8. Strength

NOTE: In some decks, card 8 may be Justice, with Strength as card 11 instead. For the purpose of this course, we will work with Strength today, wherever it appears in your deck.

Compassionate activism

What is ‘strength’? Here, we’re not talking about muscle or might, this isn’t about outward control or power over others. It’s the kind of strength that comes from within.

In card 6, the Lovers, we talked about ‘choosing love’. Strength gives us an example of what this looks like in practice. It is the power of true compassion, the kind of inner strength that we aspire to, that can be so hard to embody in challenging circumstances.

(Remember that these major cards are archetypes. The saintly figure so often shown on this card is an ideal, not a real person! We do not ‘live as’ this card or that, but we can tap into their powers, with work.)

You turn within and see how you’re doing there, and Strength works to direct or make sense of the chaos of impulses you might find inside.

Oliver Pickle, She Is Sitting in the Night

Strength contains that kind of inner strength that is so hard to really enact. It is forgiving someone who has caused you harm. It is overcoming lust when you know that it is the right path for you to resist. It is being grateful for the learning and growth that a call-out or constructive criticism can bring you, rather than getting defensive and angry. It is choosing to say “I love you” to the person who is throwing hate and fear in your direction. I think of Stephen Lawrence’s mother, preaching forgiveness when her son had been murdered by racists. And the Delta Enduring Tarot, which depicts a trans woman putting on her headphones and, with a smile, getting on with her everyday life, whilst outside, bigots wave placards with hateful messages. It is “We Shall Overcome”, and “Still I Rise”. It is having the self-respect and love for this whole world to refuse to be dragged down by the hate and fear around us and within.

This is not a passive person, a victim, someone simply accepting. Strength is the loving determination to live, to love, to be wholeheartedly ourselves and create space for others to do the same. This card celebrates emotional labour and shines a light on how powerful that often unsung, unglamorous work can be.

To my mind, it’s the biggest challenge presented in the tarot. To add love to a world that so often feels filled with hate and fear. To take part in compassionate, love-led resistance. That takes real strength.

Advice from Strength

Strength asks you to go to the places of pain, anger, greed, and fear in your life. It wants you to acknowledge that these things live within you, and to own them. And to pour love all over them. To ‘tame them’, so that your loving heart is in control. If you’re struggling with addiction, Strength reminds you that you do hold the power to overcome it – but first, you have to love yourself enough to make that choice. If you’re nursing a grievance, Strength gently shows you that it’s time to forgive – for the sake of your own heart. If you’re furious at the injustice of this world, Strength says ‘Don’t get mad. Create change.” And the way to create that change is to put more love into the world.

If lust or passion are tugging you to make choices you know are wrong for you, Strength reminds you of what you really hold dear, and encourages you not to self-sabotage. (To be clear, this card isn’t anti lust or passion per se. It’s offering a way to overcome lust specifically when it will damage what you really love.) Check in with your feelings. Notice those that will burn you out. Offer them love, and override them as best you can. Remind yourself that you love and respect yourself too much to let those ‘wilder’ aspects decide your path.

It is so easy to let the darker aspects of ourselves lead the way, it is so easy to react to life out of fear. If you’re feeling defensive about something, if you’re angry, hurt, bitter, if you want to do harm to someone, if you’re struggling to forgive‚Ķ work with that. Really face up to that ‘beast’ inside you. We all have those shadows, there’s no pretending otherwise. You are being encouraged to take the ‘high road’. What is the most loving thing you can do right now? How can you offer love into a place of pain?

But we can choose whether or not to be ruled by these parts of ourselves. We can choose to forgive. We can forgive others for the mistakes they have made or the pain they have caused us. We can forgive ourselves for the mistakes we make and the pain we cause others.

Strength points to emotional labour (a little like the Empress). It points to the people who are doing the caring, listening, supporting and carrying. It celebrates their strength and tenacity and the value – often unseen – of what they do.

Key words and concepts

  • Inner strength and courage
  • Loving activism, fighting fear and hate with compassion
  • Dignified resistance
  • Emotional labour (and its value)
  • Forgiveness
  • Love in the face of anger or fear
  • Checking in with your emotions and overriding those that will burn you out
  • Accepting and loving the ‘shadow self’
  • Self-love
  • Making positive, compassionate choices

Some common symbols

  • Lemniscate / infinity sign (transcendence, magical powers, tapping into something higher)
  • Lion (the ‘wild beast’ within us, anger, lust, etc)
  • A woman taming a lion (love and gentleness overcoming that wild beast)
  • White clothing (peace, innocence)
  • Flowers (love, care, beauty)