Way of the Hero – Part 4 – The Journey Through Tarot Cards

In the previous “Way of the Hero” article, I have explained the two steps, or levels of the Hero’s journey and mapped them out within Tarot cards. We looked at: The Justice and The Hermit.

Now our Hero will journey through The Strength.

The Strength – Hybrid or Animal – an Ally

Strength is one of two cards which Waite has moved. On its initial, 11th place, this card opens up the second phase of the Major Arcane, while The Magus opens the first phase. The similarity between these cards is obvious, they both represent the force. The Magus – male energy, the strength of character, creativity potential, and mastery; The Strength – female energy, life force, passion, and joy of life. Above their heads, we see the Lemniscates – the symbol of infinity that represents the close relation and connection of the two levels, or worlds. In The Magus, it represents the relationship between “Above” and “Below” – macrocosm with the microcosm. In The Strength, it represents the harmonious relationship of the civilized self (the image of the woman) with the animal self (Lion).  Our Animal Self has many names such as daemon, shadow, anima/animus, familiar, soul, etc. We will talk more about this later, but I want to mention that it is basically a rejected side of our psyche that we must find peace with. I will refer to it as a “Shadow” or “Inner Beast”.

There is a reason why we have placed a female card in the beginning of the second phase that starts the journey into our well-hidden inner secrets. And what kind of role this card will play during the Hero’s journey, depends on how we perceive it -in male or female fashion. The Leo symbolizes our instincts and drives, our passion and wild, aggressive impulses, as well as a pure self-preservation instinct. Patriarchal (male, yang) myths tell us about heroes killing the lion, and the interesting fact is that most of these stories ended badly.

Samson fell victim to someone else’s cunning and lost all of his powers. Hercules also had problems with the female side of his personality. In the first attack of madness, he killed his wife and children. After the second attack, in order to atone for his sins, he was condemned to play the role of a woman: for three years in the row, he had to wear women’s clothes and work at the court of the queen, while the queen wore his lion-skin cloak.  This “therapy” helped him to work through the rejected feminine side of himself, and get rid of his madness. However, he could not finish this process completely and at the end, he died from deadly wounds.

In patriarchal versions of myths, where the hero has to kill the beast, this card corresponds to the Hybrid, the symbol of human arrogance and defiant refusal to obey the divine law and fulfill the assigned task.

But there is another way to tame the Inner Beast, a woman’s way – when she accepts it and makes him an ally.   This card shows the image of woman conquering the lion with her love.  However with the arrival of Christianity, we were told that we must learn to suppress our “evil” instincts and impulses, and the image of the lion gradually became a symbol of the Antichrist. When, in fact, it is nothing more than an attempt of the undeveloped mind to get rid of the subconscious Inner Beast.

As C.G. Jung ironically notes, “a simple suppression of the Shadows will save the man from the sins no more than the guillotine from a headache”. However, we should not perceive our dark side – our Shadow as a harmless little thing (we will talk more about it later).

That is why the meeting with our dark side is happening now – in the middle of the journey.

First, our “I” (our Ego) had to mature enough and gain strength to endure this fight. Otherwise, the weak self-awareness would be easily absorbed by the unconscious. The consciousness that has developed in the humanity for the past thousands of years must be developed within each individual during his or her lifetime. If individual’s consciousness is not developed enough and the border between conscious and unconscious becomes too permeable, the unconscious will easily flood the consciousness. In archaic cultures, it was called the “loss of soul”.

To prevent this from happening, the Ego must mature during the first phase. It must be firmly rooted in the reality to be able to engage in a dialogue with the subconscious and survive the upcoming battle. Otherwise, it will be flooded with the feelings, fantasies, and desires arising from the unconscious and become blurred or even “washed off”.  In myths and fairy tales, only those who knowingly encounter and face the risk without letting monsters to devour them are considered to be real heroes.
Many stories demonstrate that we should not force our inner beast (or wild impulses) to obey us; neither should we suppress it or kill it. In fact, once we think we conquered it, we face the danger to fall its victim. Instead, we should talk to it, make an agreement with it and allow it to live within certain boundaries, and only then we will be able to come to terms with it and consciously manage it.

