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.
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.
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!
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