The positions of the Strength and Justice Cards in a Tarot deck has long been a source of controversy and discussion among all Tarotists. Traditionally, the Justice card was numbered 8th in the Major Arcana, while the Strength card was numbered the 11th. However, when A. E. Waite published the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot card deck, he changed all that. He put Strength as the 8th card and Justice as the 11th card in the Major Arcana sequence. Naturally, he was quite criticized for this. Following that, when Aleister Crowley published the Thoth Tarot deck, he put the Strength and Justice cards back in their former positions.
Lets look at this placement from both the angles, and understand their respective significance.
The Traditional Placement of Strength and Justice
Traditionally, the decks like the Marseilles Tarot decks have placed the Justice card as the 8th card, and the Strength card as the 11th card in the Major Arcana. The images remained pretty much the same as as they are today – just the numbering was different.
Justice still sat on a throne with a sword in one hand and a pair of scales in the other, while Strength still tamed a wild beast and had a semblance of an Ouruboros on top of her head.
Many conjecture that this placement was made in order to confuse people about the true placement of the cards. Naturally, with the symbolism present in the cards, Justice would correspond astrologically with Libra, and Strength with Leo. With the traditional placement, the natural order of the astrological signs in the Major Arcana was upset. However, from a numerological point of view, this placement made a lot of sense. 8 is the number of balance and and therefore Justice sits just right in this situation. And therefore, it is said that this placement was done more in keeping with the numerological system than the astrological system.
Strength and Justice in the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck
In the RWS deck, however, A.E. Waite placed Strength as the 8th Trump and Justice as the 11th Trump. Naturally he was quite criticized for changing the traditional placement of these cards, but then, this placement makes more sense on an Astrological perspective.
These changes put the cards in proper order, astrologically and according to Waite, it was the true order of the cards in the Major Arcana.
As I have always said, the cards of the Major Arcana tell a story – a story of the Journey of The Divine Fool. They depict this journey as it moves through all the 3 planes of existence – the Material plane, the Mind plane and the Spiritual plane.
So lets see how both these placements (of the Strength and the Justice cards) make sense in the Journey of The Fool.
The Journey of the Fool with the Traditional Placement of Strength and Justice
In the traditional placement, Strength is Trump 11, and Justice is Trump 8.
So, if we arrange the cards of the Major Arcana in 3 rows of 7 cards each (of course, keeping The Fool card outside), we can see the placement of the Strength and Justice cards in the second row.
If we look at the Journey of the Fool in this particular manner the journey appears like this:
The Fool begins his journey, with a bag of hidden talents and ideas, despite all the hurdles in his path.
On the Material Plane: The Fool transforms into The Magician who opens his bag full of ideas and talents and understands his connection with the Universe. He then encounters the opposite side of this Masculine energy in The High Priestess, where he comes in touch with his inner self, and the secret knowledge that he already possessed within. From that point, he became fruitful and matured into The Empress. This maturity gave him the energy for his disciplined approach towards ruling over his realm in The Emperor. The Fool then learns his way through the rules and regulations of society and religion in The Hierophant, and comes in touch with his sexuality in The Lovers card, where he chooses to go for his growth and Individuation, which he achieves in The Chariot.
On the Mind Plane: The Fool then balances his knowledge of his inner and outer self in Justice and looks inward for more knowledge in The Hermit. He then understands the meaning of the cyclical nature of life itself in The Wheel, which gives him the Strength to tame his inner beast. All of this puts him through a change of perspective in The Hanged Man, and he lets go of his old self in Death. After such a life changing change, he finds his inner Master in Temperance and moves to the next plane.
On the Spiritual Plane: After mastering his inner and outer selves, The Fool discovers in The Devil that he still has attachments to the material plane which are more deeply rooted than he thought. His Ego is shattered by this knowledge in The Tower, which then leads him to the peace of The Star. But the confusion of the soul is still to be resolved in The Moon, from where he regains his clarity in The Sun. All of this leads him to the Judgement where all his Karmic balances are cleaned, transforming him into The World.
The Journey of The Fool with the Changed Placement of Strength and Justice
In this changed placement, Strength is Trump 8, while Justice is Trump 11. So again, if the cards are arranged in 3 rows of 7 cards each, with The Fool card kept outside, the Majors would look like the arrangement above.
Lets now look at the Journey of The Fool with this placement:
The Fool begins his journey with a bag of his hidden talents and takes the leap into the unknown.
On the Material Plane: The Fool transforms into The Magician who connects with the Universe and channels the energy of the Universe to create something powerful in the world. He then encounters his inner, hidden self, his subconscious and learns the deeper secrets that were already hidden within him in The High Priestess. From there, The Fool grows and matures into The Empress, who then matures into The Emperor with his disciplined and hardworking approach. The Hierophant is the stage where The Fool learns about society and religion and rules, and with that knowledge he moves into The Lovers card where he discovers his sexuality and chooses the right path ahead. Which is why, in The Chariot card, he has achieved success and victory over the Material Plane.
On the Mind Plane: With success, The Fool needs to learn how to tame his inner beast in the Strength card, which then leads him to looking more inward in The Hermit card. His knowledge leads him to understand the cyclical nature of the world in The Wheel. This creates a sense of balance and harmony within him in Justice. After this understanding, he goes through a change of perspective in The Hanged Man, and then leaves his past behind in Death, emerging thereafter to be a Master of the Mind Plane in Temperance.
On the Spiritual Plane: It is here, in The Devil card, that he discovers that he is still attached to the material plane, which totally shatters his ego in The Tower, and leads him to a place of calm contemplation in The Star. His confusions are confronted in The Moon, and he moves towards clarity in The Sun. This takes him to clearing off his Karmic balances in Judgement, then leading him to real harmony with the Universe in The World.
So if we see the Journey of the Fool from both the perspectives, it makes sense either way. Whether Strength comes first, or whether it is Justice, the Fool does go through a journey of awareness, discovery and understanding and evolves into The World card.
The meaning of the card doesn’t change with the change in the placement of the card. And essentially, both these journeys make sense.