This is the third article in our series about the esoteric meaning of the Major Arcana. In this article, we will examine the cards VIII – XI. Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune and Justice. If you are interested in the previous cards, IV to VII, please click here.
- Hebrew letter: Teth (simple): Serpent
- Astrology: Leo
- Element: Fire
Keywords: Courage, Calm, Mastery of one’s self, Virtue, Intelligence over brutality.
Supreme energy which no brutality can resist is represented in arcana 8. A young blond woman who without any apparent effort tames a fully grown, furious lion. Her white robe, similar to that worn by the magician, indicate her spiritual purity, while her belt and crown of roses, represent human desires.
Like the Magician, over her head bears the symbol of infinity, showing her infinite potential and wisdom.
The blue mountains on the background show stability and calmness. The lion is a symbol of passions and desires, which are very much part of human feelings. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot)
These feelings, like the lion, they are not evil, because they can be expressed in positive ways. This lion, if it is tamed it renders great services to whoever can master it. Therefore, there is no reason to kill the animal, even within our own personality. The Wise man respects all energies even when dangerous because he knows, that they exist to be caught and used wisely.
The woman does not use force or coercion, but she channels her inner strength to subdue and control the lion. It seems to have domination over it. The fact that she keeps the lion’s jaws also shows she has courage. Her calmness and self-control are representative for being in control and disciplined especially in times of great adversities.
One idea here is that mastery over life requires that the forces which tend to evil should be changed into useful energies. What is evil should not be destroyed, but to be tamed and reformed into a means by which we can fulfill our human aspirations.
Step by step, the progress of human science brings the brute forces of nature under the control of human thought, and the wise man can have at his disposal an immense strength if he thinks wisely and if his own will is identified with the Supreme Will.
Another idea is that subconsciousness is always and totally amenable to control by suggestions originating at the level of self-consciousness.
The expansion of the Thought-will emitted by the individual. Psychic energy. Triumph of intelligence over brutality. Courage. Reason and feeling combined to master instinct. The individual word. Human wisdom and knowledge subduing the blind forces of Nature. Virtue, calm, intrepidity. Moral force is imposed on brute force and selfish passions. Complete mastery of one’s self. Strong mind. Energetic and active nature. Intelligent activity. Tamer.
9. THE HERMIT
- Hebrew letter: Yod (simple): The hand of man
- Kabbalah: Iesod
- Astrology: Virgo
- Element: Earth
Keywords: Experience, Prudence, Restriction, Inner Guidance, introspection, Soul-searching, Silence, Search for Truth.
9 is the number of the following card. 9 has special properties, if you multiply any number by 9, the result is always a number having digits which add to 9. Number 0 has special properties too. If you multiply any number by 0, 0 is always the result.
In Tarot, these cards, 0 and 9, depict a man on the top of a mountain. The Fool and the Hermit. However, their appearance is different and additionally, the Fool fixes his gaze on a height ahead of him, while the Hermit looks down, shedding light on its steady and uninterrupted path. In addition, number 9 is the last of the series of numbers. Thus 9 represents completion and mastery. From the young and careless Fool (Card 0) to the experienced Hermit (card 9).
The Hermit is an old man who knows the past from which he gains his inspiration to prepare the future. His beard, like that of the Emperor, symbolizes experience. He stands alone on the top of a snowy mountain holding a lantern in one of his hands and a long stick on the other, which is a sign of power and authority.
Inside the lantern, there is a six-pointed star, a symbol of wisdom, also known as the Seal of Solomon. The lantern illuminates his next few steps rather than the complete path. He has to go forward to see where to go then, knowing that not everything will be revealed at once. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot II)
Hermit is modest and has no illusions about his own knowledge, which he knows to be infinitesimal compared to his ignorance. Therefore, giving up excessive intellectual ambitions, he is content to humbly receive the ideas that are necessary for him to fulfill his earthly goal.
The lantern which he has is not limited to shedding light on the surface. It penetrates, searches out and reveals the inner quality of things. The mountain indicates accomplishment, development, and success. This card refers to the level of spiritual knowledge that he has achieved and that he is ready to pass on that knowledge to everyone.
The Hermit from the peak of the mountain is able to watch any other traveler below him. There are many paths around the mountain that leads to the place where he stands. The paths on one side are different from those on the opposite side and seem to go in opposite directions. But all lead to the same place. The same happens with the various paths of human attainment. There aren’t two precisely the same. Yet all lead to the same goal. That goal is to attain the level of awareness and knowledge of the Hermit and consequently the conscious identification with the one and only Self.
Experience. Prudence. Inspiration. The potential living being, the potential strength within the seed. The living plan existing before its materialization. The Astral body of the occultists. Tradition. The unperishable patrimony of the past. Profound knowledge. Meditation. Silence. Discretion. Reserve. Isolation. Purity. Celibacy. Austerity. The wise man detached from the world, dead to wicked passions and ambitions. Profound, meditation spirit, adverse to all frivolity. An Initiate Practicing Universal Medicine. The Hermetic philosopher possessing the secret of the Stone of the Wise. Initiator. Master capable of directing the work of others.
10. WHEEL OF FORTUNE
- Hebrew letter: Kaph: The hand of man closed, in the act of grasping.
- Kabbalah: Malchut
- Astrology: Jupiter
- Element: Fire
Keywords: Ups and downs, Destiny, Instability, Change, Success due to opportunities.
