11. Strength

An important aspect in the process of spiritual awakening is to acquire mastery over our animal drives. Mastery is an important and carefully chosen word here. The tendency to want to suppress or deny our animal impulses is tempting, but it backfires in the spiritual process. When the primal animal energies have been purified and sublimated (transformed), they will help us to achieve the divine. This is the deeper meaning of tarot card Strength.

Our dual nature is a central theme in many spiritual traditions. We are partly motivated by animal instincts, called our lower nature, a logical consequence of our animal origin. And we all are born with a divine potential also. This dichotomy creates a continuous, internal struggle, whether we realize it or not. The impulses of our animal instincts, which are rooted in our body, are often opposed to the desires of our soul, which is connected to the divine.

Our animal drives are the breeding ground for emotions such as anger, fear, greed and jealousy. They keep us trapped in the ego and matter. The lion is a universal metaphor for the energies of our emotional life. Tarot card Strength shows how these primal forces are controlled by God the Mother/Sophia (the kundalini energy), and are used to connect man with the Eternal.

The Visconti Tarot

The card Strength is usually explained as an allegory of the cardinal virtue Fortitudo. Important thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas have come up with four important virtues that man should pursue:

  1. Prudentia (caution – sensibility – wisdom)
  2. Iustitia (justice – righteousness)
  3. Fortitudo (courage – strength)
  4. Temperantia (moderation – temperance – self-control)

That the Visconti Di Modrone card, from the 15th century (right), also represents a spiritual proces, becomes clear when we study the details. The woman’s mantle has a curly pattern, similar to the lion’s hair. This mantle is lined with white (= purified) fur. The woman’s hair has the same color as the lion’s hair. These are three indications that the energies of the lion (the lower nature) and the woman (the divine) have merged.

We can deduce the sublimation (deification) of the animal drives from the following details: the crown, the golden color of the lion, and the dark blue color of the mantle of the woman. Dark blue (indigo) is the color of the sixth chakra, where the SACRED MARRIAGE (click here) takes place. The lion holds one paw up; a reference to the ‘oneness’ of the divine.

The woman’s golden hair strangely floats in the air, not hindered by gravity. This symbolizes the kundalini energy that flows from the pelvis to the head. The woman holds the lion’s mouth open and sits on him: she has control over him.

Goddesses standing or riding on a lion is an existing theme in iconography, that has the same deeper meaning as the card Strength (below). With all the goddesses below we also see the theme of (the visibility of/raising) one leg: they are rooted in the oneness of the divine.

Visconti Di Modrone Tarot (15th century)

The Roman mother goddess Cybele

The hindu goddess Durga. Her attributes refer to her purifying effect in man.

The Akkadian goddess Ishtar. The seven layers of her dress refer to the seven chakras.

The Tarot of Marseille

The Tarot of Marseille (a collective name for tarot decks of different designers, over a certain period of time, in a specific geographical area) emphasizes the mystical experience of oneness even more. The hat on the woman’s head is now a combination of a crown and a lemniscate (below).

The symbol of the lemniscate stands for infinity. Esoterically, it refers to the fusion of the opposites: the sacred marriage. The duality of physical creation merges into divine oneness. Our higher and lower nature are also polarities that merge. The hat of the Magician (tarot card no. 1) also has the shape of a lemniscate.

That the woman and the lion form one source of power is communicated on the Jacques Veiville card (below left) by the tail of the lion that is curled around the woman’s foot. On the card by Francois Chosson (below center), the entire lower body of the lion has disappeared under the mantle of the woman. Chosson has also added feathers to the woman’s hat. This is a reference to the kundalini symbol the caduceus.

The Tarot of Marseille,
by Jacques Viéville (1650)

The Tarot of Marseille,
by Francois Chosson (1736)



A curious detail on some Marseille cards is the woman’s bare foot. Jacques Viéville’s card even shows a completely bare lower leg. Because the woman is otherwise fully dressed, including a hat, you feel that this must have a specific meaning. Like the raised front leg of the Visconti lion, this refers to the (inner) merging of the polar energies; to divine oneness.

On this woodcut from the alchemical manuscript Azoth by Basil Valentinus (1613), the LEMNISCATE is associated with the fusion of the polarities sun and moon, as well as the sublimation of the animal drives: a LION swallowing a bird.

An illustration of the Magnum Opus (completed process of God-Realization) of the alchemist, the symbolism of which has the same meaning as tarot card Strength. The POLAR ENERGIES (king and queen) are fused. This is also the meaning of the two SERPENTS that have become one (in the foreground). Mastery over animal nature (the LION). The tree with suns symbolizes the seven CHAKRAS that have been purified and activated by the kundalini energy. (Johann Daniel Mylius, Philosophia reformata, 1622)

Also in Christian painting, showing only one leg has been used to communicate veiledly that Jesus had experienced a kundalini awakening. Below are three examples.

Read about Jesus’ kundalini awakening in my book ‘John the Baptist Who Became Jesus the Christ’.

The six-pointed star (HEXAGRAM, click here) refers to the sacred marriage (2=1). Jacopino di Francesco (pseudo), 14th century.

Francisco de Zurbaran, 1661.

Francesco Squarcione, 15th century,
National Museum of Art of Romania.

In later tarot decks, such as the Italian Liguria-Piedmont from 1840 (right), the lion is even more one with the woman. The placement of the lion’s head at the height of her belly makes it even clearer what the animal stands for: the energies of the emotions and the libido. These forces are controlled by the woman (with her hands).

