Arcanum VIII, Strength


Esoteric Titles:
The Child of the Flaming Sword
The Mistress of the Beasts
The Scarlet Woman
The Glory of Gilgamesh

This Tarot card shows a woman in a mountainous landscape, with a lemnisciate figure of eight symbol above her head holding open the jaws of a ferocious red lion. This is the only other card in Tarot symbolism which employs this symbol – the other being the first card The Magician. The 11th path links Kether with Chokmah which relates specifically to The Fool and The Magus – therefore we are reminded again of the beginning and the end or alpha and omega. In effect the card contains a subtle mnemonic which indicates the position of the Fool at position 22 and not at the beginning. As in the case of Trump 11 Justice – this card was exchanged in the sequential order of the 22 cards for reasons given below.

Numerical Ambiguities:

The lemnisciate symbol or “lazy eight” above the head of the woman denotes the paths of evolution and involution expressed by positive and negative numbers as a binary system within Qaballistic symbolism. The caduceus of Hermes – the psychopomp, who guides the souls of the dead into the underworld also has twin serpents intertwined in a figure of eight path on his staff. So that for example when 8 is subtracted from Trump 10 (10-8=2) we arrive at Binah in which the twin pillars (night & day or Joachim & Boaz) reiterate the significance of the 11-year cycle represented by 11. Justice. This numeric idea is clearly illustrated in “The Naples Arrangement” as a labyrinthine path of odd and even numbers. The first numbers 1-9, plus the function of Zero (viz: Pi) or the Fool will enable the continuous flow of numbers to unfold. That is why in a mathematical sense Trump 10 The Wheel denotes “X-change” and expansion. The letter X (Latin: 10) symbolising the “unknown quantity” or the question. When Keys 1-18 are arranged in this schema in two rows of nine we can use the two mathematical functions of addition and subtraction in a mnemonic table to arrive at any one of the 21 key values;

Note: That keys 19, 20 and 21 are omitted from this table is due to their association with macro-cosmic principles.

Therefore, the 7-fold aspect of the numeric keys is also secretly revealed by virtue of the fact that seven is held in check by eight 7+7 =14 – Temperance, plus another 7 = 21 The World. The card is also known by many names for example – Force, Fortitude and Endurance, while the occultist Aleister Crowley named it simply “Lust”. In very simple terms the message of the card seems to illustrate that a weak or passive principle (the lady) is quite capable of holding in check ferocious, intractable or destructive forces, they being represented by the lion. From Egyptian mythology the woman and the lion represents the goddess Sekhmet – who in turn epitomises the destructive force of the midday Summer Sun. Even something so wonderful and longed for as a warm day can so easily become the beginning of a long drought bringing with it famine and pestilence. Indeed, we might crave for water when thirsty, but too much of that element and we could so easily be drowning in a flood or vast ocean. The card therefore advises moderation and control in one’s life or affairs will bring about harmonious conditions. It also indicates that gentleness not severity serves to mediate with those who use force to implement their will on others. In Medieval Alchemy the symbol of the lion denoted the idea found in Orphic doctrine that spiritual evolution is in fact a destructive process. While the gestalt of a ‘snake’ (Teth) denotes the ability to regenerate by ‘shedding one’s skin’ and beginning anew. This idea is numerically expressed in adding 8 and 11 which results in 19. The Sun. In other words the ego is actually slowly devoured by the process of self-development or spiritual training. The deeper significance of the lemnisciate above the woman’s head is related to the calendar cycle – when the forces of light begin to decline after the celebration of the Summer solstice. The twin forces of light and darkness exchange dominion ie: The Magician is a male figure representing the expression of individual willpower, the female “lion-tamer” relies on the power of others and no doubt uses more subtle persuasive means to achieve the same goal. It also illustrates how important Creativity and Self-confidence are in everyday life and how this power needs to be harnessed and channelled for maximum effect.

