Ruled by fiery Leo and assigned the Hebrew letter Teth, meaning “snake”, Strength is the energetic eighth major arcana in the Rider-Waite pack. Qabalists assign the sense of taste and the function of digestion to the letter Teth, while Leo governs the side, back, heart and spinal column. Paul Case writes in relation to this card that “Regulation of diet is at the bottom of practical magic”. Many modern health practitioners say the same is true for healing, as well.
The implication of serpent-power links Strength directly to The Magician. In the Layout of Three Worlds, major arcana 1-21 are laid out in three horizontal rows of seven cards. In this layout Strength rests immediately below The Magician, forming a connection between the first set, the World of the Higher Mind, and the material realm of the second set. The second set addresses ways in which to bring the higher qualities of the first set into our daily lives. Notice that The Magician’s belt is a serpent biting its own tail, signifying endless transformation. The aspects found in The Magician carry over into Strength.
The energy of Serpent-power is vast. Meanings include astral light, cosmic electricity, universal life principle, conscious energy, secrecy, subtlety, wisdom, redemption, salvation, reincarnation, regeneration, immortality, illusion, and endless transformation and conversion. Did I miss anything?
Notice also the Infinity symbol over the heads of The Magician and the woman in Strength. The meaning of the Strength card is made clear by the mutual figure eights and the association of the serpent. The state of mind expressed in Strength is one where the personality faces the world with all of the forces of The Magician in hand, as the attention of the Tarot begins to turn to the manifestation of Spirit in the material realm.
The background in this version shows an open plain, suggesting conditions of nature rather than those of human construction. The mountain carries the same meaning it did the first time it appeared in The Lovers, a reference to the Great Work. The woman’s yellow hair identifies her with The Empress, ultimately Venus, and therefore with creative imagination. The crown of flowers on her head signifies life in the organic form, while her white robe suggests a pure state of mind. The chain of roses around her waist represents the artistic adaptation of desire, one of the most important qualities of this triumph. “When we learn how to weave our desires together into a chain, rejecting all desires which are incompatible with our main purpose, and co-ordinating those we do decide upon as fitting to our purpose, we shall be able to make wonderful applications of creative imagination to the control and direction of the serpent-power”. –Paul Foster Case.
While the allusion to the serpent is a sign of connection to higher power, the presence of the King of Beasts represents not only human base instinct, but the consciousness of the animal kingdom. In the Rider-Waite version it appears that the woman may be pressing the mouth of the lion closed, but the idea of suppression is far off-track from the true meaning of Strength. In all older decks and many modern versions, the woman is opening the mouth of the beast, an action that suggests giving voice and conscious human direction to these forces. The message of the eighth triumph celebrates a coalition between higher consciousness, raw instinct, and the natural world. It is Love that is the ruling force in Strength, for love is always triumphant, not only over hate, but over indifference as well!
In a reading, this triumph might refer to a healer or benevolent leader. A person represented by Strength will be an excellent judge of character and realistic in their expectations of others, not easily fooled. This is someone with high standards and a sense of determination. Other traits are self-assurance, sincerity, warmth, affection and protectiveness. This is an expressive personality, someone who is cultured, refined and artistic. Other meanings might include a situation that calls for a compassionate approach, or one that requires the seeker to draw from deep inner resources.
I’ll leave you today with another quote on the forces of Strength from Paul Case: “When we assimilate the hostile, destructive, dangerous, wild forces in nature to the use of mankind, we add to those forces the quality of human consciousness…What matters, therefore, is the kind of patterns we set. Our mental patterns are determined by self-conscious interpretation of experience. Let observation and attention (the Magician) be faulty, superficial, negative or fearful and the resulting sequence of subconscious reactions is bound to be destructive. Thus the spoken word and unuttered speech of thought (the Chariot) will be vehicles for a destructive pattern, and we shall set wild beasts at our own vitals. Change the pattern, and you change the result. Make it accurate, profound, courageous, positive. Then you tame the lion, and he becomes your servant.”