Justice and Strength.

Since my first Tarot was an RWS, it took me some time to realize that the cards called Strength and Justice were switched from their more traditional order. Once I discovered this was the case, it confused me, as I’m sure it confuses many others. Why was this switch made? Which way is right?

Well, as to why, I can only say that Waite had his own reasons for the switch, which he did not feel compelled to elaborate upon in his Pictorial Key. We can assume he did so for astrological reasons. As to which is right, I can only give my personal opinion.

My personal opinion is that Waite was wrong.

RWS and TdM

In traditional Marseille-style decks, Justice is card number 8, and Strength (sometimes called Force or Fortitude) is 11, and vice-versa in Waite’s deck. A remarkable coincidence about the Tarot is that, when the Major Arcana are in their numerical order, they can be associated with zodiacal signs in order based on symbolic imagery in each card. That is, with the exception of Leo and Libra, symbolized by the Lion and the Scales, respectively. Of course, both of these symbols are in the Tarot in the forms of Strength and Justice, but they’re not in their correct places, astrologically speaking, and this evidently vexed some folks.

I for one do not put much stock in astrological correspondences in the Tarot. While I do appreciate the added depth of meaning these can add to the cards, astrology has never held more than a passing interest in my life, and to me, the cards are already loaded with meaning without them. In many instances, astrology just confuses me, and this is not helped by the fact that there is more than one way to assign Zodiacal symbols to the cards. Waite followed the Golden Dawn system, which is probably the most popular, and indeed, it is what I use when I do use astrology, but it is by no means the only system. As such, I find a switch in the order based on grounds of astrology to be an unnecessary one, if indeed this was the reason Waite had in mind.


Not only do I think Waite’s change was unnecessary, I really do think it’s better the way it was. I believe the Tarot’s meaning lies in the archetypal symbolism of its pictures, which is plenty potent with or without astrological correspondences. Each card has a profound symbolic significance all on its own. I also believe that each of these individual archetypes can work with the others, and that they do fall into a natural order. The “natural order” I’m referring to the Journey of the Hero, or Fool’s Journey in Tarot-speak, which is mentioned many times on this blog, on many sites and in many books, but most especially in Hajo Banzhaf’s book called Tarot and the Journey of the Hero. This is an archetypal progression that can be found in myths and literature from every culture throughout history, and yes, it is the story told by the sequence of the Major Arcana.

Banzhaf illustrated his book with cards from the RWS, but he made it a point to use the traditional ordering for Justice and Strength.

See, Justice comes after the Chariot for a reason. The driver of the Chariot is the Hero in question, and the Chariot card depicts him as a young adult, confidently set out on the path he has chosen, the path of the Hero (this choice having taken place at the Lovers card). He feels powerful. He feels invincible. He’s the chosen one, and he knows it. He will vanquish any and all foes who dare to cross his righteous path.

This is where the Hero needs to be at this point, but it is a dangerous mindset to hold onto for very long. The Hero needs to learn that his actions have consequences, that as the Hero, his path is one of responsibility above all else. This is where Justice comes in. Justice is the card of reaping what is sown, of universal balance. Of maturity. The Hero must be humbled before he can continue onward. And it is only after facing Justice, after the gravity of his choice has really set in, that the Hero would be compelled to seek the guidance of the wise and solitary Hermit.

After the Hermit is the Wheel of Fortune, which represents the changing world-view of the Hero after his time with the Wise One. It can also represent the shedding of the Hermit. The Hero is liable to become attached to the safety of the Hermit, but the Wheel must turn, and the Hero must move on. He will ultimately face his trials and tribulations alone. The Hanged Man represents the first serious trial the Hero must face, that of crossing the symbolic threshold to the Underworld. It’s not easy, and it takes great fortitude. And this is why I think Strength belongs before it, rather than before the Hermit. Strength is the card of overcoming and channeling innate instincts and desires, and it is a different strength than the Hero displays in the Chariot. It is mental and spiritual as well as physical. It’s also an internalization of the lessons of the Wheel, in a sense. He has to find strength within himself, not from the Hermit. This is what the Hero needs to master before he can successfully move on to the Hanged Man and beyond.

Now, I’ve seen versions of the Hero’s Journey which have been adjusted to match Waite’s rearrangement of these two cards, but to be honest, for the most part I do not think they stand up to what Banzhaf presented in his book (which is more or less what I’ve presented here, although not exactly the same, and of course his is much more detailed), and I think serious contemplation of what each of these cards really mean in the context of the Journey will reveal that the original way is the best way.


