Atu VIII: Strength
Letter: ט Teth (T)
Proximity: Sephira #4 (Chesed) to Sephira #5 (Geburah)
Pent #19 “Secret of All Spiritual Activity” – Earth of 離 (Li) The Clinging, Fire (Above/Below)
Earth of 巽 (Sun) The Penetrating, Wind (Without/Within)
Berashith: “Elohim said, let the waters swarm”
(Upper right) Fire: Hex #30: 離 (Li) The Clinging
(Lower left) Air: Hex #30: 離 (Li) The Clinging
(Upper left) Water: Hex #29: 坎 (K’an) The Abysmal
(Lower right) Earth: Hex #29: 坎 (K’an) The Abysmal
Keywords (Dignified): Courageous, Health, Control, Defiance, Zeal, Matter over Mind and Mind over Matter (depending on the circumstance,) Attainment through Peril, Hidden Forces, Virility, Confident, Gregarious, Proud, Triumphant, Seductive, Bold, Innovative, Daring, Revolutionary, Progressive, Impenitent, Vigorous, Joyous, Ecstatic, Liberated, Uninhibited, Unrestrained
Keywords (Ill-Dignified): Instability, Timidity, Illness, Weak, Vulnerable, Impulsive, Addiction, Helplessness, Tyranny, Sickness, Pettiness, Impotency, Succumbing
Historical: One of the things about the Strength card that is notable, is that it has not changed very much over the course of centuries. It has almost invariably depicted a woman, or rarely, a man, with a lion, either effortlessly riding it, or opening its mouth. One major change historically, was the swapping of Justice, with Strength, by the Golden Dawn, due to astrological assignments. It is still popular to place Strength at 8, and Justice at 11, to this day. Aleister Crowley decided to go with the older standard, and changed the name dramatically, but his imagery remained faithful to the old standard. It was originally called Fortitude by the GD. The key elements are the woman, and the lion. The woman appears to have controlled the lion somehow, whether through gentleness or some other means, she is sometimes said to represent the soul, where the lion is the anatomical body, with its baser instincts. In older decks, the woman is also breaking a pillar.
Golden Dawn: Called Fortitude (Daughter of the Flaming Sword), the Fortitude card corresponds to the zodiacal Leo and places between Sephira #4 (Chesed) and Sephira #5 (Geburah) in the Golden Dawn system.
It was the Golden Dawn that originally popularized the placement of Fortitude at Leo and Justice at Libra.
Thoth: Crowley decided to name this card Lust, and augmented the maiden’s triumphant aspect. It has always had somewhat of a sexual undertone, so it’s understandable why Crowley wanted to name it something bolder.
He swapped its traditional numeration of Strength/Fortitude VIII with Justice XI and named it Adjustment, but he did not change its position on the tree, which should be considered sloppy. The reasoning for the renumeration is not given, but for the change of the name itself he says “Technical analysis shows that the Path corresponding to the card is not the Strength of Geburah, but the influence from Chesed upon Geburah”. This is overly simplified, and incorrect, in our opinion and we did not keep his change. The Lion was also transformed into the Beast of Revelations with its seven heads. That the beast she rides has a reptilian tail with a bulge at the end reminiscent of a scorpion’s stinger was a purely coincidental similarity between Lady Harris’s artwork and the Mushussu, a creature that is well known amongst students of Sumerian mythology, for having the stinger of a scorpion at the end of its tail.
This is one of many happy and auspicious coincidences shared between the MAT and the THOTH tarots, so that the MAT tarot probably has more in common with the artistic peculiarities of Lady Frieda Harris than the technical variations of Aleister Crowley.
Mutational Alchemy Interpretation: The doubles hexagram phenomenon occurs eight times in the Tree of Life/Yi Jing marriage in the Primordials arrangement. Teth means serpent, and Crowley regarded the beast on his card as a serpent-lion hybrid. There is no better precise creature to represent a serpent-lion hybrid than the composite animal of the god Ninazu and his son Ningishzidda, so that is the creature we chose to stand in for the lion. We didn’t want to see the Book of Revelations get anymore attention on our watch, and so we saw no need to give it additional heads, although there is a form of the Ningishzidda animal called “Musmahhu” a water-mushussu with seven heads, but this would only be mistaken for the beast from the Book of Revelations.
Crowley talks a lot about doves in his chapter on the card, and it seems he has a pigeon fetish of some kind, as he never seems to tire of talking about this subject.
Flowers were included, in keeping with tradition. The flowers can be regarded as lusty and promiscuous creatures of nature certainly, but they also have a peculiar kind of strength in their innate abilities granted by evolution. Evolution is a grand kind of strength, and they are very clever in their alluring way.
There was a discussion between us as to whether to keep the Golden Dawn placement of eight or to keep them in their older stations. It was finally decided that the decision made by the Golden Dawn was correct and progressive. So far as we could see, the ruling pentagram agreed with it, as did the hexagrams and the Sephira proximity.
The Scene: The girl in the card, Sumerian royalty, rides on a Mushussu, a particular type of dragon from Sumerian mythology who represents unbridled chaos. Infinitely regenerative, truly immortal, and worshipped as protectors and the semi-divine devils of the desert, the Mushussu has strong links to the very ancient deities Tiamat and Abzu, who predated much of the later mythologies associated with them, (the Mardukian hogwash and so forth) by thousands of years.
They also conjure up images of the more recent concepts of Djinn imported from the Arabic Peninsula, during the territorial wars, as well as Pazuzu, in their winged form, depicted on the Ningishzidda Grail, housed today in the Louvre Museum.
Repeated here is the theme of Crowley’s Babalon, and the three worlds are illustrated: An, or Heaven, above, Ma, Earth in the middle, and Cthonic below; here we find a black cuneiform signpost reading “Irkalla” the Sumerian word for the underworld. And indeed, the Mushussu seems inclined to take his horny little passenger with her legs wide open down into the Palace of Ereshkigal. (Also the gate to Irkalla represents the gate to Geburah from the serene blue of Chesed if you didn’t catch that.) For the moment he is just going to keep his paws in the stream though.
The dragon icon of Ninazu and Ningishzidda was able to travel between Heaven, Earth and The Underworld, whereas most creatures, even gods, were confined to one realm or another lest they find themselves trapped or troubled. These natural messengers of the Underworld were feared and admired, for they possessed secrets of Death that were and are a Great Mystery.