When the Major Arcana cards are laid out on the relevant path attributions on the Tree of Life it was discovered probably by MacGregor Mathers (Order of the Golden Dawn) that card no. 8 – Justice fell upon the 19th. path which is attributed to Leo and Strength no. 11 on the 22nd. path, normally attributed to Libra. This seemed an obvious mistake and in need of a simple substitution, which A.E. Waite employed in his subsequent re-design of the pack. Perhaps indicating in a cryptic and mysterious way that Force or Strength must be tempered by Justice? However, only a deeper meditation and contemplative view on these two cards can reveal their deep inner meaning and significance. The Hebrew letter Lamed means an Ox-Goad, which incidentally resembles the balance beam of the scales in the hand of the female figure. The idea being expressed is that all things being equal or that equivalence is a prevalent theme in the arrangement and design of the Tarot symbols. The Hebrew letter Teth, which means a Snake is a reference to the tail of the lion that resembles a serpent – it has arcane constellational and mythological significance that is perhaps too lengthy to delve into at this point. Essentially the serpent moves in and out of the path of the numeric keys thereby revealing their secrets as well as on the Tree of Life. The serpent as an alchemical symbol is also a reference to the astrological sign of Scorpio, which when transformed or liberated is the image of an eagle soaring in the lofty heavens and thereby symbolises the sexual force of kundalini being transmuted, while the lion a reference to Leo is a reference to the 33 vertebrae of the human spinal chord and to the heart or cardiac plexus. Clearly, the serpent has a negative connotation in this instance as the cunning that whispered into Eve‘s ear “Why not?”.

The important factor to bear in mind is that when the astrological symbols are laid out on a Moebius Strip thus:

Then Leo is diametrically opposed to Libra and Aries to Aquarius. The elemental relationship is fairly clear with Air (Intellect) feeding Fire (Spirit). The individual Ego (Aries) in relationship to Humanity (Aquarius) and Social Relationships (Libra) in relationship to Creative Endeavours (Leo). However, when Aleister Crowley accepted these alterations for some peculiar reason he did not change the face value of the cards in his design of the pack. Aleister Crowley went one step further and exchanged the previous Hebrew letter attribution of He for the Emperor to The Star whose traditional Hebrew letter attribute was Tzaddi. This was believed to be as a result of an inner plane communication where he was informed clairvoyantly that all of the old Hebraic letters were correct but nevertheless, Tzaddi was not the Star – with the admonition:

“This is also secret; my prophet shall reveal it to the wise….”

Crowley himself explains this by saying that the abbreviation Tz is in fact a reference to the Tsar or Caesar – an ancient term for an Emperor. He on the other hand is connected to the sound of the life breath or exhalation and quite rightly belongs to the card that on one level describes the act of pranayama breathing techniques used in meditation. This seems to be a rational enough explanation for this exchange, but the riddle is still far from being solved because the older versions of the Tarot do not give any overt symbolism to the Emperor being connected to the sign Aries at all.

The Lady of the Beasts (“Twelfth Night”) 11. #Strength

Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night” appears to correspond to the Tarot trump Strength for several reasons. The title denotes the last of the twelve carnival days of misrule (Saturnalia) led by the Fool or clown which was traditionally a time when anything was permissible and long-held taboos and hierarchies were usually questioned, reversed or abandoned and general chaos ruled. Furthermore, although considered by archivists as a tragicomedy and not a romance, the general theme seems to contradict Shakespeare’s oft quoted assertion from his Sonnets (#116):

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments,
Love is not love which alters when it, alteration finds…”.

