Tarot 101, My Way – Major Arcana: Strength (or Justice) and The Hermit

This will be a split analysis because of the swapping of Strength and Justice that was performed by Arthur Edward Waite for reasons of astrological continuity. The Tarot de Marseille (TdM) that formed the model for later esoteric decks had no occult correspondences, so there was never an issue with the fact that Justice (Trump VIII) followed the Chariot (Trump VII) and Fortitude, or Strength, (Trump XI) came after the Hermit (Trump IX) and the Wheel of Fortune (Trump X). When MacGregor Mathers of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn assigned astrological elements, signs and planets to the cards of the Major Arcana, it seemed obvious that Strength should be associated with Leo (the Lion) and Justice fit perfectly with Libra (the Scales or Balance). But this created an awkward  triplicity that situated Libra after Cancer and before Virgo, scrambling the proper sequence of the signs. Changing Strength to VIII and Justice to XI resolved the issue, with only the Wheel of Fortune (Trump X) as Jupiter and the Hanged Man (Trump XII) as Elemental Water interrupting the normal zodiacal flow. For his part, Aleister Crowley reinstated the TdM order, and if he had stopped there all would have been well; but he felt compelled to impose an imaginative “flip-flopping” of the chain of signs, with Virgo flanked by Libra before and Leo after on one end and Pisces with Aries preceding it and Aquarius following on the other in a kind of “double loop” array. This redesign has never convinced me since he also used it to support his statement that “Tzaddi is not the Star,” instead giving that correspondence to the Emperor, which disrupted the sequence of the Major Arcana on the paths of the qabalistic Tree of Life. But my only purpose here is to explain for the beginner why there are two different models, not to get into the finer points of occult symbolism.

Taking Strength as VIII, the suggestion is that the forward momentum of the Chariot has “found its groove” and attained the control of circumstances it was seeking. It has eased back on the throttle and applied itself in a more disciplined manner to the objective of self-mastery. Waite assumed that the Woman in the scene is trying to force the jaws of the Lion closed, thus suppressing the animal instincts to the benefit of spiritual advancement. A careful examination of the TdM Fortitude (or Force) card indicates from her hand positions that she is actually opening the jaws, apparently without much resistance from the Lion. More observant writers have stated that her purpose is to release and therefore celebrate the potent creative power of the Lion, not deny it (something Crowley made abundantly clear with his retitled “Lust” card).  Personally, I prefer the second assumption as being more in line with the primal drive and trajectory of the Chariot – applied force that clears the road of obstacles to its effortless expression rather than placing additional barriers in its path. We could say that Strength “runs interference” for the Chariot.

With Justice as VIII, the dynamic changes dramatically; the Chariot reaches a turning point at which it must present its case in the court of Universal Law, bringing its unchecked momentum to a screeching halt. Where Strength summons the heat of the forge to beat the Charioteer’s sword into a plowshare, Justice applies a cerebral chill that momentarily freezes the Chariot’s wheels to the ground. The purpose is to create a pause in the onrush of  untempered self-projection that allows the contemplative wisdom of the Hermit to intercede on behalf of reason.

The Hermit is a complex card that nonetheless conveys great singularity of purpose. It can show the kind of inner resolve that thrives on isolation, but also implies the accumulation  of practical wisdom that can serve as a beacon for others laboring up the same steep path to  spiritual enlightenment. It might be said that the Hermit stands at the Magician’s right hand, reaching for the heavens in search of inspiration, while the Devil as Lucifer holds down the left hand, bringing a different kind of illumination to the masses. As the third iteration of the element, the Hierophant is responsible for reconciling the two by mediating between Heaven and Earth. The Hermit could be considered a (mad?) scientist working in a “clean room” (the phrase hermetically-sealed comes to mind); the door of the laboratory is locked from the outside and the Wheel of Fortune is holding the key.

