Harvesting Lughnasadh Symbols In The Tarot

The Strength and The Sun cards from the Builders of the Adytum Deck. Photo Meagan Angus, 2018

Working with Strength and The Sun cards to grasp the energy of this Witch Holy Day.

August 2nd marks the Pagan holiday and season of Lughnasadh, also named Lammas. During this season we will work with issues around Power, Leadership, Winning vs. Losing, Natural Talents vs. Learned Skills, and Adepthood. We are watching the Sun live momentarily at the apex of its power, but it will also begin the descent into the Underworld Journey.

The word Lughnasadh comes from the Irish Gaelic God Lugh, a Lightbringer Sun God, who is a skilled warrior. They are handsome, charming, competitive, and young. They speak and act from an authentic sense of power and prestige. The holiday held at this time of year and named for them actually celebrated funeral games for the death of Lugh’s foster mother, Tailtiu, who died from exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland to prepare the country for agriculture. In short, Lugh embodies a lot of what we experience in The Strength Card.

The Strength Card speaks to a natural state of power. Central in the imagery on many cards is a big cat, often a Lion. This cat is a symbol of our own natural, raw or wild talents. Our original tendencies. The power and ferocity of the lion are what keeps it alive, our most instinctual behaviors keep us alive, and even lead us to that which will give us life.

Another central image is often a feminine person engaging the big cat by holding its head, riding it, or somehow having physical contact with it. This person is often naked or dressed in white. This person is a version of our highest self. Their nudity or lack of color symbolizes the nature of their motivation, which is pure, or directly connected to Source and not ego-based. The person could be taming or controlling the lion, the lion could be fighting or biting the person, or the interaction might be more of a mutual exchange between the two figures.

The meeting of these two archetypes is potent stuff. Here we have our most base, instinctual-to-this-body-self coming into direct contact with the Highest form of Self, the Self that understands the purpose behind this lifetime and all our lifetimes or personal challenges we have faced.

Usually, there is not much in the background of the card except the wilderness, the outdoors, or other straightforward symbols of the natural world. This environment is commonly a valley or meadow, and the figures are often sitting or lying down on the ground, in the grass, or on a bed of flowers. This all symbolizes an experience that is happening here in the real, physical world and that will require participation and attendance in the real world.

Common colors that we often see on this card are hot reds, oranges, and yellows. If the sky is not yellow, it is usually a brilliant bright blue. Some cards feature roses, and some feature an infinity symbol. This card represents the realm of pure passion and Will, tapping into the Fire of the Soul and the power behind the Universe. Even though the Intellect is taking a backseat to the Will, it is still sharp and focused, even in the face of all this instinctual power, to help communicate any wisdom that might come from on high.

When we are experiencing the Strength Card, we are having a conversation between the compelling parts of ourselves that are concerned with the here and now and the compelling elements of our Selves that are involved with a much broader context. Who wins? Our base desires that want pleasure and authority in the moment or the desires in us for some more magnificent thing, some higher goal? Perhaps we need both.

The Pagan spiritual practice of The Great Rite is an excellent metaphor for the type of experience we live through in the Strength card. Sex and sexual energy is an extremely potent form of energy in the Universe. Many of the great spiritual traditions, like Tantra, teach that when we harness, focus and direct our sexual energy, we can create a tremendous magical force within ourselves and effect significant change in the Universe. Anyone who has experienced arousal, orgasms, or even just really intense sensual contact with themselves or other people has experienced this energy current. However, it is incredibly challenging to stay focused while in that state. This act of storing up energy, but staying apart from it, is often the hidden purpose behind vows of celibacy taken by holy people. They attempt to learn how to work with this energy external to themselves. In the Strength Card, we are trying to learn how to work with this energy from within the experience. We get our hands on it, physically experience it, get up close. However, it is not just about having sex. It is about learning to stay present and in control of the self with all that power flowing through you and then learning how to direct that power towards a goal.

The Sun card unveils the exact nature of the energy we are working so hard to channel.

