This blog post and analysis has been kicking around in my mind for the last two years. As a self-described "animal person" I usually notice animals in decks before I notice people and it was not too long before the story of Fortitude/Strength began to unravel her mysteries to me through the ages. The Strength card is a tell tail sign that directly points to humanities' relationships with animals.
It is also interesting that my thoughts about the Strength card dovetailed with the tragedy of Cecil the lion. The public response has been swift: from banning transport of trophies from Africa to reconsidering the whole sport of trophy hunting, changes are afoot as I write this article in ways that are surprising but not altogether unexpected.
The backlash against the protesters, that it was" just one lion" is incorrect. It was not just about Cecil the animal insomuch as it was really about Cecil as Archetype. Humanity is making an incredible cultural shift in its relationship to the wild world, and we can watch this amazing evolution of human-animal relations by looking at our very own tarot cards.
The Lion as Archetype has defined human consciousness since the dawn of mankind. Lions adorn our neolithic cave walls while our earliest civilizations to countries today make the Lion as Archetype the symbol of power, strength, nobility, and bravery, he is the main symbol for a nature we cannot own. Indeed, the lion himself lives within our deepest dreamscapes and imagery.
It was not just about a “sexy animal” and that worms and toads are less important. Cecil represents a much deeper, almost instinctual response inside of ourselves the lion as trope has a deep Archetypal importance in our collective unconscious. The lion (like the snake and the falcon) are old, and very important signposts for humanity. Through our relationships with these “signposts” we can also gauge the health of our own species.
The Fortitude/Strength card through the ages is an amazing artistic timeline that reflects our relationship to Lion as well as the human relationship to the wild. If we look at tarot cards created, especially within the last 20 years or so, we see different relationships begin to emerge. Perhaps we are coming full circle from the relationship we used to have with Lion; each card a clue to our own attitudes and beliefs about our place in the world, and our work in it.
Artists tend to subconsciously absorb culture, then reflect what is, or what will later emerge, into public consciousness. Artists are often the visionaries; illustrating a process already in the subterranean heartbeat of a culture. From this perspective and in choosing decks that were bought and used by a high percentage of people, we might be able to ascertain the trajectory of civilization across time.
Cards were chosen for historical significance, then from the 1970’s on, chosen for mostly public appeal and sales. Because I am making a claim on our collective unconscious, I chose cards that have enjoyed a high readership. I shied away from boutique and theme cards because they tend to reflect a niche element rather than the standard human-lion aspect.
I omitted Thoth because Lust took the card into a different trajectory that I felt was not as good an indicator for public attitudes of animal awareness.
I did not take into account any artist commentary or intent from their work. Not that that is unimportant, but I wanted to interact with the card purely as viewer soaking in the art in a way that much of the public does when viewing cards. I wanted the art alone to convey a message to me.
Tarot: Middle Ages to Englightenment
One of the earliest decks, the Visconti, we see a man beating a lion into submission. The lion is cowering in fear and pain. The man's well-muscled legs is the obvious viewpoint of Strength in this picture. It is interesting to me that the lion is not well-depicted, the proportions are off and the face is more dog-like than lion. There is still a great anger and need to dominate in this photo, as if humanity was still not quite sure of his dominance of the world, an insecurity perhaps.
The Mantegna Tarocchi, created somewhere around 1465, depicts a woman of great strength, perhaps even a God or as a giant as she is able to break columns of stone. She wears a headdress of a lion head. The lion is behind her, watching on with a sad look, perhaps the face of defeat; humanity has not only beaten the lion but as surpassed the lion.
The Marseilles, the next stop in the minds of many tarot historians, depicts a woman who has not only dominated the lion, but begins to domesticate him. Opening up the lion's mouth this image depicts complete control and a desire to submit the lion into domestication. The face of the woman looks a bit strange, the domination is apparent but perhaps not as assured as she would like.
The Etilla Tarot carries forward the imagery of woman and lion, the woman (of course being the weaker of human genders) has now made the lion a pet. The lion is long past the need to be beat into submission by a strong man.
