/emotional/body-based traits – “containing the savage beast within us”1. It’s not a brutal subjugation – the woman doesn’t hurt the lion – but nonetheless, there is a polarity and hierarchy.
I started to view Strength differently when I read what Tarot Teachings says about the woman: she uses “compassion, love, patience, and cunning” to calm the lion. The cunning stood out to me right away because Havi uses sneaky, indirect ways to better know herself and solve problems.
I wondered, instead of the lion representing emotion/savage/body/bad, could he instead represent our Inner Overprotector? Could he, the King of the Animals, instead be the powerful force within us humans that cautions against change and risk to keep us safe?
Viewing the lion as the Inner Overprotector does a few positive things:
First, it breaks the binary between rational-emotional, mind-body, good-bad, etc. which needs to go already.
Second, the Inner Overprotector, a.k.a. Fear, Vampire Voices, Monsters, the Little Hater – gains legitimacy when it is portrayed as ruler of the animal kingdom. In our wider culture, the Inner Overprotector is treated like the enemy – kick your fears in the ass, power through your fears, be fear-less (and feel ashamed if you slide back into being afraid). The thing is, your Inner Overprotector is part of you – and will always be part of you, given how it has served humanity so well during our evolution – so kicking your fears in the ass is actually kicking yourself in the ass. For your entire life.
Herakles fighting the Nemean lion.
On the other hand, sometimes we are told to ignore our fears because they are silly. I don’t believe this is wise, either. Our Inner Overprotectors have valid concerns that need to be honored. Missing a deadline at work won’t result in immediate physical harm to us (in most occupations), but we still feel as if our lives are in danger – and our bodies can’t tell the difference. It’s real, and it’s not silly.
Third – and this is reflected well in the Golden Thread Tarot’s design, among others – it allows us to see the Inner Overprotector as a partner rather than a silly annoyance or an enemy to defeat once and for all.
The woman listens to – welcomes – the lion’s concerns, and sometimes he does indeed protect the woman from dangers. Most of the time she goes ahead with her plans, after assuring the lion she will be careful – and points out he’s actually not protecting her when he keeps her stagnant and unhappy.
The German word for strength is “kraft”, which of course sounds like “craft”. Welcoming fears and worries truly is a craft. It requires practice and consistency, and “compassion, love, patience, and cunning”. The Rolla Nordic Tarot goes so far as to re-name the card “the Enchantress”.
When the woman stands with the lion, rather than overpowering him or controlling him, they form a whole, positive, growing human being. Such a human is majestic, fully owning themselves, their choices, and their lives.
May we all know majesty. May we all know this kind of strength.
Please read Havi’s completely different and beautiful thoughts on Majesty also!
While writing this article, I found these images inspiring:
the goddess Kybele with lions
Tarot of Methamorphosis
the goddess Durga with her lion mount
the goddess Rhea with lion
1The Tarot Directory by Annie Lionnet