Löwe by Anthony Louis
On July 22, the Sun enters Leo, the sign of the zodiac associated with the strength card of the tarot. Leo is, of course, the lion, an animal whose image and myth permeates Western culture. Leo, with its majesty and golden mane, is ruled by the Sun, associated with the tarot card of the same name.
Both Leo and the Sun partake of the element fire, one of the four elements of Greek philosophy first proposed by Empedocles around 450 BC in his poem On Nature. The suit of wands depicts typical scenes requiring enterprise, courage and daring as suggested by the element fire.
The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot’s strength card shows a beautiful maiden stooping over a lion, whose jaws she gently but firmly holds shut. Having subdued the beast, she leads it with a chain of flowers. Could this be the origin of ”flower power” in the 60s? In older tarot decks, the strength card is called fortitude; and in place of the woman, the Greek hero Herakles grapples with the savage beast.
The Lion (Leo) in the Myth of Herakles (Hercules)
Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek hero Herakles, who was the product of a love affair between Zeus and a beautiful mortal, Alcmene. The mother of Herakles slept with Zeus while her husband was away. Zeus named his new son Herakles, after his legitimate wife Hera. Needless to say, Hera was royally piqued and vowed her revenge.
Hera waited until Herakles became a husband, a warrior and the father of two lovely children. She then cast a spell to drive Herakles insane. In a psychotic state, Herakles murdered his wife and children. He was found guilty by reason of temporary insanity and received a sentence of twelve years of servitude, during which he would have to perform twelve nearly impossible labors.
Herakles’ first labor was to kill the invincible lion of Nemea. He had some experience as a lion hunter, having slain his first feline as a lad of eighteen. The Nemean lion was so fierce, however, that the usual weapons of war were of no avail, and hunter’s arrows simply bounced off its hide. Herakles finally cornered the Nemean lion in a cave and choked it to death with his bare hands. That’s fortitude.
Androcles and the Lion
Another tale about a lion in a cave comes from ancient Rome. Androcles was a slave in Africa at the time of Tiberius and Caligula. He hid inside a cave to escape a cruel master, and there he confronted a lion who was limping and in pain because of a large thorn in its paw. Androcles removed the thorn and nursed the lion’s wound. Later Androcles was captured and thrown to the lions in the coliseum. As luck would have it, Androcles confronted his old feline friend who, instead of devouring him, caressed him for all of Rome to see. Both Androcles and the lion were then freed. George Bernard Shaw, who wrote the play Androcles and the Lion, was born on July 26, 1856, with his Sun conjunct Venus in Leo in his Third House of writing, so it’s easy to see where the inspiration for this play may have originated.
The Lion and Christianity
Saint Jerome, the patron saint of students, was a fourth century scholar and Father of the Christian Church. As part of his religious calling he spent two years in the desert as a hermit (another of the major aranca cards) searching for enlightenment, strength and inner peace. Presumably, one day a lion entered the monastery, terrifying all the monks except for Saint Jerome who had found his inner strength as a hermit. Jerome saw that the lion had a large thorn in its paw. Like Androcles before him, Jerome performed a similar act of kindness and tamed the savage beast.
Another powerful tie to Christianity is an ancient myth that links the lion to the resurrection of Christ. In this legend, the lion’s whelp, or in some versions of the story, three of its offspring, are born dead. After three days, the father lion breathes on the dead offspring and brings them back to life.
Questions Posed by the Strength Card
When the strength card appears in a tarot reading, we ask ourselves how we are using our inner strength. Like Herakles, do we need to make amends for some ”insane” action on our part? Are we being true to our inner selves? Do we have the courage of our convictions? Are we letting the Sun shine within? Are we using brute force when gentle persuasion would do? As a math professor of mine used to ask students who offered complex proofs for simple theorems, ”Are you trying to dig a cellar with an atom bomb?”
Tarot Meditations While the Sun is in Leo
This is an excellent time to meditate on the tarot’s strength and sun cards, as well as the suit of wands of the minor arcana. Study their images, look for their interconnections and reflect on how they relate to your inner and outer life this summer.
If you are interested in the connections between tarot and astrology, here are some books you may find useful.
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Tarot by Rachel Pollack, Element Books.
Llewellyn’s 2000 and 2001 Tarot Calendars by Llewellyn Publications.
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, Thoresons Publishing.
Tarot and the Journey of the Hero by Hajo Banzhaf, Weiser Publications.
Tarot Companion by Tracy Porter, Llewellyn Publications.
Tarot Plain and Simple by Tony Louis, Llewellyn Publications.
What is the Tarot?
The traditional tarot consists of 78 cards divided into 22 major arcana cards (greater secrets) and 56 minor arcana cards (lesser secrets). The major arcana cards depict 22 spiritual lessons in allegorical fashion. The 56 minor arcana cards are similar to a modern deck of 52 playing cards and consist of four suits containing ten pip or numbered cards plus four court cards in each suit. The most influential tarot deck of the past century, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, was conceived by Arthur Waite, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith, and published by Rider in 1910.