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Friday, 7 March 2008

Strength: A Guest Post

It's not you
It's not me
It is what I do

With my hands
And my heart
It's what I do to you.

[Strength trades under several names - Fortitude, Force, Lust - but remains the same. It also stumped me, and I kept derailing myself over it; head caught in images like that bit at the end of Wintersmith ("You are asking me to tell you how to put your hand in the lion's mouth"), or my idea of Metal Gear and its lion of military technology. So I whined to Agla about it, and she delivered. Over to her!]

The first versions of the Strength card had muscular 'heroes' killing lions on. Pollack mentions this, and shows a pic of an old Strength that has Hercules and the Nemean Lion on. But then this one deck-the Visconti-Sforza-changed that. It showed a lion being held steady, tamed; not by a strongman, but by a woman. Demurely dressed, solemn faced, cool as cucumber. And that image somehow became the standard. It sparked everyone's imaginations.

The Hercules card was about brute strength and dominating force. The woman with her lion is about inner strength, strength through gentleness, softness, warmth. Those things all sound harmless, but they aren't. You told me a story once, about how a tyrant was brought down by a dancing girl? [Yes. Diaochan]. She flirted with him and his second-in-command, and they quarrelled over her, and ended up killing each other. They'd withstood any number of battles, but they couldn't stand up to the girl.

The lion's always quite clearly the submissive one. He's got the claws and the teeth, but the girl's bossing him about, and he seems just fine with this situation! Old Jack now, he said some stuff about how the passions benefit from being mastered by the will. Let them have free reign and they just tend to burn themselves out. I've told you this before, but I think one of the most perfect expressions of Strength I've yet seen was in Spirited Away. Haku in his dragon form has gone wild because of a spell put on him. He's thrashing about-Miyazaki used the realworld sight of a trapped eel for animation reference for this-bashing into things, snarling, causing all kinds of ruckus. He's crazy with pain and anger and seriously dangerous to anyone in his vicinity. And then along comes Chihiro, with the medicine the river spirit gave her. She approaches him-she's scared, nervous. But she calms herself, and she speaks to him soft but firm, and she puts her arm into his mouth to give him the medicine and she makes him swallow it. The girl mastered the dragon to save him. If she hadn't given him the medicine, he'd have gone on to destroy everything he could get to, willy-nilly, before dying in pain.

The girl is the boss but I've never seen her hurting the lion. Her body language is always 'firm but kind', never dominating. That first Visconti-Sforza card had a modest gentlewoman on it. Modern decks tend toward wilder looking girls. A lot of the time they're in exotic, revealing costumes, or plain naked. The girl who tames lions has been punked up since she first appeared. But I have never seen her armed. She never carries a weapon; she doesn't need one.

Besides, a weapon wouldn't be any use to her anyway. What good does a knife in the hand of a girl do, against a full-grown lion? If she started a fight, she would lose. The lion is all passions, all power. It's basic psychology that repressing things never really works. Whatever it is is still lurking in your subconcious, and at every opportunity it gets it'll come back and bite you. You have to accept stuff, and that's harder than it sounds. You have to walk into the lion's den naked and unarmed. You have to tame the beast with kindness. Bring it into the light.

At this point it's worth mentioning the Crowley-version of this card-Lust. I first met her via Promethea. In that card, the girl has lost control; the lion's the one directing her. It's sort of like a reversed version of Strength, I suppose. Lust has a cup of wine in her hand, she's drunk as a lord. Another indicator that her will is no longer ruling her passions. I don't know what Crowley thought about this-never studied his magics enough to-but to me it looks like an unsustainable situation. Sooner or later, she's gonna get savaged.

The Strength you showed me was looking up towards the corner of the picture, and the lion was looking with her-looking up at a bright light. She was astride it if I recall correctly, and they seemed totally in harmony. Maybe this version of the card, and Crowley's Lust, are both continuations of what's happening in the ordinary Strength. You can go one of two ways. You can lose the control, fall off the lion, let your passions rule you again. Or you can persist, and move forward into...what? I don't know. Some bright light...

Images of Strength:

[me again]

Here's the Visconti-Sforza. She's not changed much since then - she doesn't have to. The RWS put a leminscate above her head and everything. Few decks seem to break the basic pattern; girl, lion, clear indication if which of the two is on top. (The Mythic Tarot is the only one I've seen that has a male strength, a Hercules. I'd be interested to see Strength as Samson or Daniel, but I've not done so yet).

Most often the girl has her hands in the lion's mouth; Crowley put the girl on the lion's back, and renamed the card 'Lust'. The Intuitive card keeps that posture.

Amano puts his own spin on it; a fairy talking to a dragon. Most woman-lion pictures, from the Visconti on down, gloss over the difference in size and raw power between the two figures - we're expected to understand the lion symbolically, even if the image doesn't draw out his size and his savagery. Amano's fairy is no larger than the horns on the dragon's head, and his jaws could easily snap her up whole, and yet she strokes his head as he sleeps.

The Osho-Zen deck calls the card Courage. Very much an image of gentle life-force overcoming hard defences.

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