Well here we are again kids.
Tuesday. Tarot Tuesday.
As we of ADD greatness are wont to be, I find myself bored with this feature. Bored isn’t the right word, though. I find myself satiated with it. I find myself no longer compelled by the fiery curiosity I once had, which is the reason I was inconsistent and flighty before discovering that there was a medication for that.
And so I shall press on. I’m committed to finishing the series and we’re pretty well into it at this point. And it is interesting. I guess what I mean by bored is that I no longer feel challenged by it, and a lack of challenge is a surefire route to losing interest for me.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? The very act of learning about things, of learning how to do things (like interpreting symbols on Tarot cards) and becoming proficient is by its very nature the act of reducing challenge. I think that’s why I struggled in school. When difficult concepts and subjects stopped being difficult I was done with it, and ready to move on to the next unknowable mystery.
Anyhow. I’m already starting this post off with typical ADD idea buckshot. Let me try to narrow in.
This week’s card is Strength. In the Rider-Waite deck it’s card eight. In a lot of other decks it’s card eleven. It really comes down to marketing. Traditionally the card for Justice was card number eight and Strength was card eleven. But when the Rider-Waite deck came out part of its marketing strategy was a correspondence to the zodiac. And Strength clearly aligns with Leo whereas Justice is a clear symbol for the zodiac sign of Libra.
That’s just a fun side note.
A little tributary of thought.
Strength, in any case, has been a pretty overarching theme of my life the last couple of weeks. Particularly, what it means to be strong. While typical definitions of the word “strength” imply both a quality of being powerful to change the environment and being integrated and able to withstand the effects of the world upon oneself.
Typical definitions of “strength,” then tend to reflect the western idea of independence, power, force, autonomy, and a quality of being fierce.
Most western people would point to the lion on this card and say that it is the stronger of the two figures present. It’s the ultimate apex predator. The King of the Jungle. A man eater. Lots of ways to talk about lions in terms of their ability to inspire fear and send people, and the world, running.
I’ve talked about Walt Kowalksi and the western idea of strength. I even wrote a column about characters who, to me, represent strength. Now, I need to be very clear here that my ideas about strength have been colored by my experience and the very American and German ideals with which I was raised. Independence and self-reliance have been exalted in my mind. It’s a hard habit to break, even when you know, logically, something else to be true. Or at least more accurate.
But take another look at the woman in this card.
She is physically powerless and unprotected. She stands intimately close to the lion. She works on its most fearsome part – its mouth – with no protection. Depending who you’re talking to, the woman is either trying to pry open or press closed the lion’s mouth. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she is hands on, unprotected, with a lion. And how do we know that the beast isn’t going to just swat her a way like a cat with a mouse and tear her to shreds?
Check out the lion’s tail.
Not only are its hindquarters situated above its shoulders – a clear sign of submission in cats – but its tail is between its legs. If it were anything other than a lion I’d say that tail position indicates that the animal is entirely cowed by the woman. But this is the most fearsome big cat of all big cats in the history of ever. And I’d argue that if it didn’t want to be showing submission to the woman in this card it certainly would not be.
And now, I think, we’re forced to consider a very different way to approach the idea of strength.
The woman in this card isn’t defeating the wild animal with brute force. She’s convincing it to work with her through firm but kind persuasion.
Too many times in my life I’ve taken the approach of either (a) just ploughing through adversity or (b) not even trying. If I can’t break through the brick wall on a flaming motorcycle while AC/DC blares in the background then I don’t even want to try finding a way around or over it.
Another fun hallmark of my personality type. All or nothing. Black or white.
Extremes extremes extremes.
It’s to be expected, given my experiences. But it’s not a great way to go about things. And it’s exhausting if nothing else.
For me, the lion represents emotion. I tend to idle high. Whatever I’m feeling I tend to be feeling intensely. And I never learned how to express that without it feeling icky or being discouraged. So I learned to just not express it. But the thing is that the lion is not going to just turn into a lamb. It’s not going to get smaller. And the more I try to shove it in a cage the more pent up it becomes so that when it finally does come out it comes out wild and biting and ready to fight.