Arcana 10, the Wheel of Fortune, seems to be inspired by the book of Ezekiel, where describes a vision in which the heavens had opened and the prophet saw strange animals grouped in fours, and near to them, fire wheels, each being double. This card is one of the most highly symbolic cards in the deck. It shows a giant wheel, with three figures on the outer edges and many esoteric symbols inside it. This is also the wheel of Destiny.
In the outer circle of the wheel is written in Hebrew letters the unpronounceable name of God, YHVH (Yod Heh Vau Heh). Alternating with the four Hebrew letters, the outer circle contains the Roman characters spelling the word ROTA, which is the word for the “wheel” in Latin. From these four letters, we can form also the word TAROT and the word TORA, as a version of the word Torah, meaning the”law”.
In the middle wheel is an eight-armed cross. Four arms point to the Hebrew and four to the Latin letters. The arms of the cross pointing to the Latin letters bear four alchemical symbols, mercury, sulfur, water, and salt (reading clockwise). These are the building blocks of life and the four elements, representing the formative power. Occult tradition associates these four elements with the Divine Name, YHVH.
Outside of the wheel, on the left side, a serpent descends. It is the Egyptian god Typhon, the god of evil, and represents the descending into the material world. On the other side ascends Anubis, the Egyptian God of the dead, a figure with a human body and a jackal’s head. Anubis is the guide of the soul in its journey through the underworld.
Thus on the right side, Anubis, which represents all the good, beneficial and constructive energies, ascend, and on the left side Typhon, which represents all the evil and destructive actions, descends.
At the top of the wheel sits the Sphinx, in the center of the wheel, holding a sword in its lion claws. This creature is a composition of man and animal and represents knowledge and strength.
The motionless Sphinx dominates the wheel. It represents the principle of balance and stability and regulates the uninterrupted movement of the wheel. The irresistible current which draws the spirit into matter implies forgetfulness of heaven and the feeling of being cut off from the Great All. But it rises again as it completes its evolutionary work.
On the outer corners of this image are the four mysterious winged animals mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel, and appearing again in the Apocalypse of Apostle John.
- The bull represents the Taurus and the element of the earth.
- The lion represents Leo and the element of fire.
- The eagle represents Scorpio and the element of water.
- The man represents Aquarius and the element of air.
In addition, the animals correlate with the four implements on the Magician’s table. Which stand for:
- The Lion – Fire – wand.
- The Eagle – water – cup.
- The man – air – sword.
- The Bull – earth -pentacle.
Their wings signify stability amidst movement and change, and The books that each of the creatures holds represent the Torah, indicating wisdom. (Also read: The Best Tarot Books For All The Occult Students)
Ups and downs. Cycles. The sphere of the sovereignty of the will. The principle of individuality. Involution, seed, sowing, sperm, fertilizing energy. Initiative, presence of mind, spontaneity, aptitude for inventions. Divination of a practical type. Success due to opportunities. Luck, fortuitous discoveries which enrich or lead to success. Favorable destiny which brings about success outside any real personal merit. Advantages seized by chance. An envied but unstable situation.
- Hebrew letter: Lamed (Simple): Ox-goad.
- Kabbalah: Nizah
- Astrology: Libra
- Element: Air
Keywords: Order, Fairness, Regularity, Rightness, Method, Equilibrium, Cause and Effect.
The Hebrew letter corresponding to this card is Lamed, which means “ox-goad”. An “ox-goad” is a wooden tool, fitted with an iron spike at one end, which was used to guide oxen on the road chosen by the driver. Therefore, the ideas of control and direction are linked to this letter.
The Justice tarot card depicts a seated woman who holds scales and a sword, reminding us of the Greek goddess Themis, the goddess of justice.
We see her whole face, she wears a crown and she has yellow hair, like the Empress. But now is older and her features have hardened. She wears a red robe and green mantle. Her position is passive and receptive, and she represents the subconscious side of our lives.
Behind her there is a loosely hung purple veil, signifying compassion. She sits between two gray pillars which symbolize balance, law, and structure. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot II)
In her right hand, she holds a sword, point upwards, expressing a decisive and final decision. The sword is double-edged, which symbolize that no violation of the law remains unpunished. Holding the sword in her right hand, indicate the logical, well-ordered mentality that is necessary to dispense fair justice.
On the other hand, she holds a scale which is the symbol of her impartiality. That she holds it on her left hand shows how intuition should balance logic. Every action, every thought, every desire has an effect upon the balance of this scale.
She wears a crown with small squares on it, representing the well-ordered thoughts and clarity required to dispense justice. Under her red robe, a small white shoe pops out as a spiritual reminder to everyone about the consequences of their actions.
Justice co-ordinates and organizes chaos. Without Justice, nothing can live, since beings exist only under the law to which they are subjected. Thus, this tarot card is a symbol of truth, fairness, and law.
Fairness, Splendor, Glory, Rule. Divinity manifested by order and harmony of nature. Rightness. Law, equilibrium, life stability, logical and necessary procedure of ideas, of feelings and of actions. Fatality flowing from all that is accomplished, ineluctable consequences of all action. Logic, sureness of judgment, impartiality, independence of mind, honesty, integrity, regularity, discipline, respect for hierarchy, submission to propriety and custom. Decision, resolution, steadfast purpose, rules of conduct. Method, exactitude, motion, work.
- Arthur Edward Waite, “The Pictorial Key To The Tarot” 1911 (aff.link)
- Oswald Wirth “Tarot of the Magicians” 1927 & 1985 (aff.link)
- Paul Foster Case “Introduction to Tarot” 1922 (aff.link)
- Papus “The Tarot of the Bohemians” 1896 (aff.link)