Tarot Card Meanings: A Note On Strength and Justice

Card VIII and Card XI: Strength and Justice and Adjustment and Lust…

Here, we arrive at a bit of a tangle in the otherwise smoothly running pathway that is the Major Arcana’s card sequence. Sure, the Rider-Waite-Smith (“RWS”), Thoth, and Tarot de Marseilles (“TdM”) decks (and their scores of offspring-decks) may use differing terminology for some of the cards – is it a Magician or a Magus? a Tower or a House of God? – but for the most part, they do at least agree as to which cards go in which order.

For the most part.

Except here. Because here, all of a sudden, it’s almost like there’s a wormhole in space and time that connects “Position VIII” and “Position XI” in the sequence of the Major Arcana cards.

Breaking this situation down in historical/chronological order might be the easiest way to get across what’s involved in this wormhole business…

First, back when the TdM deck template got itself all firmed up, the Majors’ sequence had La Justice – the prototype for the modern Justice card – bearing the Roman Numeral VIII and occupying the corresponding spot in the Majors’ marching order. Meanwhile, the card called Fortitude was assigned Roman Numeral XI, and it was inserted three slots after the Justice card in the sequence. This all seems simple enough so far…?

But then when Arthur Edward Waite was cooking up the underpinnings of the deck that we now know as the very classic RWS, he decided to alter the sequence by switching Justice with the Strength card*, which Strength card was his update of the TdM’s Fortitude card.

[*PLEASE NOTE: Waite had his reasons for doing this, centering mainly on concerns having to do with Astrology, but these concerns will be better explained elsewhere in a SUBSEQUENT POST]

In other words, Waite wanted to change the TdM’s Fortitude card’s name from Fortitude to Strength, and then bump it forward in his own RWS line-up so that it would go from being Card XI to being Card VIII…and meanwhile, his Justice card would make the counterbalancing move of morphing from Card VIII into the RWS’ Card XI.

And then because things weren’t getting complicated enough, Aleister Crowley came along with his influential Thoth deck a couple of decades later, and in it, he not only changed the names of both the Strength and Justice cards to all-new designations (Lust and Adjustment, respectively), but he also switched these renamed updates back to their ancestor-cards’ original places in the sequence. That is, the Thoth deck returned its Justice-equivalent card (“Adjustment”) to VIII-hood, and its Strength-analogue (“Lust”) was sent back to its original XI mailing address.

All of which means that if you’re a modern-day Tarot practitioner, unless you’re operating in a relative vacuum, you’ll bump up against this question of which of the Strength and Justice cards should occupy Position VIII in the order of the Majors, and which should be Card XI…and what names should each of these cards bear??

Also, it’s interesting to keep in mind the odd sort of “off-panel” relationship that these two cards have with each other. It’s arguable that they may each represent related ways of examining the same phenomena, much like a Balance Sheet and an Income Statement offer two very different yet undeniably linked and important avenues for analyzing a company’s financial status.

In fact, I once came across the notion that if you could freeze-frame the ongoing struggle captured in the Strength card, it’s the energies of the Justice card that would then need to be applied so as to restore the dynamic to a state of neutrality or equilibrium…

For purposes of this series of posts, I’ve decided that since I practice in the English-speaking world, and since the RWS is the most commonly-used deck for English-speaking Tarot users, I’m going to adopt RWS sequencing and terminology. Please note though, that this decision does NOT mean that I’m trying to hold forth the RWS system as “The Right Way,” or that I don’t see merit in the TdM and Thoth methods. If anything, in recent times, I’ve been personally gravitating toward liking Justice better than Strength as Card VIII (although ask me again next week which one I favor in that position, and I might tell a different tale…).

At any rate, that’s the story behind the Strength/Justice hubbub – the next post in this series will land us back in more definitional territory, and will focus solely on the Strength card…

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