Justice is traditionally depicted as a young lady with a sword in one hand, scales in the other, and her eyes are blindfolded. On Tarot cards, the blindfold is left off. I think that is because Justice has to see the effect of her pure acts. It is all well and good sending a young man to prison because he has robbed an old lady of her money; but does it help the old lady, the young man or society in general? Only by seeing the effects can justice actually serve the community, and after all, that is what justice is all about. Justice is only a mechanism to find a happy medium between the boundless desires of the individual and the general good of society. If you suppress the desires of the individual entirely you get unhappy people unable to contribute to the good of the society; if you allow free rein to the desires of the individual, you get a society totally devoted to power, and the consequent reign of sadism and violence prevents the powerless individual from contributing to the good of society. The Comte de Sade (from whom we get our word 'sadism') spent much of his life writing books describing the effects of organizing a society without limits; it was his way of protesting at the society he lived in which seemed to him to be well on the way to becoming a society where justice ignored the effects of the law.
If Justice is not blindfolded, then Justice must see the consequences of her actions. This is what I feel the card is trying to tell me. So when I see Justice, I think of responsibility, accepting the consequences of our own actions. I also think of guilt, the guilt we feel, or are made to feel by other people, that is caused by feeling that we are responsible for the actions which resulted in these wrong results, results for which we take the blame. Responsibility and guilt are two sides of the same coin, a good instance of the pointlessness of giving different meanings to a card depending on whether it is turned the right way up or upside down. When things go well, we take pride in our ability to take on responsibility; when things go badly, we wallow in our guilt. Many people like feeling guilty, and many other people like being made to feel guilty; after all, it is better than being ignored, isn't it?
Justice wears a sword, to symbolize her need to make decisions, to fight for what is right. She doesn't take scales with her for her long journey, since the 'right-ness' of any decision cannot be judged by weighing the goodness and the badness. But next to her she holds a small trusting child, to remind her of her responsibilities and also of the consequences her decisions will have later on, when the child is grown-up.
The Hermit is an old man, a little infirm of body, whose eye-sight is failing. He is in the middle of a very large forest and is trying to find his way out. As it is night, he carries a candle to help him see the way. Many people start travelling, like the Fool. Perhaps they've heard of the Fool, and also want to be Romantic Travellers. So they pull on stout sandals, a thick coat, and carry a sensible haversack. They prepare themselves adequately for a long journey. As they are convinced that they are old and infirm, they stick to paths they can see, paths which are there to see because so many other pilgrims have trodden them. They do not stop to think that these paths are worn precisely because each successive pilgrim has followed hi the footsteps of the previous, and in the process has made (or at least maintained) the path. Eventually the path leads into the forest, deeper and deeper, and the Hermit cannot find his way out. If only he had the courage to get off the path, wade through the old leaves and brambles; he'd stand a good chance of coming to open ground, perhaps even a small village where he could rest and eat. But no, the Hermit only feels safe on the path, and sticks to it religiously. The candle symbolizes the little bit of the Truth he has found, the part of some or other Religion or Philosophy he has grasped, and which he only uses to follow the path.
This card seems to me about people who daren't jump outside their known and safe ideas. Often they are people who have found a little bit of the truth, and stick to it tenaciously; perhaps a scientist who refuses to believe in Souls, or perhaps a Catholic who believes that all unbaptized people will go to Hell (before I get shot down, not all scientists or Catholics believe these ideas). But is the scientist willing to try to understand mysticism? Is the Catholic willing to believe in the goodness of an Atheist? Hermits have found a bit of the truth, and are sticking to it through thick and thin. So the card suggests obstinacy, tenaciousness, persistence, narrow-mindedness, fear of the unknown. It also suggests people who feel lost, lack a guide-line and cannot cope with the complexities of this world. They need help, but will often fight offers of help. Make sure they know where you are to be found when they finally learn to accept help and learn to jump off the beaten track.
Sometimes we arrive at a time of life when we begin to feel that life is just happenstance; it goes on and on, season after season. The opposite attitude is when we see life as a progression starting at birth, and finishing at our death. Which is right?
Well, perhaps it can be both at the same time. As individuals we experience birth and death, and some sort of progression in between. But an outsider could just as easily say that life on this earth goes on and on. If we use the analogy of a merry-go-round, we see how both images can be true.
At the fair there is a merry-go-round which never stops. The horses go up and down, and the whole merry-go-round turns slowly enough for you to run, jump to get on, and scramble up the moving horse. After you pay your money, you get a ride of five minutes or so; sometimes the owner forgets to make sure you get off at exactly the right moment, but eventually he remembers. Other people get pulled off too quickly or actually fall off. Not everyone enjoys the ride, sometimes the horse's saddle has pins stuck into it, and other people complain because the music from the Calliope is too loud.