Again, like the plot in “Measure For Measure”, this play could be called three weddings and a revelation, but for rather different reasons. The nature of the love-match alters considerably. A lot of theatrical smoke and mirrors, ambiguity as well as cross-dressing occurs in the play between the principal actors and “actresses”. It should be borne in mind that women were not employed in the theatre during Shakespeare’s time and that all women’s parts were usually played by adolescent young boys. One might anticipate the complexities of having a woman playing a man who steals the heart of a man playing a woman? However, it was not officially published until 1623 in the first Shakespearean folio of 36 Plays. In effect it is the female characters (Olivia, Viola and Maria), some of whom are disguised as men, who mediate and control the reactions of the secondary male characters (Malvolio, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek). In the meantime the complexities of the love-match are highlighted with the Duke Orsino being in love with Olivia, who has inadvertently taken a fancy to his page (Viola), played as Cesario and Viola herself being secretly attracted to the Duke. During a night’s drunken revelries featuring Belch, Feste and Sir Aguecheek, which is interrupted sternly by Malvolio, Maria warns them that Olivia is presently in a dark mood. In an attempt to bring the pride and folly of Malvolio to book Maria writes a letter to him in the guise of her mistress, in which Olivia appears to declare her undying love for him. Sir Aguecheek, Maria, and a certain Fabian lie in wait and when he receives the letter they secretly observe his startled reactions. Malvolio then dreams of his elevation of status, the grandeur and a prosperous future marriage to his mistress Olivia while the others find his reactions and demeanour simply amusing.

The folly of presumption appears to be the major theme of this play and how inner strength of character as opposed to external or superficial appearances are merely an obstacle in achieving a union of opposites. Because of several topical allusions made in this play (dated 6th January, 1601) the play was thought to have been staged before her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 1st by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men for her guest Don Virginio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano at the Palace of Whitehall although it might have been first staged at one of the Inns of Court earlier (1580-87, Charlton Ogburn). Cairncross posits a date close to the 6th January 1593 performed at the Middle Temple by Lord Pembroke’s Men because of the legal language employed in the play. Whatever the case it would appear that Malvolio was a coded allusion to Sir Christopher Hatton, and Aguecheek to Sir Phillip Sidney who foolishly presumed to be high in Queen Elizabeth’s favour although most likely Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford had more than acquired the Queen’s favour above them both. He was awarded an annuity of some £1,000 to oversee the development of the Great English Renaissance and was indirectly involved in the building of the Globe Theatre as well as staging plays at the Blackfriar’s Theatre. Sir Phillip Sidney had at one time entertained a marriage to Anne Cecil, the daughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley but he was rejected because he was without sufficient funds to provide for her. On the advice and suggestion of her father, Anne Cecil then went on to accept a marriage to the 17th Earl of Oxford thereby raising her and her father’s status. Helen H. Gordon goes further to suggest that “Twelfth Night” was written by the Earl of Oxford during the time when the Queen had entertained a secret liaison with the Earl of Oxford from which was born an illegitimate child (Henry Wriosthesley, the Earl of Southampton).

Furthermore, the character and actions of the 17th Earl of Oxford appear to mirror the sublime qualities of the Tarot trump #Strength, whose alternative titles eg: Patience, Fortitude, Resilience, Endurance and Courage. In his publication “Booke of Honor and Armes” (1590), the Officer of Arms, William Segar (c.1554–1633) recalls the tournament of January 22nd 1581:

“An honourable Challenge was likewise brought before her Maiestie, by the Earl of Arundel, calling himselfe Callophisus, who with his assistant Sir William Drury, challenged all commers. Anno 1580. The Defenders were, The Earle of Oxford, the Lord Windsor, Phillip Sidney, Edward Norris, Henry Knowles, Robert Knowles, Fulke Grivell, Thomas Knevet, Thomas Kellaway, Rafe Bowes, George Goring, George Gifford, Anthony Cooke, Henrie Bronkard, Edward Denny, Richard Ward, Thomas Parrot.”

