Transcript: Strength, the Star, and the 8's: Hope through Radical Change
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[00:00:00] (Folksy music with acoustic guitar, violin, and dreamy vocalization fades in.)
Charlie: Hello, and welcome to The Word Witch Podcast, where we talk about tarot, magic, and belief, and try to bust our thinking out of the binary through conversations with folks making magic from the margins. I'm your host, Charlie Claire Burgess, and I'll be your tour guide on this post-apocalyptic haunted house tour called 21st century life. (Music fades out.)
[00:00:32] Today, we are picking up my series on tarot through the lens of the number of families, which I haven't done one of these episodes in a very long time-- a very long time. The last one was before the pandemic started, like right before it. I was on a good roll; that happened; threw me off; haven't returned to it since. But here's the good news: here I am!
[00:00:59] Here we are. And I have learned a lot about the two cards that we're going to be talking about today, which are Strength and The Star. I learned a lot about those, as I think we did, all of us, in the past year and a half. And so hopefully, I think that this episode on these cards and the eights is going to be better than it would have if I recorded it in a timely manner. (Charlie chuckles.)
[00:01:32] So yeah, here it goes. Let's start talking about it!
(Folksly transition music plays.)
[00:01:46] Charlie: The number eight is a number of movement, change, and evolution. It is a cyclical, but an adaptable card energy, where each time we return at the beginning of the cycle, we aren't quite in the same place as we were before. We're not quite the same person we were the last time, or the situation is slightly different.
[00:02:12] So it's this, like, eternal cycle of the eight. It's the lemniscate, AKA the infinity symbol, on its side, if you think about the way the number actually looks. Each time we return to the beginning, there has been an evolution. Adaptation has happened. We have changed, things have changed. And so every time we go around the cycle, we do it in a slightly different way.
[00:02:36] We learn, we grow. That's, at its core, what I think the number eight and the Eight cards in tarot are about. Eight is also a number that in esoteric occult philosophy is a number of cosmic order and balance. Number eight is four plus four. Four is the number of order. It's the number of the material world.
[00:03:06] We talked about the number four in the Emperor episode. So we have the number of form in the material world. Form plus form. Four plus four. Four is also the number of authority. So we have authority plus authority-- but that doesn't mean double authority. It means, like, the meeting or, or conflict point or, like, opposition and resolution of the two forces.
[00:03:37] So think of it this way: those two fours are like using your own authority or your own power to oppose abusive authority and power. It's power meets power, right? The resolution of those two things. Causing harm in a real way in the material world. Form. And then taking actions to be accountable for that harm in the material world. Form. You know, it's form plus form.
[00:04:08] So if you can see there, it's also about, that balancing is also karma, in a way. It's about the cycle of things, and action and reaction, action and consequence, choice and consequence. That's the number eight. Every time we arrive back at it, we're slightly different. We do things differently. We have the option and opportunity to change.
[00:04:36] And that's the really beautiful thing about the number eight. Eight is also the number of the celestial spheres in cosmogony. And those are the planetary spheres, which include the seven planets, each of which has a sphere, and then the eighth sphere of the fixed stars, or the zodiac, which was also connected to, or considered to be, the doorway to heaven.
[00:05:02] So that's another energy that we can bring into the Eights. It's a celestial number. It's also beginnings and endings. On the eighth day in Christian mythology, God rested. So it's-- I'm sorry-- on the seventh day in Christian mythology, God rested. And so then on the eighth day, that was the start of things.
[00:05:28] It's that beginning after the end. We can see this change and adaptation and evolution energy really clearly, I think, in the Eights of the Minor Arcana. So usually, or in the past, I've talked about the Minor Arcana at the end, but now I'm going to talk about it at the beginning, because I have changed! (Charlie laughs.) Change, get it?
[00:05:52] The Eight of Wands, for instance, if we look at this Eight, this card is about just pure movement. It's pure movement, pure change. This is the card, so you can visualize it, in the prevalent Rider-Waite-Smith deck, it is the eight wands flying through the sky, or falling from the sky, or launching through the sky, depending on the way you look at it.
[00:06:21] It's just this barrage of wands of fire energy. So this is pure movement. It's not necessarily, in my opinion, good or bad. It just is. Whether it's good or bad depends on the situation, depends on what we want, what we can handle. You know, sometimes the movement and acceleration that the Eight of Wands represents is exactly what we want right now:
[00:06:47] yeah! Light that fire! Ignite! Go, go, go! And sometimes it's too much. Right? And so this card is about getting real in that moment of change and movement. And doing what we need to do to ride it through, because it's happening, whether we're on board or not. Right? So we either prepare to like saddle up and ride those wands, or we ground ourselves, center ourselves, and figure out how to weather that storm and best support ourselves during it. But through the Eight of Wands, there's always some sort of change that happens because of that movement.
