Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The Major Arcana: Strength
The VIII card in the Lover's Path deck is the Strength card, the same as in the Ryder-Waite version. What a powerful card this is! In this deck, the strength card is represented by the legend of Brunnhilde and Siegfried, of the Norse and Germanic traditions.
This story illustrates how love can strengthen us to do deeds far beyond our normal capacities.
Brunhilde, the Valkyrie, was the favorite child of Wotan, ruler of the gods and goddesses. An immortal warrior woman, she was content to follow her father's will by bringing the bodies of fallen warriors to Valhalla - the hall of warriors, built by Wotan at a huge cost. Wotan had purchased Valhalla with a golden ring, which gave the power of all the world to any who possessed it. If this ring were to fall into the wrong hands, it could bring about the end of the world.
Wotan was determined to win back this ring, and regain its power. He enlisted the help of a human strong enough to retrieve it. This hero was Siegmund.
But Fate had a twist in mind for Wotan: Siegfried fell in love with another man's wife, and the other gods ordained that he must be killed by the offended man as punishment for his adultery.
Against his will, Wotan was forced to agree with the decision of the gods. To do otherwise would cast shame upon his lover, Fricka, goddess of marriage whose vows Siegmund dishonored with his illicit love.
Brunnhilde was sent as messenger to deliver the death sentence to Siegmund. But Siegmund refused to go willingly with the valkyrie to Valhalla, since the woman he loved, Fricka, now carried his child.
As he begged for his life, Siegmund touched Brunnhilde's heart. For the first time, she understood the power of love, which made her strong enough to disobey her father's will. Instead, she agreed to help Siegmund win his battle. Wotan struck Siegmund dead, for the gods' commands must not be ignored.
Brunnhilde, too, must be punished for her defiance of her father's wishes. For this transgression, Wotan made Brunnhilde mortal in flesh and heart.
As a woman, Brunnhilde had all the vulnerabilities of one. Her father ordained that she marry the first man who found her defenseless in the forest. Brunnhilde had an inspiration, however, and she begged her father not to let her be any ordinary man's bride. Instead, she countered, Siegmund's child could only be a hero like his father. She asked to be placed on an enchanted rock, in a deep slumber, surrounded by a ring of fire. Only a hero such as Siegmund's son would be brave enough to face the ring of fire to claim her as his bride. Together, they would be strong enough to reclaim the ring of power for Wotan.
Wotan agreed to this wise request. When Siegmund's child was born, he was given the name Siegfried, and he grew to be as fearless as Brunnhilde had foretold.
The years passed, and he learned of the woman surrounded by flames that no man could claim for his own. Without fear, Siegfried walked untouched through the ring of fire. As he woke Brunnhilde with a kiss, he knew love for the very first time.
Though their story would have many twists and turns, the duo would prove strong enough to retrieve the ring of power, thus saving the world.
Here on this card, the lovers are depicted as they are triumphantly united at last. The flames surrounding Brunnhilde have been extinguished, like an enchantment broken by love's first kiss. The lovers face the world, confident in the knowledge that they are strong enough to face anything. Nothing will stop them from completing their great quest.
When the Strength card appears in a reading, it usually symbolizes the transformation of weakness into strength. It represents the love which strengthens us, and the strength to do great deeds. It may also signify integrity or unrelenting courage.
In the reversed or weakly aspected position, the Strength card signifies feeling insecure or fearful and the scattering of energies. It can represent wanting others to be strong for you. It can also mean creating discord in order to weaken others.
The great lesson of the Strength card is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each of these lovers, in their own way, overcame adversity and weakness, and by joining forces they were able to transform these limitations into limitless possibilities.
When we look into the faces of Brunnhilde and Siegfried, we should see the glimmerings of our own faces. We need to grab the brass ring and stop the ride.