It appears that the Earl of Oxford (secretly acting as a spy for Lord Burghley) had accused the Earl of Arundel of involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate the Queen by Francis Throckmorton (1585). The conspirators were actually in communication with Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador and conspired to overthrow the Queen with the financial assistance of the Duke of Guise and her half-sister Mary, Queen of Scots while she was herself imprisoned. Arundel it seems had been receiving 1,000 crowns from Mendoza every year for supplying information and intelligence concerning Queen Elizabeth’s court. George Gifford, a gentleman pensioner at court approached the Duke of Guise in Paris in 1583 arranging to shoot or stab the Queen while she was walking alone in her garden or while out horse-riding. Arundel likewise accused the Earl of Oxford of being disingenuous, of a bellicose and belligerent disposition whose head the Queen desired to meet the executioner’s axe because of his support and defence of the Duke of Norfolk and for getting one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Vavasour pregnant. The report of this special tournament, which was intended to alleviate the numerous factions, unresolved disagreements and rivalries at court goes on to say:

“The Queen sat in a pavilion on the northern side of the forecourt to Westminster Palace. The demonstratively expensive tents of the contestants were erected on the southern side, the tribunes for the spectators were situated on the long sides. In the report, Oxfordʼs tent was described as being “a stately tent of orange tawny taffeta” with a laurel wreath with gilded leaves over the entrance. As the Earl took his place before his lineage tree (Ygdrassil), a page kneeled before the Queen and requested her permission to relate a story: “Axiochus. A most excellent dialogue, written in Greeke by Plato the phylosopher: concerning the shortnesse and uncertainty of this life, with the contrary ends of the good and wicked. Translated out of Greeke by Edw. Spenser. Heereto is annexed a sweet speech or oration spoken at the tryumphe at White-hall before her Maiestie, by the page to the right noble Earle of Oxenforde.”

At London, Printed for Cuthbert Burbie, and are to be sold at the middle shop in the Poultry, under S. Mildreds Church., Anno. 1592

The Visconti Sforza Tarot denoting Strength features Hercules and a lion

It would appear that the Earl of Oxford was reminding the Earl of Arundel of the longevity, honour, strength and surety of his family line, his family motto on his coat of arms being synonymous with Truth ( lit: “Nothing Truer Than Truth”). The report continues with a description of the Tree of the Sun:

The legendary Tree of the Sun (Ygdrassil) was the ash tree

“This Tree, fair Knight is called the Tree of the Sun, whose nature is always to stand alone, not suffering a companion, being it self without comparison: of which kind, there are no more in the earth than Suns in the Element. The world can hold but one Phoenix, one Alexander, one Sun Tree, in top contrarie to all Trees: it is strongest, & so statelie to behold, that the more other shrubs shrink for duty, the higher it exalteth itself in Majestie. For as the clear beams of the Sun, cause all the stars to lose their light, so the brightness of this golden Tree, eclipseth the commendation of all other Plants. The leaves of pure Gold, the bark no worse, the buds pearls, the body Chrisocolla, the Sap Nectar, the root so noble as it springeth from two Turkeies (Turquoises), both so perfect, as neither can stain the other, each contending once for superiority, and now both constrained to be equals. Vesta’s bird sitteth in the midst, whereat Cupid is ever drawing, but dares not shoot, being amazed at the princely and perfect Majesty. The shadows hath as strange properties as contrarieties, cooling those that be hot with a temperate calm, and heating those that be cold with a moderate warmth, not unlike that Sun whereof it taketh the name, which melteth Wax, and hardeneth Clay, or pure fire, which causeth the gold to shine, and the straw to smother, or sweet perfumes, which feedeth the Bee, and killeth the Beetle. No poison commeth near it, nor any vermin that hath a sting. Who so goeth about to lop it, lanceth himself, and the Sun will not shine on that creature that casteth a false eye on that Tree, no wind can so much as wag a leaf, it springeth in spite of Autumnus and continueth all the year as it were Ver. If, Sir Knight you demand what fruit it beareth, I answer, such, as the elder it is, the younger it seemeth, always ripe, yet ever green. Virtue, Sir Knight, more nourishing to honest thoughts, than the beauty delightful to amorous eyes; where the Graces are as thick in virtue, as the Grapes are on the Vine. This fruit fatteneth, but never feeds, wherewith this Tree is so loaden, as you cannot touch that place which virtue hath not tempered. If you enquire whether any grafts may be gotten, it were as much as to crave slips of the Sun, or a Mould to cast a new Moon. To conclude, such a Tree as it is, as he hath longest known it, can sooner marvel at it than describe it, for the further he wadeth in the praise, the shorter he cometh of the perfection. This old man having ended, seeming to want words to express such worthiness, he went to his home, and the Knight to his Sun Tree, where kissing the ground with humilitie, the princely tree seemed with favour to bid him welcome. But the more he gazed on the beauty, the less able he was to endure the brightness, like unto those that thinking with a steadfast eye to behold the sun brings a dark dazzling over their sight. At the last, resting under the shadow, he felt such content, as nothing could be more comfortable. The days he spent in virtuous delights, the night slipped away in golden Dreams; he was never annoyed with venomous enemies, nor disquieted with idle cogitations.”