[00:07:35] The Eight of Cups. If we look at this card, this is a type of emotional evolution. This is often accompanied by the need to move on from something-- (throat clearing sound) a movement, are you getting the theme? In the Eight of Cups, we're often asked to move on from things that aren't working for us anymore, things that aren't serving us anymore, whether it's a relationship or it's a project that we have invested a lot of emotional energy in, and we just got to, like, cut our losses and move on to something else. Something new. That's what the Eight of Cups is about. It's about that reckoning point, that moment, where we have to perceive and accept that it's time to change. It's time to make a change and then take the steps to do that. It's emotional evolution. It's often difficult or sad or bitter sweet with the Eight of Cups, but ultimately it is for the best.
[00:08:41] The Eight of Swords is, on the other hand, a lack of movement. A lack of movement. It's a stuckness. It's a feeling of entrapment. This is the card in Smith Rider Waite decks that has the person bounded, blindfolded, surrounded by swords that are stuck in the ground. Swords are also the mental suit, right? The suit of air and the mind and thoughts. So we also, what we really have here is a, a sort of a perception, or a paradigm of thought, or things that we've been telling ourselves. Preconceived notions or assumptions that we're making that are limiting our own growth or arresting our own growth, that are holding us captive.
[00:09:30] So the Eight of Swords asks us to make a change. It says you have to look at your thought paradigms and make that change, shift those thoughts in order to liberate yourself, in order to free yourself. So there's a change, or an evolution, or an adaptation that is required as well in this card. And it's one that also asks us to, like in the Eight of Cups, asks us to really get real with ourselves. To really like look into ourselves. Into our minds in the case of the Eight of Swords and to our emotions in the case of the Eight of Cups, and have a reckoning with what we find there. To stop denying things. And that's the only way that we can move on. That we can grow.
[00:10:27] And we're going to connect to this in a minute to the Strength card, because that's so much of what the Strength card, which is number eight in the Major Arcana-- according to the Golden Dawn tradition, which is the one that I use, otherwise it's Justice as number eight, either one works. I'm getting ahead of myself, but that's so much of what Strength asks us to do, as well, is to look at the parts of ourselves that we are uncomfortable with. That we would really love to ignore or to just wish out of existence. To have the strength to do that, to acknowledge those parts, to listen to them, to then adapt and make the changes that we need to make so we can be more integrated human beings and souls. So that Strength part is a big part of the Eights in the Minor Arcana, as well.
[00:11:22] And lastly, for the Minors, the Eight of Pentacles. This card is pretty straightforwardly about work, craft, skill, and growth in those areas. It's a type of evolution in the material world, which is what the Pentacles represent. Usually this is in a craft or skill, as I said. This card, though, asks for intentional work, practice, and study even, in order to grow and improve in our work in this world. Whether it's art or a craft or, or a profession or an occupation, or whatever contributions we are making to our material lives, this card asks us to intentionally grow and improve those things.
[00:12:11] This also means-- guess what?-- that we have to become aware of where those weak spots lie, where those, those, I'm sorry, I'm not supposed to call them weak spots. I used to be a tutor. We say "areas for improvement." We're supposed to become aware of where those areas for improvement lie, and then shore those up. Do what we can to make those parts stronger. It's also about continuing education. It's about moving beyond our comfort zone that we have well-established in our craft or skill and pushing ourselves to try new things, to learn new areas of it, to branch out. That's the Eight of Pentacles. It's that evolution, adaptation, growth, change, in the material world.
[00:13:09] So voila, there you have your Minor Eights. Now let's get into the meaty bits.
[00:13:20] (Transition sound plays, sounds like an electronic sparkle.)
[00:13:20] Charlie: All right, let's talk about the Strength card. Strength is number eight in the Golden Dawn tradition. Formerly, before that, it was number eleven and Justice was number eight. I use the Golden Dawn tradition for... reasons. Some of which we'll talk about a little bit today, but what you really need to know about this is that all of the numbers are totally arbitrary. (Charlie laughs.) I mean, they're not totally arbitrary. They are ordered the way they are for reasons that the people who ordered them that way found to be true. So there is certainly meaning in these numbers. That's why we're talking about the numerology and talking about them in these number families, or "number constellations," which is Mary K. Greer's term for it.