Part of the attraction is a ring hanging on a rope. If you lean right over, and time your movements right, you might grab the ring; you then win a prize. What the prize is you will find out only after you have got hold of it. It might be fame, or money, but it also can be notoriety. Some people fall off the horse as they try to reach the ring; other people pull a muscle, and clutch the ring in tremendous pain. This analogy applies to you who are reading it, to me who is writing it, as well as all the other people.
So this card tells me about people who are drifting along without exerting themselves, letting the stream of life carry them. It also applies to people who try too hard, and who gain the whole world and lose their soul (thirty years of constant perusal of way-side pulpits have done their work). Really, the card is about the purpose, or lack of purpose, that people see in their lives. Sometimes I ask them gently whether life should have a purpose. That gets us talking for a long time, and if both of us have not too many preconceptions, we might both learn something. But if we think about the ring too much, we will be like the boy who is told that if he sees a white horse pass, and can avoid thinking of the tail, he will become a very rich man. Which of us, having once heard that story, can avoid thinking of the tail when we see the white horse pass? That's why we're poor, and not just with regards to money.
My dictionary tells me that Strength is the quality, condition or degree, of being strong. It is, in other words, not brute force. Strength implies the intelligent use of force to achieve a purpose, the use of intelligence being necessary because there is only a limited amount of force available.
A journalist once likened some person to being as ineffectual as Nureyev (a noted male ballet-dancer, just in case you're reading this book in 2078 A.D.) in a rugby match. In fact, the muscles of a professional dancer are probably stronger than a rugby player's and his effectual control over where his body lands up is much greater, since he practises such control day in day out.
I see Strength as a matter of dynamic balance, a phrase which sounds like one of those groovy terms used by a hi-fi manufacturer, or even worse, a corporation dedicated to helping businessmen gain ever more effective control over their personnel and customers. I'll resort to an analogy. Imagine a large tank of water. We pour in the water, and leave it standing. We will ignore evaporation. After a week, the water level will be the same, but green things start floating on the surface, and the whole thing starts to stink. Mosquitoes start to breed; it becomes dangerous. But now imagine that there is a pipe at the bottom of the tank through which water flows to water taps in people's houses; at the top of the tank is a pipe through which water can be added to the system. If as much water is added as is drawn off, then the water level stays steady, but remains sweet and wholesome. Here we have an example of dynamic balance.
Strength in a person exists when that person maintains his equilibrium whatever the pressure from outside. It is easy for any person to be good and sweet-tempered if the people around him are perfect. The real test comes when he has to be reasonable while the world behaves in the unreasonable way we are used to.
The picture shows a man and a woman balanced on one toe each, balancing each other while they carry on juggling. Each of us balances the various parts in us and carries on the difficult act of living. The lion behind them is a symbol of strength; as a child I always loved the lion on the Tate & Lyle tins of syrup (I look forward to a free lunch, at least, for that free advertisement) with the bees coming to make a nest in his stomach after his death, and the legend below 'Out of Strength cometh forth Sweetness'. I know that phrase comes originally from the King James' version of the Old Testament, but it is precisely that congruous mingling of Religion and Commerce that demonstrates the quality of symbolism as a non-verbal way, or key, to understanding.
When I find Strength in the cards, I see people balancing, or not balancing, their various abilities and needs; 'keeping their cool' to use a very 'sixties phrase, while all others rush and shout. I see control over the emotions, but also suppression; sometimes people are so determined to control their emotions that they batten down the hatches and the emotions can only get out by making a hole in the side of the ship, thus drowning all. Keep a dynamic balance by allowing water to move through your tank; if it doesn't move it will poison you.
THE HANGED MAN
Our sweet, innocent Fool has become 'all hung up'. (I dislike all period phrases, but sometimes they are so apt, one cannot help using them.) He has become attached, by his leg, to the branch of a tree, and hangs till such time as he sees the folly of it all. The real question is, how has he got there? As long as the Fool doesn't get involved, he is free to go on and find out. But should he become attached to some idea or person, then his ability to move freely disappears. Perhaps the Fool, while travelling through the Forest of the Night, met a person who either maliciously, or (more probably) in ignorance, persuaded the Fool to take his place. There are many stories and folk-tales of people condemned to die who persuade another person to take their place. Once the Fool is hung upside down, he becomes the Hanged Man.
At first, the Hanged Man accepts his curious position because he feels he is helping another person. How noble and altruistic. But it doesn't really help anybody; not until the Hanged Man suddenly realizes that there is no real purpose to all this self-sacrifice and noble dedication, can he get away and resume his travels.
When I see this card, I see people who have dedicated themselves and sacrificed their comfort for a purpose; the end justifies the means. These are people trying to help other people for their own good. By only helping other people and sacrificing themselves they will reach to the Kingdom of God. There is earnestness and cold showers, moral dedication and frugality.
The other side of the coin is that people who dedicate themselves have no time to consider what they are dedicating themselves to. The good of other people comes to be more important than growth in themselves. It also becomes very difficult to see things in perspective. Idries Shah, in his book The Sufis, has talked about the difference between 'helping' and 'trying to help'. His advice is 'never try to help*. If you can help, do so; if you can't, leave it alone. The Hanged Man is primarily about people who believe that 'helping' is more important than the person being 'helped'.