The report ends as follows:

“The speech being ended, with great honour he ran, and valiantly brake all the twelve staves. And after the finishing of the sports: both the rich Baytree, and the beautiful Tent, were by the standersby, torn and rent in more pieces than can be numbered.”
Oxford’s poetical page (the 20-year old Anthony Munday) glorified the Queen in the allegory of the Sun Tree. The Knight who discovered this tree after wandering aimlessly for such a long time, took refuge under her branches, awestruck in the presence of her regal perfection. “For his own tiltyard nom de guerre,” Mark Anderson writes, “Edward de Vere borrowed from the Norse legends of a great golden tree in the centre of the universe –Ygdrassil- representing the sun.”

A Chinese Maple Tree, sacred to the Sun

Needless to say Oxford’s ostentatious, theatrical and athletic performance won the heart of the Queen and he was awarded 1st prize as victor of the tournament. Further tales of the Earl of Oxford’s “daring-do” during his visit to Italy where he was involved in a public pageant rehearsed by the Italian Commedia d’elle Arte can be accessed with the following link: “Oxford’s Challenge to Don Juan in Italy”. As one might readily assume or expect literary analogies or metaphorical references to lions are quite numerous especially in Shakespeare’s historical plays for example in Henry VIth Part 3 the Earl of Rutland on the battlefield remarks:

“So looks the pent-up lion o’er the wretch
That trembles under his devouring paws;
And so he walks, insulting o’er his prey,
And so he comes, to rend his limbs asunder.”

While later Richard compares his father to a lion:
“I saw him in the battle range about;
And watch’d him how he singled Clifford forth.
Methought he bore him in the thickest troop
As doth a lion in a herd of neat;”

While Clifford remarks:
“My gracious liege, this too much lenity
And harmful pity must be laid aside.
To whom do lions cast their gentle looks?”

And King Henry adds:
“O piteous spectacle! O bloody times!
Whiles lions war and battle for their dens,
Poor harmless lambs abide their enmity.
Weep, wretched man, I’ll aid thee tear for tear;”

In King Richard IInd meanwhile the Queen suggests:
“The lion dying thrusteth forth his paw,
And wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage
To be o’erpower’d; and wilt thou, pupil-like,
Take thy correction mildly, kiss the rod,
And fawn on rage with base humility,
Which art a lion and a king of beasts?”

England’s Royal Banner

In King John many references are made to Richard the Lion-heart:
“Richard, that robb’d the lion of his heart
And fought the holy wars in Palestine,
By this brave duke came early to his grave:”
“O, well did he become that lion’s robe
That did disrobe the lion of that robe!”

