Strength as Virgo & Leo


For various reasons, including a totally different discussion by Holmes (Decanates in the tarot minors) which focussed on astrological correlations made by various people with the minors, I was reflecting on how various images in the Major Arcana may have been seen astrologically by eyes differently lensed, without GD or other influences.

For this, I looked through various astrological texts which include some early woodcuts, and this (as well as a few others) correlations emerged: The image in XI - La Force seems to combine, in the serenity of her face, depictions so reminiscent of Virgo, who stands, as in the zodiac, behind Leo. Here, then, are two signs possibly combined in imagery.

This combined symbology, incidentally, is further possible given some of the statue depictions of the Phrygian origins within the Roman Empire, in which Cybele (possibly linked with Virgo through the ear of corn) is depicted with leonine beasts at hand.


I am not well up in classical iconography, so I can't be too specific here. However it occurs to me that if you are going to try and look at an Astrological symbol for Strength from a 'GD Free' point of view there are a number of questions/issues to address:

Firstly, why a sign and not a planet? - both have Astrological symbolism. It may be that you feel the planets more closely approximate symbols of other MA cards or it may be that you feel the imagery on Strength does not match closely to any of the planets.

Secondly, I assume - given the forum - that you are looking at a historical assignment, rather than a completely fresh assignment. So we should exclude Uranus, Neptune and Pluto as possible contenders, which leaves 12 signs and 7 planets. However if you wanted to be completely fresh you could consider the latter planets and indeed whether the traditional approach to the representation of Strength is still valid for the purpose. Being Historically inclined, I would answer yes to this question.

Thirdly there is the issue of how you define strength. Is it active or passive? The usual answer is that strength is active - it is a force that acts (to paraphrase Newton). Active signs could be seen as the Fire and Air signs - so you are restricted to Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius and Aquarius. Virgo is an 'Earth sign so it might be considered passive.

I can think of two related issues to that last comment. Firstly Astrologers are by no means unanimous in relating Active to Fire/Air or Masculine signs. The original qualities on which the sign elements are based are Hot, Cold, Dry and Wet. All signs are Hot or Cold and for virtually all Greek philosophical thought both Hot and Cold are active. I think only the Stoics tended to veer from this.

Secondly even if Virgo is still seen as passive, strength might also be seen as passive - strong foundations to a wall or house are not active.

The issue clearly comes down to how the quality of strength should be represented.

Mary K Greer gives the following 'traditional' associations of strength - 'force, fortitude, courage, power, might, authority, command, moral energy' - so I finish by posing this question, half but only half humorously, 'Why not Mars as the AStrological association for Strength?


That makes sense, it links her with the princess of wands (Crowley's astrological associations, I think are leo in virgo...) which also makes sense.


Quite so, Minderwiz, on so many points.

In my previous post, which may have been as clearly expressed as I wished, I was really expressing some thoughts which arose out of looking at some astrological woodcuts from circa the fifteenth century.

On some of these, Virgo faces Leo, which faces away from her. If we bring these two images in quite close super-imposed proximity, we end up with a mirror image to the traditional representation of the Strength card.

I do not mean to suggest that this is in any way the intended imagery, for there are other sufficient similarities with King David, with Samson, and with Herakles (Hercules) - each of which may have been more influential.

Nor do I think the question needs to start with 'how might we depict Mars?' (or other astrological sign or planet). Rather, from images which arise in the very act of Tarot production, what allegorical or symbolic depictions seem to be reflected, and which may have been seen or recognised as such given similar imagery depicted in other places.

Here is where I wish to suggest this amalgamation of Virgo and Leo, as one possible combination of two signs upon this card's imagery...



I must admit I wasn't quite sure what you were trying to say in the first post - my comments were based on your own line about how astrological correspondances might have been viewed.

Is there a Virgo connection to the image you linked to - yes I see the point you make and it possible to 'see' an ear of corn in the pattern of the girl's hat. Is the association intentional - clearly we don't know but it raises the issue.