If we approach our inner beast with kindness and affection, it will become our ally and supporter. In many fairy tales, we notice that the animal which hero meets in the beginning, is wild and dangerous, and it must be tamed. Once the hero does that, the animal becomes his ally and helps him to find his treasure.
To further move along the way, the conscious mind must be in clear and understandable communication with its subconscious. It also must surrender to its power. If “I” refuses to learn this “lesson of humility”, and instead tries to rob the unconscious from its magical powers in order to take power over it, we will fall into the illusion of omnipotence, will fail in our journey, and become the animals.

What kind of danger is waiting for us on our way to the deepest unknown? Why are so many people afraid to go down into the kingdom of darkness? Our ego likes when everything resembles an order, as it thinks that it will be able to understand, predict in advance, and take everything under its control. Therefore we love to talk about the “divine order” and leave accidents and chaos for the “devil”. And we will meet this sort of “devil”, our unpredictable and unrecognized sides during the second phase.

This path is marked by the sign of The Priestess, which embodies not only the art of non-action but also the expectation and readiness.
The Strength is the first card on this path. If we add its traditional number 11 (1+1), we will get the number two, which is the number of The Priestess card. The interconnection between these two cards again reminds us that from now on we are not going to do anything. The active way, the way of The Magus, is already passed. It took us from our mother’s womb into the outside world. And in order to perform our tasks, we had to become active. Now, our goal has changed. Now, we will be directed by the Priestess, and she requires phasing out the male attributes of power, which we painstakingly reached during the first stage.
Our powerful, mature, but still power-hungry ego has to become aware of its boundaries, and become humble and modest. Until now, the Hero could, and did gain experience, now he is required to open up to that experience. From now on what will happen to us is not what our “I” wants, but that what is required by our Self. We won’t be able to plan anything. The experience will happen on its own time in its own place, and not in the special places that we planned for it. And the most important things will occur spontaneously, but if the time for it hasn’t come yet nothing will happen, regardless of our involvement.

From now on our “teacher” will be life’s experience, to which we will be lead, so we can learn and absorb it with our soul and body.

Our mind has to understand its function as a “Main-Office” – it needs to become like a central control tower, but not “managing”, instead directing and coordinating the expression of various aspects of our personality without commanding and suppressing its rejected sides. The most important task of the control tower is to understand what is currently happening and to consciously realize that it is impossible to escape from ourselves. That is why this stage seems so unreliable and inconvenient.

With the same uncertainty with which we took our first steps in the beginning of our life, we are stopping at this place, because once again we are facing the unknown. And not just that. Much of what we have to learn on the way to the underworld will twist our normal perception of reality – whatever seemed so normal before will now confuse and frighten us. C.G. Jung compares a child’s fear of the huge world of adults with the fear we feel when discovering our shadow side, which is certainly a huge and unknown world. And that fear, according to Jung, is justified, because our “rational view of the world, with its scientific and moral postulate, will be totally shocked by the facts of the other side”.

One of the names that ancients gave to the underworld was the Kingdom of Shadows. And this is where our road is leading us. The term “shadows” was introduced by C.G. Jung to signify the full range of our unused and unloved parts.
What is in the Shadow? Well, everything that we think we do not have but, strangely, always find in others.  When we are suddenly perturbing or stubbornly believe that we are misunderstood, when someone “unfairly” accuses us, when we are reacting to a critic with badly concealed irritation, we can be certain that we just met with part of our “shadow”. For if it were not so, any criticism or reproach wouldn’t bother us, and we calmly and confidently would perceive it as a plain misunderstanding.

But, if something is affecting our shadow, our rejected and unloved side, the Ego immediately turns on the alarm. It fiercely and angrily starts to reject all accusations, because these accusations could really touch things so deeply hidden in the shadow of consciousness that Ego was, in fact, unaware of their existence.

The mere fact of perception of something that we do not own does not prove that it does not exist but only proves that we do not know anything about it.

The level of our disturbance can be used as an indicator of how the accusation is pointing us exactly to the shadow. Since shadow contains everything that we are capable of doing, but not doing because of cultural, moral, or individual reasons, it covers up and hides our “inner person” and its gifts and abilities.

Shadow area is not limited only by “taboo” things. To a much greater extent, it includes those features and traits that are very positive, but because we do not believe we own them, we do not believe we can be successful in using them, our “I” rejects their existence. We see them as too wide, too ambitious, too unusual, so we think that “this is not about us”. These positive features are called “bright side of the shadow”, or a “hidden gold”.

Certainly, to meet our shadow, we must have courage and strength, because we will be facing a powerful and completely unknown side of our personality. And this is a fundamental part of growing up.

© Rita Digilova 2009

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