While Bottom in a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is anxious to ensure that the ‘ladies’ in the audience are not overly frightened or hysterical when Snug the joiner, disguised as a fierce lion, might play his part too convincingly:

“Nay, you must name his name, and half his face must
be seen through the lion’s neck: and he himself
must speak through, saying thus, or to the same
defect,–‘Ladies,’–or ‘Fair-ladies–I would wish
You,’–or ‘I would request you,’–or ‘I would
entreat you,–not to fear, not to tremble: my life
for yours. If you think I come hither as a lion, it
were pity of my life: no I am no such thing; I am a
man as other men are;’ and there indeed let him name
his name, and tell them plainly he is Snug the joiner.”

“This grisly beast, which Lion hight by name,
The trusty Thisby, coming first by night,
Did scare away, or rather did affright;
And, as she fled, her mantle she did fall,
Which Lion vile with bloody mouth did stain.”

The word or rather surname “Shake-speare”, according to researchers and academics is an ingenious play of words and a word-riddle taken from the Latin epithet for the goddess Pallas-Athene ie; Hasti-Vibrans which means literally “shaking spear”. This is the same Greco-Roman goddess that appears as Britannia (in coins and monuments), except she carries a trident instead of a spear, as an icon found on English flags, monuments, coins and other national memorabilia. She is usually depicted facing sideways, wearing a helmet, a goatskin (aegis) on her shoulders, carrying a shield and is accompanied by a male lion (A solar symbol denoting Apollo, patron of poets). The lion is also a symbol of strength three of which appear on the English Royal coat of arms. A bizarre coincidence and which some researchers believe to corroborate certain authorship issues connected to the English Bible is that the words “spear” and “shake” appear in the 46th Psalm. More so since the word “spear” occurs as the 46th word from the beginning and the word “shake” appears as the 46th word from the end. Therefore the question has emerged was “William Shakespeare” also involved in the English translation of the King James Bible? This linguistic connection may also throw serious doubt on whether the actor from Stratford had sufficient education in foreign languages for the task of being chosen to translate from Greek or Hebrew into English?

Divinatory Meaning of this Card:

The 19th path on the Tree of Life links the sphere of Chesed (Mercy-Jupiter) with that of Geburah (Strength-Mars) connecting the left hand with the right hand pillars on the Ethical triad. In Tarot it is known as the “Activated Spiritual Intelligence”, because it lies tenuously above the Abyss but yet is both blessed and exalted in sublime glory. Primarily because succeeds the second of the initiatory groups in the sequence of spiritual evolution began by that associated with the tarot card The Hermit. Astrologically, it is described as Jupiter acting through the zodiacal sign of Leo upon the sphere of Mars. The gestalt image of this path is a snake or serpent, suggesting the activation and control of the serpent force known to Hindu mystics as Kundalini that lies dormant at the base or root chakra mulhadara. When finally aroused as a result of sustained Tantric training it is directed up the spinal cord through all the relevant chakras and finally for consummation into the head chakra. It is the repository of all knowledge, wisdom, reincarnation and human evolution and confers psychic or clairvoyant powers on the adept. In effect therefore it is the serpent of wisdom so often referred to in religious texts that winds itself round the Tree of Life conferring the knowledge of good and evil. In Tantra sexual intercourse is viewed as a sacramental rite and when performed correctly is intended to awaken and raise the serpent power from its inert, passive condition into its kinetic, active state. Ideally the electrical power of kundalini should penetrate into the inner susumna channel and be guided through the seven chakras raising the individual’s consciousness and conferring an extremely blissful state known to Buddhism as samadhi. However, this act needs to be tempered by an act of will and faith otherwise serious harm may result by unleashing this primordial energy.

Positive: Health, strength and courage, control of base passions or impulses. Power, endurance and pace. Emanation and direction of mental and emotional forces.

Negative: Emotional/physical weakness, failure or lack of vitality, brutality or violence. Rage.

SPHERE: Strength & Glory Teth – A Snake
Astrological: Aquarius or the 11th House.
Constellation: Phoenix – The Bird of Paradise
Sacred Gemstone: Carnelian or Tiger’s Eye

The next Arcanum in this series can be viewed by clicking on the following link:

“Arcanum IX, The Hermit”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,