The title of this card is often misleading because most people tend to think of strength as a property of the physical body. But this is not a card of brute force, because none of the Major Arcana apply directly to the physical body. These are cards of ideas, feeling and beliefs; trying to make a Major Arcanum depicting someone strong of body would be a pointless exercise. But strength is not always measured in terms of how much you can lift or how fast you can run. True Strength is fortitude of character, and the ability to not only control the emotions, but to rise above them, and triumph over all out lower impulses and desires.
This card continues the lesson of the Chariot, showing that once we have learned to control emotion, we must rise above it. Many people attribute the notions of forgiveness, compassion and nurturing to this card, but this is clearly not what is shown by Strength. This is a Fire card, and therefore detrimental to all the emotions. The only qualities that abound in Strength are courage and patience. Neither of these are really emotions, but ways of acting and doing that are not tempered by feeling. Courage is the antithesis of fear; patience, the control of worldly desires. There is no emotion here, just determination and action.
The symbology of the lion is common to Strength, and aptly so. The lion is the “beast within”, the raging inner desire inside every one of us that must be controlled or it will be set free to manifest in the world. The image of the woman opening the mouth of the lion shows both courage and patience; she must not fear the lion, and she must wait for it to tire before she can exert her own will upon it. This is not an image of compassion in any sense of the word; how can forcing a creature to obey your will be seen as compassionate? Forgiveness and nurturing are likewise not to be seen anywhere in this image. There is just the purity of the maiden and the power of her inner beast that she is attempting to control.
She needs patience to defeat the lion because her power is not brute physical force, as mentioned. The force she has is very little, but it can be applied infinitely, and she will continue to apply light but constant pressure until the lion submits to her superior will. It does show a certain determination, and the conviction that even small results will have effects if kept up long enough, just as a constant dripping hollows a stone. So Strength is not a card of compassion and love, but a card of quiet yet unstoppable power. Such power radiates from the soul, and for a consciousness aware of this power, there can be no resistance, and no defeat.
The qualities of Strength are already in you, waiting to appear once you have mastered all your base emotions and when you are ready to move on to the spiritual tasks that lie ahead. Its main lesson is that emotions must be transcended if spiritual wisdom and intuition are to be awakened. Whispers from the intuition are often drowned out by the constant roar of emotion and preoccupation and fear. Only once you have eliminated these can the silence you need be created. So conquer your fears, control your impulses, and never lose patience with yourself or what you are doing. Eventually you will see the wisdom of letting go of your lower self.
This is not a card of love over hatred, as most would see it. This is simply mind over matter, superior will over inferior desires. No matter how strong the beast within you seems, you have the power to control it and make it submit to your will. This cannot be done with physical force or with undue haste; it is a slow and difficult process. When Strength is around, however, you can be assured that you have enough endurance to see this task through to its eventual end. If you are pushing too hard, Strength shows the need to withdraw for the moment, and be patient. Enlightenment will come only when the time is right; it cannot be rushed.