Recombinant Trumps: Strength and Temperance

The third array of trump-card counterparts involves Strength and Temperance on opposite sides of Justice, and the relevant numbers for the accompanying cards are Eight, Fourteen and Five. I decided to insert the Fool in all of these tableaux, even without an obvious numerological derivation. because the Fool represents the “jumping-off place” for all of my imaginative story-telling forays. However, we could “back-door” our way into it by considering that 8+14+5 = 27 and 2+7 = 9,  ultimately taking us to 0 through the additional step of “casting out nines.” As is becoming apparent, numbers are infinitely adaptable; they can mean “everything” (the World) or “nothing” (zero as the Fool).


Strength, numbered VIII in the RWS deck used here, relates directly to all of the number Eight “pip” cards, and to the Star through numerological (aka “theosophical”) reduction (1+7 = 8) as well as via astrological opposition (Leo vs. Aquarius). Although I generally prefer the image in the Tarot de Marseille decks that shows the woman opening the lion’s mouth to let it “roar” rather than prudishly closing it as Waite has it, in this context it may be better to think of it as an expression of self-containment and not unconditional release in line with its more deliberate  companions, Temperance and the Hierophant. The Eights also bear out the idea of discernment over the impassioned discharge of “animal instinct.” (Note that, if using the older assumption that Trump VIII is actually Justice and not Strength, which itself becomes Trump XI, this last point works just as well if not better, even though to do so “upsets the apple-cart” that I’ve been carefully loading in these posts.)

Temperance, numbered XIV, is symbolically connected to all of the Fives and the Hierophant through theosophical reduction (1+4 = 5), and to the Kings as the fourteenth suit card of each suit, while the Kings are also related to the Hierophant and the Fives by reduction (1+4 = 5). Much like the Emperor, the Kings can represent the “secular enforcer” for the Cosmic Law imparted by the Hierophant. Temperance is a card of measured aspiration that prefigures the more cerebral ambitions of the Star, while the Hierophant is the “hide-bound” avatar of “heaven on earth” who channels the same spiritual essence as that wielded by Temperance and the Star, although in a much more prescriptive and unctuous way.

Strength and Temperance are both related to elemental Fire through their astrological associations, Leo and Sagittarius respectively; Fire is the element of initiative and inspiration, among other similar attributes. On the Qabalistic Tree of Life, Strength mediates  between the spheres of Jupiter and Mars, delivering a galvanizing  form of righteous justice that partakes equally of “the carrot and the stick” (mercy and severity). The Eights, for which it is the archetypal equivalent, all relate to the sphere of Mercury, which is “suspended” from the sphere of Mars via the path of the Hanged Man; this suggests that imprudent “knee-jerk” reactions are held in check through patient, thoughtful concentration. Strength applies constructive “force” and the Eights inject moderating “reason” to make the most of the impulsive energy of Mars. The Star, as the numerological counterpart of Strength and the Eights, introduces an abstract dimension to the array that depicts a nobler form of striving than that conveyed by Strength. Brute force gives way to consummate finesse in coming to grips with self-mastery.

Temperance is another card of finesse and what I call “the Fine Art of Right Action.” It and its numerological counterpart, the Hierophant, are dignified cards that express a higher order of contemplation. They both channel an exalted form of wisdom, but the former is philosophical in its operation while the latter is dogmatic. However, they both relate to the unruly and disruptive Fives, showing that havoc is not far below that calm exterior. The Fives can act like a punishing but necessary corrective that brings errant circumstances into line with the meditative vision of their archetypal overlords. The Kings in turn make use of this energy to “strong-arm” their way into dominance as did the warrior-kings of antiquity: their operative principle is “might makes right.”

The numerological interplay between the opposite sides of this tableau is less compelling than that of the Hermit/Death dyad. Setting aside the “ceremonial” presence of the Fool, adding the numerical value of any one card on the Strength side to that of any one card on the Temperance side yields a number (22 or 31) that reduces to “4,” suggesting that the Emperor is the “man behind the curtain” in this entire narrative, which by numerological extension (“adding back nines”) brings us back to the doorstep of Death, the “great leveler.”

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