A young woman firmly grasps the jaws of a powerful lion that stands before her. On her head is a large and curiously shaped hat, and a voluminous cloak hangs from her shoulders. She seems calm and undisturbed despite her predicament.
Fortitude is the second of the four Virtues to appear in the Tarot pack. The picture of Fortitude as a young woman in the act of restraining a lion is a common Medieval image.
This card is numbered eleven, the second of the double numbers. As it follows immediately after the perfect number ten, eleven is traditionally indicative of vulnerability, danger, and overstepping the mark. Being formed in Arabic numerals from the number one repeated, it is similar to the number two in that it suggests tension, opposition, and a struggle to reconcile divergent qualities.
These possibilities are all apparent in the Tarot card.
The first image which the Hermit encounters on his journey into the underworld of the unconscious is his own shadow, a distorted reflection of himself. In the shadow live all the darker aspects of his being which his personality has been unable to accept, aspects which up till now have only manifested themselves to him in dark thoughts or troubled dreams.
The conscious mind and its shadow are both parts of a psychic whole, and until the two are reconciled no further development can take place. Most people cannot face the confrontation with the shadow, and its dark qualities are projected on to the world outside. Only a few succeed in breaking through this web of self-delusion to the unnerving truth that the shadow lies within themselves.
In most ancient myths dealing with the quest of the hero, the hero first needs a friend, often a primitive "wild man", who will undertake the adventure with him. The combined talents of the hero and his friend are required to overcome the perils that he ahead. But first they must do battle together, for only if the hero can subdue the wild man may they proceed together.
Jung has said: "The self is made manifest in the opposites and in the conflict between them; it is a coincidentia oppositorum. Hence the way to the self begins with conflict."8
This critical encounter is portrayed in the Tarot card Fortitude. We saw in the last card, the Wheel of Fortune, that the studied introversion of the hermit had begun to bring images from the unconscious into his field of awareness. Here, the shadow— symbolised by a lion, alchemical symbol of the forces of instinct— is being firmly subdued by the seeker, who is represented as a young woman to indicate that gentleness rather than severity is the quality needed for success.
The imagery here suggests the Biblical story of Samson slaying the lion, after which a swarm of bees lived in the carcase. In some old Tarot packs Fortitude is indicated by the figure of Samson strangling the Hon.
The defeat of the lion represents the reconciliation with instinctive desires, which releases the energies locked up in the shadow, and reunites the conscious mind with the long-lost paths to the inner centre.
In mundane terms Fortitude represents the individual who through discipline attains self-control, freeing him from the constant distractions and changes of mood to which ordinary men are prey. The young woman, like the charioteer in card VII, represents a type of strength—but the passive, inner strength of steadfast purpose; not the positive, outer strength of action.
In her negative aspect she shows the conscious suppression of instinctive needs, for fear of the potential power to destroy the veneer of civilised convention within which the insecure mind can feel safe.
Copyright © 2012 Tarot-Josnell