Sitting at her feet the lion is symbolic in his transference of power to her and acts as a servant. The Lion, the once ferocious and feared (and even worshiped) animal has become nothing more than an object, an owned thing.
The Rider Waite Smith also continues the woman and lion trope to illustrate strength but here the dominance is perhaps less obvious. The domination already been won the picture is a bit ambiguous: is the lion licking her?
The interaction between them appears to be kinder but the human is still dominant. The woman's face is calm and controlled, the face of a lion tamer confident in her ability to control. To me, if feels that the affection flows from lion to human, and control is flowing from human to lion.
Popular decks of the 70s
Morgan Greer Tarot - Created by Lloyd Morgan, Bill Greer - US Games 1979
1JJ Tarot - Created by Stuart Kaplan - US Games 1970 (reprints of older woodblocks)
Bota Tarot- Created by Robert Wang, Israel Regardie- AGM Müller 1977 US Games 1978
All three decks include dominance and control but from different perspectives. 1JJ tarot is interesting because this image was based on an older woodcutting. Decks that utilize both older imagery as well as historical narratives tend to throw the curve in terms of lion-human interaction vs. other decks created at that time.
Morgan Greer takes on the RWS imagery including the possible lion licking the woman but the body language is still one of control; the woman appears to be bending downward to control the head of a lion whose body is still in motion. Like RWS though, the Morgan Greer depicts a woman who is calm and competent in her control, the lion seems to be uncomfortable, some might say playful but his claws are unsheathed indicating unease.
Similar to the Morgan Greer, BOTA also depicts a calm woman in control of the situation but the lion is obviously well in hand, his dominance assured he looks ahead unquestioning the role he has to play in the tableau. While wearing a wreath, BOTA's card makes the lion feel more like a prize being shown off, not only has humanity dominated, controlled, and domesticated the wild he shows off his prize in ultimate hubris, what is left for the lion?
Popular decks of the 80s
Hanson Roberts Tarot - Created by Mary Hanson-Roberts - US Games 1985
Voyager Tarot - Created by Ken Knutson, James Wanless - Merrill-West Publishing 1986
Sacred Rose Tarot-Created by Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman - US Games 1980
Just as it begins the look like there might not be any hope left for the lion, the decks of the 80s begin to show a radical shift. The Hanson Roberts shows a scene where the lion is beloved, gentled, and both the lady and the lion are relaxed with eyes closed with obvious affection between them. There is no struggle. Not in this card or any other illustrated above.
Both Voyager and Sacred Rose show for the first time, an actual integration between human and lion. The line between species is blurred. Voyager is particularly interesting with its half-lion, half-human face, and in it we begin to see the stirrings of interconnectedness and union. In the Sacred Rose we see both lion and woman looking ahead together, the mane and the hair in concert, they are on a mission as a team, and finally, peers.
Popular decks of the 90s
Robin Wood Tarot - Created by Robin Wood- Llewellyn 1991
The Enchanted Tarot - Created by Amy Zerner - St Martins Press
Miss Cleo's Tarot Power - Created by Seth Stephens, J. F. Lambert - Radar Communications
The 90's continues to expand and deliver the lion and human relationship re-imagined. I particularly like the Robin Wood depiction because the lion's face does not look tame, he has not be made into a pet and while he is in mid-step the woman does not control his movements, she actually has an amused face, as if she knows him but does not control him and there is obvious affection between both. The lion is calm and alert, this is no pet.
The Enchanted tarot places the lion as king, there is a sense that he is recrowned, finally to the kingdom he lost before. The lion is calm, there is no struggle.What is interesting is that the woman is more angelic- it appears almost healing in aspect. This cards seems to point to lion as a spiritual seeker. An animal with a soul. The idea that all animals have souls. (A break from traditional Christian thought that proposes that animals in fact, do not.)
Finally, we have the Miss Cleo's Tarot Power card, I choose this one particularly for its unusual dynamic. Here we have the lion in full on attack mode, the second before the pounce, protecting the woman behind her. There is no sense that this lion is owned, dominated or controlled in any way. Miss Cleo took a lot of heat and was the focus of public derision so I am not surprised to see that this card is almost an unconscious reflex of defense, but again the theme runs true; the lion is not controlled or dominated in any way.