One problem about the imagery is that Leo and Virgo are successive signs and therefore the imagery in the statues you refer to might simply be seasonal - a juxtaposition showing the passing of Summer.

That imagery might still be relevant - the Tarot imagery of strength may just be based on another interpretation of 'strength' the period of the year in which the Sun is strongest and its persistance or staying power at that time of year.

Ross G Caldwell

I'm personally not comfortable with assigning a single astrological entity - sign, house or planet - to any trump. Not yet anyway - it may turn out that some such scheme was involved.

Rather, I think that the astrological attributions, which are real and would have been obvious to the 15th century, are incidental to the primary or overarching motif of a particular card - in this case, Fortitude. The Cardinal Virtue (Virtue actually *meaning* strength, not more general moral rectitude as we have it in English).

My own thoughts, somewhat out of date but still largely valid, are given at

I would add that I think in the case of the Visconti-Sforza card, it was definitely executed for Hercule d'Este, and probably later in the 70s, if not early eighties, when he actually was at war with Venice (=the Lion).

I could also add that I can say with almost complete certainty that the Visconti-Sforza image is *unique* in iconography, except for the striking resemblance with the astrological degree of Victor Belli, shown at my page above. Checking the 2000 or so images of Hercules in all his forms in the "Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae" (München, Artemis, 1988), there is not a single image, even in the several hundred on the theme of the Nemean Lion, which even resembles this one. He never strikes a fleeing Lion. While the Lexicon doesn't go into the Middle Ages, I have not encountered anything like it in this period either. This makes the similarity between the Visconti-Sforza image and Victor Belli (The Victor in War) even more astounding, and well outside the bounds of coincidence.

Thus this particular card is not *only* Hercules or Fortitude, but intends to invoke both of them (since Hercules is thought of as a paragon of Fortitude, after all), as well as to draw on the power of the Victor Belli image in astrology (which happens to be 26° Libra, but I don't think the card is therefore to be taken for the whole sign of Libra).

That's just my thesis on this card, so I'll defend it.

But as for the more typical image, of the woman with the lion, I think the discussion of the conflation with Virgo and Leo is food for thought. It might be significant that Libra, which comes after Virgo in the Zodiac, could be seen as Justice=the Scales - hence the weird confusion often felt between positions VIII and XI in the TdM order. There is a cluster of fairly consistent Zodiac imagery here - followed by Scorpio (=Death) and Sagittarius (portrayed often as a Centaur with a bow), and Capricorn (Devil), then Aquarius (Temperance=Water Bearer). An old name for the Tower is of course "Sagitta", the Arrow. So it appears jumbled, but there may be an order, as in the Minchiate Zodiac. Then again, maybe not. The Tarot images seem not to be pigeon-holed so easily, they defy easy categorization.




I agree with your opening point about Tarot / Astrological correspondances and the 'danger' of assuming a deliberate system of correspondences on the basis of one per sign or planet (or even a deliberate system of correspondences at all). I think jmd is of the same view.

Your point about easily recognised imagery is a good one, because I suspect that Astrological links were well known as you say and may well have been a form of shorthand raising some mental images which would have been integrated with other images in the picture to produce a more complex relationship - Astrology is but one element (and not necessarily the main one) in the make up of the card.

I've always found the 'correspondence' of the Hermit with Virgo a rather difficult one - At one level there seems a clear link - a time for analysis, reflection, reconsideration - all mental processes and appropriate for a sign ruled by Mercury. However much of the rest of the received interpretation of the Hermit is positively Saturnine.

An imagery therefore in which both Leo and Virgo are involved may be another way of placing Virgo in sequence (assuming of course that we keep Strength at VIII). Again this suggests some element of system that requires signs to appear in the correct order. However if the sign imagery is understood by all, then the sequence does not have to be in zodiacal order to get the imagery across. The audience is quite capable of understanding the signs even if presented in random order.