[00:14:11] But the original tarot did not have numbers on the cards, on the Major Arcana cards, I should say. It didn't have numbers or names on the Major Arcana cards. Those were added later. So I'm not interested in getting into a battle about whether Strength or Justice is number eight, because I'm like, dude, use whatever numbers make sense to you. Use whatever numbers feel right. Or use no numbers, or change all the numbers, reorder the whole damn deck! I don't care. I don't care. I think that, you know, in the theme of change, which is the Eight, tarot is meant to change. It has changed so much and so many times since its inception. It is continuing to change now. Tarot, I think, it only works if it's changing along with us. It only can serve as a mirror and a reflection point if it is changing and adapting as we do. Right?
[00:15:19] So use the numbers that work for you, throw the numbers out. Beautiful! Think about it-- if you're just, if you're thinking about it and considering the options and, you know, really sinking in to what feels right to you, then that's, that's what I celebrate. That's what I want everyone to do. There's no need for a consensus on a definitive tarot, in my opinion, because, A) there's not a definitive tarot and there never has been one, and B) that is really, really limiting and it's really homogenous. There's there's no creativity or diversity there.
[00:16:10] So. Yeah. Uh, don't fight me about the numbers, but if you want to, you know, make a post or make a podcast about your own reasoning for the way that you like the cards to be numbered, please do that and send it to me because I would love to listen to it! I actually would. Okay. That being said, number eight is Strength. (Charlie chuckles.)
[00:16:37] So Strength. On the surface of it, when we think about the word "strength," we might think of brute strength. We might think of force or even violence, depending on where we're coming from. And it's important to note that our ideas surrounding what strength means are, like everything else, highly relational. I'm going to see strength as one thing. And somebody else across the globe is going to see it as something different. Likewise, back when the Tarot was created, the card, which was originally unnamed, as I said, but eventually came to be called "Fortitude" first, I believe, that means something different in the Renaissance than the word "strength" does in 2021.
[00:17:28] So again, the Tarot changes. That's awesome. Here's what I think strength means. Strength, as we have it in the tarot deck, and as is supported in most of the illustrations of the card going back through history, Strength in the tarot deck is not about brute force or violence, unless you read it that way when it's reversed, which some people do.
[00:17:54] But, the real energy of the card isn't about brute, brute strength, brute force, or violence, but about inner strength, courage, and a fortitude of spirit. It's having the strength to admit when we're wrong and make amends. It's the courage to look at the parts of ourselves that we like to avoid and do it with compassion for ourselves and without judgment.
[00:18:24] So in other words, this card is, to a certain extent, about what is often called "shadow work." There's a couple other cards that I also connect with shadow work. The Moon is one, the Devil's one, even the Lovers is one, but Strength too. And here's why. In this vein, we can talk about the imagery of the card.
[00:18:51] In the Marseille decks and the Smith Rider Waite decks and all the decks in those two traditions, which are the main traditions, we see a figure who is putting their hands on a lion's mouth. It's this often feminine figure, and this beast, and the person has their hands-- sometimes it looks like they're gently placed, other times it looks like they're firmly placed, but placed regardless on the lion's mouth. And they appear to either be opening the lion's jaws or closing the lion's jaws, depending on how you look at it. Or maybe it's both. Maybe it's intentionally vague because it's up to our interpretation, right? But what we have is a person coming into close, intimate contact with a beast.
[00:19:50] And it does not look like, even if you read the hands on the lion's mouth as being a strong grip or as closing the mouth, the person is still not subduing them with force force. Right? The earliest, I think it's the earliest, version of Strength that exists, it depicts a man clubbing a lion at his feet. It is likely a reference to Hercules, but that vision is brute force, subduing through brute force. The Strength card imagery that we have had, well, pretty much since then is a very different one. One that seems to be more centered on vulnerability and even trust and compassion. Like trusting that the lion isn't gonna bite your hand off, you know? Like coming to the lion sort of like on its level, communing with it, extending that trust with compassion and vulnerability. That's what the Strength card is about.
[00:21:06] So if we look at the lion as a beast, as a representation of our own inner wildness or of the instinctual, animal parts of ourselves, here we are facing and communing with our inner beast, with our desire, our lust, our fear, our anger-- all things that have to be acknowledged lest they overtake us and control us. Right? Ever notice how the very angry people tend to claim that they aren't angry? (Charlie laughs.) That's because they aren't acknowledging their anger. They aren't therefore acknowledging the deep wounding that often underlies anger like that.
