After several cards in which the symbolism carried deep meanings at multiple levels (requiring quite a lot of work to discover) we come to the Seven of Wands. Thankfully, given that this author would like to relax this weekend, it is one of those cards in the Waite Colman Smith deck where the divinatory meanings are quite visible on the surface. There are clues in the astrological and qabalistic meanings that point to how the divinatory meanings came to be. These clues are not difficult to find. Given Leo, Strength and the Sun, subtlety is hardly obligatory.
The Zodiac sets our card in Leo. In his first of twelve labors, Hercules killed the Nemean lion. This is the same lion that the constellation Leo is named after. This was no ordinary lion. It was said to have been the offspring of Zeus and Selene, and to have fallen to the Earth from the Moon. We note the Moon is the failed planet for this decan.
As usual, these introductory posts convey additional analysis, as well as a link to the PDF version at bottom, which is better to print from. This is number fourteen in the series.
I’d Show Him Who Was King of the Forest!
In order to kill the Nemean lion, whose skin was impervious to arrows or swords, Hercules waited till it returned to its cave, blocked the exit, knocked the lion unconscious with his club, and after much struggle, strangled the lion. We note that the Seven of Wands is the only card of the suit of Wands in which we see the wand (or staff) used as a weapon in a real battle. That the symbol of the suit is useful here, may signal the link to the “business” orientation in Waite’s divinatory meanings.
Interestingly, assuming that this is indeed a link with Hercules, we should note a further link to the Trojan War. Recall that in our last post, we stated the Five of Swords was linked to the Trojan War. Some say a serpent helped Hercules in this particular labor. That very same snake later devoured some sparrows and was turned into stone as part of a prophecy about the Trojan War! Therefore, we may have two of the sevens linked to the Trojan War!
Hercules is synonomous with Strength, of course. The Strength card is also associated with Leo. The Visconti-Sforza deck shows a man—apparently Hercules—clubbing the lion. This would certainly be in line with the classical and Zodiac themes of the triumph parades and pageants in northern Italy at the time when Tarot was developed there. In some illustrations, in fact, the female representation of Strength/Fortitude wears a lion’s skin. Hercules, (after Athena clued him in, since he couldn’t skin him with his knife), used one of the lion’s claws to skin the Nemean lion. Hercules thereafter wore the hide, protecting himself against arrows, swords, or other threats.
With Mars the ruling planet, we can easily see a rationale for depicting a battle. So far, we see possible links in the sevens, Leo, the Moon and Mars.
With Netzach, the qabalistic influence, we see a possible explanation for Waite’s description of the man’s being placed on a craggy eminence: Netzach is “identified with the right leg or foot.” That foot is firmly planted to support his fight. Additionally, its association with “long-suffering, strength, endurance unto completion” describes perfectly the twelve labors of Hercules. Let us also note that the god who sent him off on those labors was none other than Apollo (via the Oracle of Delphi). Apollo was the Sun god of the Greeks, tying in with another adjoining card in our Tarot wheel.
The Golden Dawn’s divinatory meanings for this card lean more heavily on the “endurance” aspect than Waite’s. There is not a great deal of divergence in tone between the two sets. If Waite diverges in any way, it’s in providing the context of business dealings, which we noted earlier. This aspect would also be in line of the story of Hercules’ labors. Hercules was driven temporarily mad by the gods and killed his family. His question to the Oracle of Delphi was specifically how he could atone for forgiveness. Thus we find that in exchange for performing the labors, for a boss he did not like (the gods sent him to his cousin, a king, who set the specific tasks), Hercules earned peace and forgiveness. It was a form of labor barter.
The collage serving as featured image is based upon Francisco De Zurbaran’s Hercules Fighting with the Nemean Lion, 1634.