In most Tarot packs, Death is depicted as a skellington (sic) mowing a harvest of human heads, hands and feet. Rather gruesome; most books then go on to emphasize that Death is not about medical terminology, but about change. So that is what I asked the artist to draw.
The two children are enjoying the rose-bush growing on their father's grave. Why not? After all, if older people didn't die, there would be no room for young people. Symbolical of the fact that if we don't stop our old habits and ideas, we are not open to new ideas and ways of looking at things.
You may also note that the name on the tombstone is that of John Barleycorn. John Barleycorn had to be killed, his body hacked to pieces and buried so as to fertilize the ground and ensure the next crop of wheat or barley. Robert Graves has written a book called The White Goddess which discusses this concept in exhaustive and poetic detail. Just for now we can note the relationships between life and death, between change and death and between continuity and death.
This card tells me about people to whom change is important, people contemplating a real, abrupt and total change in their lives, their way of thinking. You have to stop believing that all people are out to get you before you can begin to trust people. It is not a change of people's behaviour, but a change in the way we look at people. We stop noticing all the nasty things people do to each other, and instead look at all the kindness and goodness which is expressed each day.
Whether we have just put in five hours in the cold and sleet of a building site or market, or whether we have spent five hours chained to a desk shuffling papers, there is nothing like a good cup of tea. If the tea-lady is saucy, full of rude wit, and smiles at us, we feel suddenly the humanity we all share whether we be brickies, bureaucrats or tea-ladies. That's her gift. We feel revitalized, we suddenly feel we can put in another hour or two on what is essentially a boring, thankless job. Her favourite phrase is 'a little bit of what you fancy does you good*.
Temperance is the card about compromise, about not pushing things too far. Nothing is so important that it justifies hurting another human being. It is about the milk of human kindness, the crack in the faceless bureaucratic system that allows a nurse to smile as she makes your bed in the big white hospital where you have come to die. You suddenly realize that not everybody is against you; in fact you might even see that there is some kindness in everybody. There is a spark of humanity in all of us. Hence the symbol of the tea-lady; even the biggest most faceless corporation has a tea-lady who knows us all by name.
Once, as an exercise, a group of people were given quantities of plasticine, and asked to model their particular monster. One participant moulded a face of a person, fairly realistically, who smiled at the world. When he was asked to talk about his monster, he carefully peeled off the face, to reveal a mask underneath. The mask beneath was a stylized Greek tragedy mask, rather Like the one held by the left-hand puppet. From a realistic smiling face, to a stylized unhappy face - what a concept. Everyone nodded wisely to show they Comprehended, they Understood. Then the tragic mask was lifted, to reveal a flat round disc the size of the mask above, with no expression at all. It merely had two round holes roughly where the eyes would be, and a slit corresponding to the mouth. That was his monster.
People feel they have to behave. They feel they need masks, or persona, to use the technical phrase of the qualified psychiatrist, in order to feel dressed and ready to see other people. The mask we choose depends on the circumstances, and on the role we see ourselves as playing in relation to the people sharing the scene. People who first come across this idea very often exclaim indignantly that they don't have a mask, that they are open and honest and truthful. Watch them explaining the facts of life to their children, or how they came to be exceeding the speed limit. Listen to them talking to a clergyman, and to a beggar.
Eventually, most people realise that they do have masks. The real problem is how much they 'identify' with their mask; how much they believe that the way they behave is real, is true, is honest.
Another area of belief in people is that the way they feel is the proper reaction to outside stimuli. Do people really feel insanely jealous when their wife has a brief fling with another man? Are you totally devastated when your aged mother dies? Many of our concepts on 'proper' behaviour and feelings are derived from the things we read, the plays we see, the films we watch. Very often the very words we use when we express our feelings come straight from some film, book or play.
In the picture I asked the artist to make about the Devil, we see the two puppets carefully holding their masks while trying to pay homage to Bacchus. The Devil is genuinely enjoying life; he is doing what he wants to, without wondering about what he should look like, what he should be doing in order not to antagonize people. The puppets below cling to their little masks.
The Devil is about preconceptions, the beliefs about the world which prevent people from finding out the truth. It is about people who limit themselves; they feel that they can't do something because they won't let them, or that they should do something because they say one ought to. The most tragic thing about people in the clutches of the Devil is the apparent ease with which other people can see their problems and how to get out of them. Almost like saying to a fat person that all she's got to do is eat less. Think about your own little habits, and how easily you could stop them. Habits like believing that you can help people, that you are more sensible, better organised, have a richer inner life. Other habits like believing that you have to be obsequious to your boss, polite to clergymen and bishops, careful with Granny and small children. Oh yes, not one of us is entirely free of the Devil; but at least we can become aware of our chains.