There are times when we need to open the lion’s mouth and let it have its moment to roar and fuss and be obnoxious. And there are times when we need to shut its trap and try to ride through whatever affect is troubling us. Knowing when to do either is important, and it’s not an easy skill to learn. Those of us who did not learn it early struggle even more as adults.
It really is one of those human skills that we assume is either inborn or lacking altogether but it’s not. Humanity is learned. And we learn by watching others. That fact is the greatest source of parental anxiety for me. I’m constantly worried over whether or not I’m modeling humanity properly.
One thing I think I can take comfort in is the fact that while I may model extremes of negative emotions to my kids I also model the ability to acknowledge when I’ve messed up, the ability to apologize, and the ability to make efforts to do better in the future.
If nothing else, I am a shining example of imperfection.
Yay me, huh?
Jung would certainly have seen in this card, regardless of its position within the arcana of any given deck, a manifestation of the anima. Representing the feminine side of the anima/animus archetype pair, Strength would represent the more (traditionally, not necessarily practically in today’s world) subtle sorts of strength that have to do with interpersonal and relational ability to effect change. I think we’ve moved beyond traditional gender-typing, but the image of a traditional female, motherly, queen-like role would certainly fill in as a quick image of what’s represented here. It’s nurturing strength rather than protective or defensive.
Jung felt like men had an anima – a super secret female side of their personalities that they developed over time which took them from just balls to the wall physical, logical, manly man strength to a more feminine, subtle, relational strength.
The animus would have been the masculine side of the female psyche.
Both, though, Jung said were part of the collective unconscious. Meaning that we don’t develop an anima or an animus based on all the random shit we pull from our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, etc. It’s more of a big-picture thing. Which is part of why I find the masculine/feminine associations a bit bitter to the taste. Gender identity, I think, is becoming more and more of a fluid concept and, regardless of cultural changes over time I’ve always felt that stereotypes and “typical” traits of masculine vs. feminine gender sort of arbitrary and problematic. I think it’s less about gender and more about temperament. But Jung was rocking out between 1875 (Carl Jung is my birthday buddy, bitches), and 1961. So. We can’t really fault him for talking about traditional gender roles.
Does that make sense? I hope so. Like the Magician, who may represent more physical power, the woman in Strength bears the lemniscate or infinity symbol above her head. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Jung himself spoke on the symbolism of Ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a snake or a dragon consuming itself, tail-to-mouth. Whichever name you care to give it, the figure eight in any card represents infinity, and the circular nature of existence. We are constantly killing and re-birthing ourselves. Tearing ourselves down to rebuild ourselves in a new image. Not unlike a reptile that sheds its skin to accommodate new growth. And that certainly would be the entire point of any work whose goal is personal growth.
Come one, who wouldn’t love to just consume delicious pies all day, every minute, until they die?
Of a heart attack?
Shut up, that sounds like the best idea ever.
Anyhow. Where was I? Oh yeah.
Men and women. Anima and animus.
For me, I think it’s more important to focus on the fact that this card is an indication that it’s time to start thinking about less obvious ways that we are strong, and less obvious ways that we can become stronger. Development of relational and interpersonal strength.
Less Wreck It Ralph. More talky talky.
I don’t know I’m getting really tired. I gotta go, man. I gotta take my kids to karate.
My kids want to do karate guys! Hooray! I’ve said since I found out I was having kids that I hope they’re either theatre/art kids, musicians (not marching band, that defeats the purpose because then I still have to go to sportsball shit), swimmers, or karate kids.
So far I’ve got one yoga kid. I’d be fine with a yoga and a karate kid.
Fingers crossed you guys.
Okay. To wrap this up:
- I think my Tarot deck wants me to develop my feminine side and become strong by becoming vulnerable. Which I am not in favor of at all. Because I have this hard candy shell to preserve. And
- My kids are going to karate and I’m jacked up about it.
Alright. Sorry. It’s been a long day.
I’m scattered. I’ll do better next time, I promise.