[00:22:05] And so with that lack of acknowledgement, that lack of self-compassion, and supporting yourself, and dealing with it, and feeling with it, and moving through it. Without that, that anger often just spurts out of people in misguided ways. Sometimes totally unrelated ways. Just wherever it can get out.
[00:22:31] Same thing with people who are threatened by queer folks, by LGBTQ+ folks, or by women in power, or by young people or any people making unconventional decisions about their lives, unconventional life choices. The kind of people who get angry about that or threatened by that, I have theory that many folks like that become so activated when faced with these things because they, themselves, weren't able to make the same choices when they were younger. They weren't able to have the same freedoms to direct their lives and be their full selves. And so they forced themselves to conform to the only kind of life they thought that they could have safely. And that causes deep wounds. That causes deep, deep wounding.
[00:23:33] And when that kind of wound isn't acknowledged, it can manifest in things like hatred, or things like a need to enforce that same harmful, restrictive code of values that was imposed on them onto others. Because otherwise, if they look at it and they go: how amazing that all of these people are being their full, whole selves and making the decisions that are right for them to direct their own lives. If, if they look at that, then it also means that they have to look at themselves, and look at the decisions they were forced to make that they didn't want to make. And that might very well disrupt a person's whole life.
[00:24:12] Right? So soapbox over. That's my, that's my private theory. But how does that relate to Strength? These are the things Strength asks us to look at and to reckon with, and it asks us to do this, not with shame or judgment, but with self compassion, courage and discipline.
[00:24:37] I can hear you going what? Discipline? That's not what I thought you were going to say! But yes, with discipline. Let me explain.
[00:24:45] Discipline is a vital part of the Strength card, which we do also see in the imagery, right? We see it in the intention in those hands on the lions maw. There is intention in that person's grip. Here, we have communing with the lion, playing with it, wrestling with it, but not being devoured by it. Not letting it consume us. Right? So there's a, there's an intention, and a balance, a restraint there. It is not letting the wild side overtake us and consume us. And it is also not repressing and boxing away and shaming that wild side, either. It is communion of both. Of the intellectual conscious mind and the animalistic, subconscious, instinctual, feral self. It's communion of both of those things.
[00:25:49] So in this way, kind of a precursor to temperance when I think about it.
[00:25:54] And let's connect that idea to courage. So this is another thing that is one of the meanings, one of the energies, of the Strength card, is courage. Courage is not immunity to fear. It is not a lack of fear. People who are brave aren't actually quote "fearless." Instead they feel fear and yet don't allow it to control them. Courage is about feeling our fear, about being scared of a thing, and facing it anywhere. Facing it, despite our fear. It is acknowledging the fear, identifying its source perhaps, that would be useful, and then deciding how to move forward with the full realm of information that we can have.
[00:26:49] Fear is not always a bad thing. Sometimes fear is very intelligent. For instance, like, are you about to be eaten by a wild lion? Maybe there's a good reason to be scared. But if it's something like putting yourself out there in a new way, sharing your art, starting a podcast, asking for a promotion or a raise, telling someone that you like them, and you feel fear around those things, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of whatever. The Strength card says, look at that fear, track it to its source. What's going on there underneath? Why do you feel like you're afraid of rejection? You know, what is it down there? And then, decide how to do the thing anyway, in best support for yourself.
[00:27:46] Courage is being afraid and facing it, and usually doing it anyway. And listen, that is easier said than done, but Strength reminds us not to give over into shame, judgment, denial, and fear when facing our hidden selves, our wild parts, our painful wounded pieces. And also not to do those things to ourselves-- shame, judgment, denial, fear-- not to do those things when we're really struggling with that fear. When we are struggling with being brave, with facing the thing. It's about compassion, extending that compassion.
[00:28:30] That's one of the reasons that I love this card as number eight, because of how well it intertwines with the esoteric numerology of the number eight, with those ideas of change, evolution, balance, and also because this situates Strength at the beginning of the second line in the Major Arcana, which we've talked about in previous episodes. If you're like, what's that? It's the way of separating the deck into three rows of seven cards each with the fool on the outside. Strength as number eight puts it at the head of that second line, which is the line of the subconscious. It's the line of unlearning, as I, as I deal with it, as I communicate with it. And Strength sets us up to be able to do those things, it introduces us to the tools that we need in order to walk down that path, that path of unlearning, discovery, healing. We can't really do that, can we, without those tools from Strength.