Saturday, 26 July 2014

Leo in the Tarot: the Major Arcana

Sharman-Caselli  Tarot

Let’s start our exploration of Leo in the tarot with the Major Arcana.  The card associated with Leo is, unsurprisingly, Strength.  I say unsurprisingly, as many (but by no means all) tarot decks include the image of a lion in that card.  Struggles involving lions crop up frequently in literature, mythology and folklore – Gilgamesh’s encounter with the lions on his epic journey, Hercules’ labour with the Nemean lion, Androcles and the lion ... While Gilgamesh and Hercules end up killing their lions, Androcles (and St Jerome) helps the lion by removing a thorn from its paw.  Either way, the lion symbolizes inner strength, strength of character, inner struggles.

In traditional imagery, the woman appears to be opening or closing the lion’s mouth but not with the brute force of a Hercules or a Gilmagesh. Instead, she’s being gentle, using love rather than force.  Lions rely on instinct – that’s a strength, not a weakness.  We can rely on our inner strength, our instinct, just like the lion – and act from a place of love.

Thoth Tarot
In the Thoth deck, Strength has been renamed as ‘Lust’. Crowley felt that ‘lust’ was more expressive – it covered not only strength but also the enjoyment of that strength, and passion.  Here both the lion, and the woman on his back, are enflamed, lost in the enjoyment, the ecstasy, of that lust for life. Strength, in this version, comes through surrendering, and overcoming fear and conditioning. 

Shadowscapes Tarot
And why a woman? Well, some might say it’s the lioness who does all the work, and that the male is lazy! But if we look at mythology, why not a woman?  The Sumerian goddess Innana (Ishtar in Akkadian mythology) was associated with lions. In Egyptian mythology, we have Bast, depicted both as a lioness and a lion-headed woman. Bast was a protector goddess and defender of Ra, the sun god (images of Bast as a lion were created in a local stone, now known as alaBASTer).  Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess of war, as well as healing, is also often depicted as a lioness.  Her breath was said to have created the desert – how’s that for powerful?! . She’s a solar deity, the daughter of Ra... which leads us to another Major card associated with Leo.... the Sun! But that’s the subject of a future post, so stay tuned!

Wildwood Tarot
The Wildwood’s Woodward, which sits on the Wheel of the Year at Lammas (1st August – look out for the Lammas Tarot Blog Hop in a few days!), gives us a different picture of strength. Here we see a man, a hunter wearing a mountain lion mask. The Woodward is an ancient guardian of the Wildwood, representing the power that comes from within us - the strength that comes from having to face our fears, and from being forced to come to terms with whatever the ‘dark’ or the ‘shadow’ means to each of us.  

In one hand, he carries a blood-stained spear; in the other, a cup. The latter symbolizes the idea of the cup of giving and compassion. It takes strength to offer compassion in the face of the things that scare us most, and we may have to dig deep within ourselves to find it.

Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Sharman-Caselli Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by US Games Systems, Inc.

Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Lion Roars!

Today, at 22.41 BST, we enter the sign of Leo, astrologically speaking.  This sign is associated with the heart – and gold, the metal associated with the sun (which rules Leo), is used in homeopathic remedies for the heart.  It’s also associated with royalty – with kings, in particular. The brightest star in the constellation of Leo (‘Leo’ being Latin for lion), Regulus (Alpha Leonis) was called ‘qalb al-Asad’ by the early Arab astronomers – which translates as ‘heart of the lion’.  Allegedly, it was Saladin who called Richard I the ‘lion-hearted king’.  The lion has been called the king of the forest, or jungle – long before Disney came along with ‘The Lion King’ – and has come to symbolize natural leadership, as well as royalty.  

‘Leo’ ©Alison Coals

Leo’s ruler, the Sun, is the star at the centre of our solar system. The sun gives us life – without the light and heat that it provides, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.  Psychologically, the Sun is said to be the core of our being or centre of our personality. It’s the fiery, creative spirit - our essential vitality - that drives us to seek out our individuality.  In medieval astrology, the Sun is called ‘the Great Light’. No surprise then that we think of Leo as a sunny, warm-hearted, larger-than-life sign – a sign that loves to be centre-stage, in the spot-light.  On the wonderful Alchemical Journey, one of the things we did to celebrate Leo was to make our way, one at a time, a ‘cat-walk’ toward a ‘throne’, where we would each receive the honour and respect of the others in the group.  Some found it easy to be in the spot-light; others, less so!

Leo is one of the three Fire signs, along with Aries and Sagittarius – all signs concerned with the discovery and fulfilment of future possibilities and passions. In Leo, the focus is more on the self – in terms of mythology, you could say it’s about seeking an answer to the question ‘Who am I?’.  The myth of Parzival (Sir Percival in the Grail legends) is a wonderful example of the hero on a quest for self. Hero and protector of the ‘weak’, Leo is associated with generosity, loyalty and steadfastness, but as a ‘yang’ sign is also outgoing and sociable.  

Another quality associated with Leo is pride – and what do we call a group of lions?!  Leo is the ‘I want’ part of the zodiac, and the lion symbolises this self-interested drive, which we all have – it’s what we use to survive.  

As well as being one of the Fire signs, it’s also one of the four Fixed signs.  Leo represents the fire that’s burning in the hearth, the fire that Aries may have ignited – Leo tends that fire, keeps the passion alive. As the fire heats the house, keeping its inhabitants warm and dry, Leo encourages and supports others.  

‘Leo Totem’ ©Alison Coals
 Being Fixed, Leo likes to be in control of the environment, though – disruption is NOT encouraged.  We can see this in Leo’s tendency for extravagance too – yes, Leo loves beauty and maintains a distinctive, individual style but that disregard for the cost comes from a ‘fixed’ trait (one more often associated with Taurus!) – that of laziness. Leo can’t be bothered to find out if there’s enough in the coffers – and would not be happy about the idea of having to make adjustments to expenditure. Leave that to a mutable sign – practical, earthy Virgo, perhaps!

The fixity of Leo also takes us back to the idea of being in the spot-light, of being centre stage – and the ‘shadow’ side of that.  Leo may expect the world to revolve around his ideas; taking other people’s views or dreams into account, or even acknowledging them, may be one of the challenges that Leo has to deal with. 

The image (top right) comes from my AstroArt series, inspired by walking the Glastonbury Landscape Zodiac, part of the Alchemical Journey (  ‘Leo’ is a collage: watercolour on paper, and origami paper.