The Major Arcana: Trump 8 – Strength (alternately, Trump 11)


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

Courage, Strength, Fortitude. Power not arrested . . . but passing on to further action.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

Power, energy, action, courage, magnanimity; also complete success and honours.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

Courage, strength, energy and action, “a grand passion.”


One thing to be aware of: the RWS deck relocated this card from the 11th position in the sequence to the 8th, contrary to the arrangement of the original Italian and French decks. The Thoth deck restored the previous alignment, making this card Trump 11 and Justice Trump 8.

There is a subtlety about the interrelationship between the woman and the lion in the RWS card that later writers have attempted to illuminate. The image shows the woman apparently trying to force the jaws of the lion closed, the implication being that she is attempting to suppress or control her primitive animal instincts as an expression of self-mastery. Other decks show her prying the jaws open, giving voice to her creativity and exuberant life-force, while still others portray the two as peacefully coexisting (the dominion of self-control is a “done deal”). The student can choose which of these interpretations makes the most sense within the context of a particular situation. This card relates to the dignified, passionate sign of Leo, and the exercise of self-restraint on one hand and self-promotion on the other can produce its own rewards in the way of success and honor. The trick is in knowing which approach will yield the greatest benefit; finesse may be indicated in one case, brashness in another. This card is capable of both.

Click here for additional background information:


The Major Arcana: Trump 11 – Justice (alternately, Trump 8)


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

Eternal Justice and Balance. Strength and Force, but arrested as in the act of Judgment. Also . . . legal proceedings, a court of law, a trial at law, etc.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

Equity, rightness, probity, executive; triumph of the deserving side in law.

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

(Retitled “Adjustment.”) Justice, the act of adjustment, suspension of all action pending decision; in material matters, may refer to law suits or prosecutions. Socially, marriage or marriage agreements; politically, treaties.”


Fundamentally, this is a card of receiving one’s “just desserts;” the key to happiness is to be found worthy and not undeserving when the verdict is handed down. It represents more of an administrative proceeding or “fine point of law” than the inevitable cosmic finality of Trump 20, “Judgment;” there is still some maneuvering room. The point is that it is neither a “good” card nor a “bad” one, but an expression of impartiality and disinterest in the personal stake of the seeker in the matter at hand. Whether the seeker (or the subject of the inquiry) is blameless or culpable, justice will be served in an even-handed and precise but also implacable manner; there is no hiding from accountability if it is due. The necessity of “balancing the ledger” is the principal focus of this card; the Scales represent whatever mercy is to be found in its embrace, and the Sword signifies swift retribution where it is warranted. The adjacent cards will show the relative merits of the seeker’s case.

Further details can be found here:


The Major Arcana: Trump 9 – The Hermit


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Wisdom sought for and obtained from above. Divine inspiration.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Prudence, circumspection; also and especially treason, dissimulation, roguery, corruption.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“Illumination from within, secret impulse from within; practical plans derived accordingly. Retirement from participation in current events.”


The Hermit depicts the “inner path” to attainment of self-awareness and practical wisdom. It can be seen as a solitary journey to the pinnacle of spiritual enlightenment, but also as a state of lonely isolation. It has been mentioned, however, that this is not solely a card of navel-gazing concentration, but also one of consummate poise when stepping out into the freedom of the wider world. The key to the broader implications of the image is the lantern in the Hermit’s hand. It implies “service to others,” as might be expected from the connection of the card to the sign of Virgo. Having achieved perfection, he is lighting the way for others to follow in his footsteps. It more practical terms, it can show withdrawal or separation from superficial engagement in social affairs or personal relationships, more as a way of self-willed exclusion (and perhaps self-preservation) than one of pursuing any kind of spiritual epiphany. His motives and objectives may not be obvious to others, leading to the negative observations made by Waite, and the allusion to closely-held secrets in Crowley’s commentary. The taciturn Hermit is not the most forthcoming or inspiring of traveling companions on the road of life. It could be a mistake to see him as completely harmless.

Here is a link to further insights:


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