Liguria-Piedmont Tarot (1840)

The Hindu god Vishnu (here in his manifestation of the LION-headed god Narasimha) kills the demon Hiranyakashipu. From the staging it becomes clear what this demon stands for: the energies of the (lower) ABDOMEN. The SERPENT heads above the lion’s head represent the sublimation of these animal drives by the kundalini energy. Narashima’s WEAPONS are also kundalini symbols.

The occultists

Oswald Wirth (below left) has not changed the card much. The manes of this lion are fiery red, a reference to the ‘burning’ desires and emotions that the lion represents. The long tongue of the animal also resembles a large flame.

The mosaic of Châteaux des Avenières (below right), that is based on Wirth’s tarot, contains three additional elements to clarify the other symbolism: an active volcano, a pool of water, and a tree with a serpent. These are all classic metaphors for a kundalini awakening. They are interconnected on the mosaic (the volcano is reflected in the pool of water); a confirmation that they represent the same thing.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

Above: An illustration from the alchemical manuscript Clavis Artis (early 18th century). A LION eating a (kundalini) SERPENT is a metaphor for the SUBLIMATION of the animal drives. The raised TAIL of the lion reinforces this symbolism.

Right: From the alchemical manuscript Atalanta Fugiens, by Michael Maier (1617). The LION wears a laurel WREATH, a symbol of victory. In the background is an erupting (kundalini) VOLCANO. Also the pool of WATER from which vapor rises refers to the awakened kundalini.

Chateaux des Avenières (1917)

A subtle change is that on the mosaic of Châteaux des Avenières the woman seems to close the lion’s mouth with gentle hands, while on all cards from previous centuries an opposite action takes place: the lion’s mouth is kept open. Closing the mouth symbolizes calming the inner stirrings. This makes no major difference to the meaning of the card. In both cases the woman controls the animal, and they (the higher and lower nature) are connected.

We also see this calming of the lion on the card of Rider-Waite-Smith (right). Arthur Waite has swapped the Strength and Justice card, making Strength number 8 in his deck.

The woman is wearing a white dress, a reference to the purity of the divine. She is connected to the lion by a long wreath of flowers, which is wrapped around her waist and around the animal’s neck. This connection tell us that together they form one power source. The choice of a floral wreath – and not, for example, a rope – means that the woman exerts her power with meekness and love (the red roses). The placement of the wreath around her waist refers to the control of the emotions and the libido (which the lion represents).

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

The wreath of flowers symbolizes an open crown chakra.

The orange color of the lion could be a reference to the second chakra, which is connected to the sexual urges. The floral wreath around the woman’s head is a universal symbol of an open crown chakra. We also see this in, for example, Christian saint iconography (above right). The RWS card shows that the animal energies have been purified and have been brought to the crown. The RWS card Cups Two (right) uses different symbols to convey the same.


Tarot card Strength gives a glimpse into the inner world of the spiritually awakened person. We are born in a body with animal instincts, but in us also burns a divine flame. Throughout our lives, our higher and lower nature compete with each other. Sometimes we are selfish (the animal in us), and other times we are more altruistic (divine).

Our spiritual mission is to overcome our animal impulses (symbolized by the lion on this tarot card) and realize our divine potential. We cannot achieve the required purification and sublimation alone. The kundalini energy is the CEO in this process. She is personified by the woman on the card. Our task is to support her work with the right way of living: purity in thinking and doing, and using our WILLPOWER (the STRENGTH of our will: the theme of this card) to choose the divine, again and again.

This tarot card shows how this opens the way for the merging of the energies of our higher and lower nature, and their combined power transforms us and (re)connects us with the divine.

RWS Cups Two

Right: this illustration communicates the same as tarot card Strength, with different symbolism. The yogi has conquered his animal instincts (he is sitting on a TIGER skin) and has transported these energies from the lower to the higher chakras (the color ORANGE of the tiger can also be seen on his forehead). His inner world is quiet and peaceful (he is in meditation). His BLUE color refers to deification. The ascend of the awakened KUNDALINI energy, through the chakras, is shown schematically. The yogi’s CROWN CHAKRA is fully opened. His heart is awakened (the heart chakra behind him).

Left: an alchemical illustration. The raised tail and crown refer to a successful SUBLIMATION of the animal energies. The polar energies (sun and moon, the eyes of the lion) are fused (HEXAGRAM) in the forehead.

Wonderland Tarot (Morgana Abbey, 1989)

The unicorn, with its white color and spiraled horn at the level of the sixth chakra, is a universal symbol for the purified and sublimated animal drives (the lion).

Ancient Egyptian Tarot (Clive Barrett, 1994)

The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet is an embodiment of God the Mother. The primal forces of the lion have been brought to the head. Her staff with the “Seth beast” at the top represents the spine, through which the purified animal energies flow upwards. Click here for the STAFF as a symbol for a kundalini awakening. 

The Light Seer’s Tarot (Chris-Anne Donnelly, 2019)

The lamb is a Christian symbol for the divine. The combination lion-lamb is a reference to the (inner) Kingdom of God, in which ‘the lion lies peacefully with the lamb’ (Book of Revelation).

Rumi Tarot (Nigel Jackson, 2009)

A lion stands on a pillar behind the woman. A pillar is a universal symbol for the awakened spine. Click here for the PILLAR as a symbol for a kundalini awakening. 

The Bonestone and Earthflesh Tarot (Avalon Cameron, 2017)

Beautifully visualized is the inner focus and willpower needed to overcome the animal impulses. Behind the girl we see an elephant with a raised trunk. This symbolizes the sublimation of the animal drives. The standing cobra in the foreground is a symbol of the kundalini energy.

This article was written by Anne-Marie Wegh.
Copyright March 2020

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres

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