Nearly every Sun card in every deck has for the central image a Sun, and for many decks, the Sun takes up most or all of the card. It may have alternating styles for the rays (wavy/straight, dark/light, long/short). These cues are a simple but essential visual reminder of a) the all-pervasive impact of the Sun’s influence in our reality and b) the two-fold nature of the Sun’s powers. It can create life, and it can destroy it. It is a potent power we are working with at this time of year.

Other images are a single baby or young person, often riding a horse. My favorite thing to say about this kid is, “this baby has seen some shit.” In the Smith-Waite deck, this horse is gray, indicating a blending of intellect and experience to produce wisdom. The baby doesn’t cling to the horse but instead balances by stretching their limbs in all directions, creating a pentagram, single point up, the Witch’s symbol for a 3rd-degree initiate, or someone who has balanced their mind, body, emotions, and ego, and brought their Will into alignment with The Will of the Universe. This figure is not depicted as a baby because they are new or inexperienced, but because they are “born again.” Remember, the Sun card comes relatively late in the Major Arcana; we are well along in our Journey. The Sun card represents a person who has been through some intense experiences and comes out the other side wiser. With this new found wisdom, they see and experience the world with new eyes, now able to express things about this reality they could not understand before. The giant red flag the baby carries represents The Word they carry out into the New Day.

Other cards will depict two babies or children dancing together, some decks feature two adults together, and they will be gesturing or making offerings to the Sun. Many times, these people are glowing, or have haloes or some lightness or goldenness around their heads. These two figures relate to the characters in The Lovers card, now joined in a profound Union and understanding within the Light of enlightenment. Their nudity or plainness is the same as the baby described above and the energy of the person in the Strength card. They are real, natural, acting from an honest, but experienced place.

This idea of receiving experience or having experience or wisdom is key to understanding this card and how it relates to Lughnasadh. The Sun card represents a higher realm than the average magical practitioner regularly experiences, but a domain that anyone has access to—if you are willing to put in the work. For example, before a person begins to study Tarot and even for a while after they start, it’s all pretty confusing, but after they have worked at it for a while, the student can speak about the different suits and spreads and archetypal pathways with ease, while the “uninitiated” look on in bewilderment. If the student continues to push forward with their studies, they soon will see connections to the cards everywhere, in movies and personal interactions to architecture and fashion. They move from being a student to being an Adept, intimately aware of the subtle magical symbols floating around them at all times. Acknowledging this transformation, from not aware to aware is essential. This shift does not make anyone better than anyone else, but it does give the Adept more responsibility because they can see what others cannot.

There is often an intense luminosity about this card. The primary colors of this card are similar to the Strength card; hot reds, oranges, and yellows, with more golden yellows. Usually, the sky is bright blue. All of this symbolism has the same meaning as it does on the Strength card, a reminder that we are in the realm of pure will and the Fire of the Soul.

The symbolism then, when moving from one card to the other, and when we progress through Lughnasadh, is this: The Universe is asking you, frankly, to step into your power and take some responsibility for creating and maintaining reality. It is time for you accept where you have become a badass, and then BE a badass in that field. It is time to embrace that you have a great talent for something and then do it really well, to everyone’s benefit or enjoyment.

Your natural tendencies, your primal urges, your base desires, will lead you to some wild partnerships and some wacky capers. Further, your instinctual passion and desires are what bring you into the character building adventures you shall have in this lifetime. At some point, you need to ask yourself, “what am I supposed to be doing with all this friction and fire?” However, before we look to external sources for an answer, we must first check with our Self, that original internal spark, our Soul, our Heart, our Gut.

We must make sure that we are in alignment with our True Will or Highest Purpose.  These adventures strengthen and prepare us to exercise the gift of power we are receiving—because we have earned it. Then, we hold a responsibility to wield that power for the Greatest Good. It is only from this most authentic place that we can authentically use the power of enlightenment.

Want more? Attend a Wheel of the Year lecture!
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