The Justice and Fortitude (Strength) cards are very clear in their association with the cardinal virtues of the same names. They even have an interesting relationship with each other in having their positions traded between eight and eleven depending on deck type (Justice as eight and Strength/Lust as eleven in the Thoth and in Marseille decks, flipped in the Rider Waite Smith). You can check out the details in my previous post on these two cards.
And now, on to the third visible virtue, Temperance, and the great debate about the invisible Prudence (wherever did she go?).
If we look back at Justice and Strength, we see that they both occur in the second group of seven cards in the sequence of Trumps. In Lee Burstyn‘s interpretation of Robert Place’s application of the Platonic soul journey, this second seven is the domain of the Will (Aliester Crowley of the Thoth Tarot would love that). So does Temperance (Art in the Thoth Tarot). It’s the last (14th) card in that second sequence. All the cardinal virtues are about tempering our Desires (Desire is Plato’s concept applied to the first seven cards, when we need outside wisdom to control ourselves).
Learning from others (Popes and Priestesses, Empresses and Emperors) got us to some ego control with the Chariot at seven, but the virtues are now guiding us through the challenges of expressing discipline from within (in the Hermit, the Hanged Man, and through the vicissitudes of the Wheel and the release of ego control in Death). We end this Will sequence with Temperance, the tempering of our Will to the internal, divine discipline needed for the next level of soul awareness. We’ve got character now, and a sense of flowing through the world knowing the right thing to do. But is Will all we need to remain steady in our virtue?
Based on my own experience with maintaining moderation just in eating and working habits, I would say that Will is not enough. 😉
So, what’s this Prudence virtue for? And why is it invisible in the Tarot? There is no “Prudence” card (but see the next paragraph). Prudence is the Christian version of what the Greeks would have called Wisdom. No “Wisdom” card, either, although using Plato’s soul journey, we could come up with some candidates.
Thoth Eight of Pentacles?
Starting with the Thoth, though, I initially get nowhere useful. The Thoth puts the Prudence label on the Eight of Disks. The Thoth card is not particularly industrious the way the RWS card is. It looks more like the tree in the RWS Seven of Pentacles, and the meaning is derived from astrology and Kabbalah. It is associated with applying intelligent focus to an issue in the material world. I agree that Prudence feels like a grounded concept, but it doesn’t make sense to me to run off into the Minor Arcana when the other cardinal virtues are all in the Majors/Trump cards.
Reason and Wisdom
Prudence sounds a lot like Temperance to me, except that the traditional meaning includes applying “reason” to creating more discipline in one’s actions in the world. Temperance belongs to the domain of the Will, and Prudence to Reason. Conveniently enough, Reason is the third phase in the maturation of the Platonic soul. That’s because Plato thought Reason was the divine method for thinking and action.
I like the Greek version of Prudence as Wisdom governed by Reason better.
The Hermit Candidate
So, where is Wisdom in the Tarot? We could use the Hermit as a candidate. Seems logical. There he is, shining his light at position nine, right after Justice or Strength, depending on the system used. But it doesn’t really follow, does it? If we are moving from the ignorance/seed state of The Fool and using Plato’s soul journey as metaphor, Justice seems a logical first in the phase of Will (taking the societal rules to an internalized place), with Fortitude giving us the Strength to carry out a just solution on our own, without the Emperor/Father or Pope/Hierophant constantly telling us what to do. The Hermit should really be after both of them, but he isn’t.
Also, all the the cardinal virtues are historically symbolized by female characters (although some argument could be made for Temperance being androgynous, at least in the Tarot). I’m not buying the Hermit story, even if he is wise. He’s not really taking concrete virtuous action in the world.
Prudentia and the World
If we drop back to the Greeks (who originated the virtues), then we can take the concept of Wisdom, the application of Reason in Prudence, and the idea of a female representation, and end up with the World card. Plato’s Reason is the final phase in building true character that applied intellect to understand in order to be virtuous, rather than just following the rules or relying on Will. So, Wisdom should be located in the last group of seven cards, the third phase of the soul’s maturation.
The only issue with RWS and Marseille World cards is that they don’t use the traditional symbolism associated with the Greek depiction of Prudentia, which includes a woman holding a snake and looking into a mirror. But wait, let’s take a look at the Thoth Universe card.
Aha! Aleister Crowley seems to have understood the connection of Universe/World to Prudence/Wisdom! His illustrator, Frieda Harris, draws the lady in this card holding a very large snake, whose coils form “windows.” A Divine Eye is sending light to one of them, but it doesn’t actually go through the snake’s coil. Mirror? Could be. Into the soul, likely. Cool! Now, my source for all things Thoth, Lon Milo DuQuette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, doesn’t go to this interpretation. As a matter of fact, DuQuette remains unsure of a number of symbols in the card, and indicates that Crowley didn’t really explain most of it.
I’m definitely seeing a symbolic relationship to Prudentia, though. I’ll cast my vote for The World/Universe (card 21 in the Majors) as the Prudence card. The Wisdom gained from the soul’s journey expressed as Prudence.
Do let me know what you think of my theory. 🙂