A second argument in favor of the original arrangement centers around only one of the cards, Strength. In this scenario, Justice could be in any other place and not make a difference; all that matters is Strength is in the 11th spot. Oh, and the Magician must remain in the 1st spot.

I think Strength and the Magician are connected, that they are two sides of the same coin, that they are inverse aspects of the same principle, by virtue of their numbers. If you were to take your Tarot deck and line up the cards in two rows of ten each, so that the digit in the 10’s place line up (for example, 1 and 11, 2 and 12, etc.), you might begin to notice meaningful connections between the cards which share that digit.* I think this is most obvious at the start of each row, with the Magician and Strength, each of which wear a wide-brimmed hat in the implied shape of an infinity sign.** The fact that these two share this symbol is very significant, and I don’t know if the original designers would have placed that detail there at all if they had intended the order to be different.

TdM Majors arranged in two rows.

Now, this method pairs Justice with the Moon. I do not think this is arbitrary, but I will allow that it’s not nearly as obviously significant as the connection between the Magician and Strength, which is why I think this point is best made with the example of the latter.


I do understand that Waite and the Golden Dawn had a different idea of the Tarot than its original designers did. Astrology was high on their list of priorities, and the Hero’s Journey didn’t figure much into their system at all as far as I can tell. But with that being said, I still prefer not to use Waite’s arrangement.

I have read many justifications for Waite’s idea to switch Justice and Strength. For example, Waite supporters like to throw numerology around, saying that 11 works for Justice, because it is the epitome of balance with its two “1”s. I don’t buy that argument, though, because in my mind, 11 is absolutely not a more balanced number than 8.

Or that Justice should be 11, because that’s roughly the middle of the sequence, and it would therefore divide the worldly realm shown in the early cards from the spiritual in the later ones. It would stand as an admonishment to strike a balance between the worldly and the spiritual. Seems like a weak argument to me.


For a while, I kept my RWS ordered with Strength at 11 and Justice at 8, despite the numbers written at the top. It was the way which made sense to me. However, upon reading Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom, I’ve reverted my RWS back to its intended order (keeping all of my other decks in the original order, naturally). For those of you who use an RWS and haven’t yet read Pollack’s book, I strongly recommend you do so. She posits her own reasons for the switch, which revolve around the division of the Majors into three groups of seven cards each. The second group, which contains both Strength and Justice, begins with Strength and hinges on Justice at the midpoint. She does this in the context of the Hero’s Journey, and she pulls it off convincingly.*** It’s enough for me to respect the change in Waite’s deck, but when it comes to Tarot in general, I still retain the belief that Justice should precede Strength.

So I’ve said my piece, added my perspective on this endless debate of Tarotists. My opinion on the matter notwithstanding, I think the question is worth asking: Does the order of the cards really matter?

I don’t think the designers of the original TdMs really put all that much thought into it. I have no doubt that they were aware of the symbolic weight to these cards, and while the Hero’s Journey as a concept wasn’t fleshed out until the first half of the 20th century, I think they were probably more or less aware of the idea behind it. But with that being said, I think it is the power of these cards over the subconscious that ultimately led to the order, rather than any conscious thought on the part of the designers. No one will ever know for sure, I suppose. But because Tarot trumps prior to the TdM were not constrained to an established order, we do know that the positions of Strength and Justice aren’t inherent in the cards’ design. Knowing that, I think it’s safe to say that, no, it doesn’t really matter. It all boils down to personal preference.

I still think that Waite shouldn’t have tried to fix what wasn’t broken.


*I’m excluding the Fool in this instance, because I think this card stands on a level all its own. I exclude the World as well, but it should be noted that, as card number 21, it would fall under the Magician and Strength in this set-up. You might notice that the World also usually will have implied infinity symbols somewhere on it.

**Of course, just to be difficult, Waite removed the hats of both these characters and prominently displays a conspicuous infinity sign over each. Why make the symbolism so obvious in your otherwise diluted cards (by which I mean he goes to great lengths in some cases to hide his symbols) if you’re just going to change the order, Arthur?!?

***I won’t go into specifics here, primarily because I’ve loaned my copy of the book to a friend and don’t want to mangle Pollack’s interpretation with poor paraphrasing. If you’re interested, go read the book!!!


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