Popular Decks of the Aughts
Animals Divine Tarot, Created by Lisa Hunt - Llewellyn 2005
Legacy of the Divine Tarot, Created by Ciro Marchetti-Self Published 2008 Llewellyn 2009
World Spirit Tarot Created by Jessica Godino, Lauren O'Leary - Llewellyn 2001 Llewellyn 2006
Animals Divine and Legacy of the Divine both follow a similar path as that of the Enchanted, Lion as mystical, spiritual and worthy of reverence in his own right and way. The woman taking on the aspect of Deity with Animals Divine we start to truly see the spiritual aspect of the lion. I am particularly interested in the lion as divine aspect without the integration aspect we see in earlier. It is also in he Aughts that w begin to see an earnest reemergence of Shaman as spiritual work. Everyone seems to be going on Shamanic Journeying these days, and do they meet lions? I bet they do.
We went from domination, to submission, to control, to domesticating, to honoring, to creating a peer relationship, to integration and here we see lions as divine with humans as witness. The World Spirit tarot depicts obvious affection and for the first time in this set of cards, more of a family feeling between the two with other signs pointing towards integration.
Popular Decks of today (2015)
Gaian Tarot continues the theme of deep affection, almost familial in nature. The lion is female and very well-depicted, you can sense the artist here really connected with accurate lion imagery in this card, in fact it would appear that the lion is done in greater detail with particular attention to coat pattern details. I also get the sense of protection for the lion from the woman and the tone of the card feels very feminine in aspect, a Strength derived from consensus building rather than brute force. The woman's hand is outstretched not as a petting but rather in a very familiar and affectionate gesture, interconnected and comfortable.
Shadowscapes takes a nod from earlier RWS Strength styles but the woman is holding the jaw of the lion and her other hand rests on him. There is a feeling that the lion is the main event, while the woman is a supporting role in his magic. No control or domination but rather it feels as if she might be his servant in some aspect. He holds the globe, a true King of the jungle, indeed. The lion does not need to be "pet"ified to make the human comfortable, he is himself and in his power she assists.
Finally, the woman is done away with altogether. The card is the lions alone but perhaps the card also indicates an integration with the lemniscate above him. The first and only in this run that actually places that above the lion's head. The lion has his own spiritual life and development outside and irrelevant to the woman. But also, I think it has an undertone of Strength as letting be, true strength not being dominance and control but rather honoring and supporting the wisdom Lion has to give to us. Lion has his own ways and wisdom that does not concern or include humans. But by watching lion, we gain our own spiritual grace.
The outrage over Cecil has been in the works within my own generation. Usually, it is the artists who feel it first and broadcasts that initial insight to the public at large.
By crafting the Strength card we are presented with a dynamic view of human to animal relations, in particularly human to Archetype Lion relations. Cecil's story represents a deep question humanity is facing; what is the world like that will no longer be wild? What is left for humans when all has been dominated? How do we protect what is left, honor what is left, leave what is left to live their own lives and have their own spirituality?
What is the true quality of Strength?
8/11/2015 05:10:20 am
8/12/2015 01:10:48 am
8/11/2015 08:04:37 am
Very informative post. I believe most scholars consider the Visconti-Sforza card to depict Hercules, who was typically portrayed fighting a lion.
8/12/2015 01:12:18 am
8/11/2015 04:20:11 pm
Jenna, What a timely article you have written! Your sensitivity towards animals shows through. It's so insightful how you've illustrated cultural attitudes through the ages towards the lion as portrayed in the Tarot. I was reading about Costa Rica's ongoing efforts to close their public zoos the other day and this after banning hunting as a sport just a couple of months ago. I'm so happy to be living in an age where we are moving towards true appreciation of wildlife without having to conquer and destroy it. Thank you for a well-written and inspiring article!
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M.S. in Organizational Psychology and Leadership