Force, Strength or Lust?

The Lady and the Lion: Trump #11 in early decks and also in Aleister Crowley’s Thoth but Trump #8 in decks based on A.E. Waite’s model, this card has variously been titled Force (or Fortitude), Strength and Lust. Tarot de Marseille decks customarily show a woman opening the jaws of a lion, apparently without having to exert herself too strenuously. Waite, on the other hand, portrayed her trying to force those jaws closed. In this age of Jungian over-analysis, the assumption has been that the opening of the jaws portrays the controlled liberation of the instinctual nature from the constraints of inhibition, while closing them reflects a clamping down on the primitive (“animal”) side of the psyche as a “civilizing” venture. Both images convey the idea of self-mastery, but the former is a creative expression while the latter is purely repressive. Many modern versions of this card even display a kind of benign, “post-traumatic” interlude in which the two erstwhile antagonists appear to be coexisting peacefully; the show of force is implied rather than explicit, since the beast now knows its place and is behaving itself.

In his divinatory meanings, Waite adhered closely to the obvious ideas of “power, energy, action and courage,” while one of his chief 20th-Century interpreters, Eden Gray, chose to play up the domination of “the higher nature over carnal desires,” the spiritual overcoming the material as a form of moral rectitude. Paul Foster Case, who departed from Waite by depicting the B.O.T.A. lion with its mouth being opened, added the idea of “control of the life force” to the Golden Dawn lexicon. Since the astrological correspondence for Strength is Leo, the sign of the Sun’s rulership, I like to interpret it as “applied solar force.” In the Sun card, the Sun shines indiscriminately and benevolently on everything, while in Strength it is focused more on specific goals symbolized by its fixed-sign bias, implying solar optimism wedded to the engine of desire.

Crowley, ever the iconoclast, made much of the role of desire – which he characterized as “Lust” – in the function of this card. While he toed the Golden Dawn line much as Waite did in his brief divinatory meanings – “Courage, strength, energy and action, une grande passion” – he was moved to elaborate on the bare bones of the conventional meanings: “Lust implies not only strength, but the joy of strength exercised. It is vigour and the rapture of vigour.” This is exemplified in his image of the Scarlet Woman astride the Beast of the Apocalypse, in perfect command of its unruly fierceness through an exercise of supreme will and passion. Much like my “applied solar force,” it is primal instinct directed in useful ways rather than simply suppressed. I see it as a card of robust self-assurance and creative purpose.

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