The so-called cardinal virtues of Justice, Fortitude (Strength), Temperance, and Prudence are all (well, maybe all) represented in the Tarot deck. Only three are explicitly given as cards, though. Between this post and the next, we’ll look at what’s visible, and what may be invisible.
We go from cool and cerebral to seriously hot and lusty in the Thoth. Crowley used the pre-Golden Dawn order for these two cards, so Adjustment (Justice) is number 8 and Lust (Strength) is number 11.
I got this definite sense of burden with the Adjustment card. Our lady Justice is perched on her toes, and those large scales are suspended from her headdress. She seems comfortably balanced with that phallic sword between her thighs (well, maybe the card’s not as cerebral as we thought!). The sense of perfect balance and the power of the feminine at the same time is palpable. She alone decides, but not without passion. Large and in charge, she is.
According to Lon Milo Duquette (Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot), there was a lot of debate on this one between Crowley (writer and mystical curmudgeon) and Lady Frieda Harris (the artist). He won on keeping it simple. She won on balancing on toes. The lady is supposed to represent Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of justice, and I do get that Egyptian feel. Not sure there’s a way to escape Crowley’s sensuality in his cards, even in this blue/green cerebral sort of setting.
Lust is the ultimate example of Crowley’s worship of the power of the feminine in a way that’s kind of disturbing and apocalyptic in this card. Here’s a nude lady astride a multi-headed beast, orange and red all around, leaning back to accept the serpent’s desire (he’s staring at her vulva). She holds what looks like a red womb in one hand with rays coming out of it. The beast seems to trample traditional piety depicted by praying hands and what looks like a sad nun’s face. At first it looked like Lust might just be a slave to her passions, but with her hand firmly on the tether of the beast, she is definitely in charge even as she’s open to everything.
Balancing (oooh, reference to the previous card!) acceptance with direction seems to be the message. We have desires, can we direct them in a way that serves us at all levels? According to Duquette, this card is quite disturbing to a lot of people (mostly Western culture, I should think) since this lady is the archetypal whore of Babylon. But Crowley’s idea is that she is like the whore because she accepts all desires and transforms them in the grail/womb she holds in her right hand. Powerful stuff, as always with this deck. Challenging, and yet it all works together to form a singular vision from human archetypes found all over the planet.
And Crowley’s not the only one who uses the Strength card to depict taking control of one’s passions—the Druid Craft Tarot does also, along with other decks, I’m sure.
Patterns . . .
So, both cards speak to balance and the power of the feminine (illustrated in more traditional decks by a woman gently controlling a lion), which is kind of interesting since these two cards can be used in the 8th or 11th positions in the deck.
I love patterns; patterns are cool . . .
In the next post, you’ll get an opportunity to pick your candidate for the elusive virtue of Prudence.