7 of Wands: Leo III
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Mars
Hermetic Title: Valor
Corresponding major arcana: The Tower [Mars] + Strength/Lust [Leo]
Dates: August 13 - 23
The 5, 6, and 7 of Wands tell a classic story of heroism. In the 5, our hero proved her mettle against others. In the 6, she rose to public fame, even kingship. But here in the 7, something has gone wrong! The crowds that cheered her on just 10 days ago - one decan - have turned against her. Standing on a high prominence, she faces opposition, protests, rebellion. She's a hot mess - she can't even find a matching pair of shoes! What now?
Lighting the fuse
In case it's not obvious, we are in Mars territory now, which means getting to know another special flavor of the Tower (woot!). With one exception at the beginning of the decanic cycle, Mars always follows Jupiter. It is the martial sword that cuts off the jovial, expansive flow. Kabbalistically, it is the severity that constrains mercy.
We see this sequence repeatedly in the minor arcana. While Jupiter's Wheel of Fortune gives and multiplies, Mars' Tower takes and divides. Jupiter gently warms and incubates; Mars heats matters to the boiling point. In the 9 of Swords we read the Tower's falling figures as a form of punishment, divine judgement, or self-criticism - a harsh way of moving out of the "too many options" paralysis of the 8 of Swords. In the 6 of Wands, our hero enjoyed Jupiter's gifts of fame and victory; in the 7 of Wands, Mars threatens to take them away. Tempers are boiling over. Unlike Saturn's 5 of Wands, which provided a structure to select an agreed-upon winner in sport, debate, or contest, the 7 knows only the most desperate of outcomes.
Retribution, Ecstasy, and the Final Ounce of Will.
The anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot, in describing the Tower arcanum, says that "every man who is not a saint or fully righteous man builds a kind of 'tower of Babel' which is his own. His actions, opinions, and aspirations...constitute a 'private world' that he has built." This tower of the self, Anonymous goes on to say, duly faces divine judgement/the thunderbolt, where it will inevitably shatter. "The original sin of the will," he says, is that it "became infatuated with the desire to replace knowledge due to revelation by knowledge due to experimentation."
Hubris, in other words, is a human failing; if only we were to stick to cultivating our gardens, no cataclysm would be needed! Viewed in this light, the 7 of Wands is an inevitable correction to the cycle of ambition that began in the 5. Upon encountering sacred Force - an older name for the Strength card - our towers crumble, as they were meant to all along. (Meditations on the Tarot is a work of Christian Hermeticism, and its views on human-divine relations tend to emphasize divine authority.)
But there is another way to conceive of this combination. We can think of Strength as a negotiation with the passions: to control, to surrender, to embrace, or to merge with them. Crowley viewed Strength as 'Lust,' by which he meant not just physical passion but the "rapture of vigor" or "strength exercised." She is the goddess Babalon, who denies no one but demands all one has to give. Viewed in this context, Lust/Strength juxtaposed with the Tower looks like the climax of release. This is ecstatic gnosis, not karmic retribution.
Or: suppose the 7 of Wands uses that final ounce of will - the cup of blood drained by Babalon - in its last effort at a desperate breakthrough. Under that banner all façades are shed, all last gasps tendered. As with Iron John and his mighty hammer, the record is broken with the expiring breath. Is the 7 of Wands the Hail Mary pass of the tarot?!
Aaron Rodgers and the 7 of Wands
Speaking of football, let's break for a little anecdote.
First, let me explain: My son knows nothing about tarot. I know nothing about football. But on a Sunday night in January of 2016, at a time when the Venn-diagram intersection of our shared interests had shrunk to an all-time low, we managed to successfully predict the outcome of that night's Packers-Redskins game. The kid was 15 at the time and a raving Packers fan. Figuring if nothing else it would give us something to talk about, I pulled out my Waite-Smith deck and asked if he wanted to see who would win. "Sure," he said, humoring Mom for what may have been the first but would certainly not be the last time.
How do you even read for the outcome of an athletic event? The same way, I reasoned, that you read for anything else you don't know anything about. You prime the pump - i.e., you decide in advance what a given outcome might look like in tarot, and see if that outcome shows up. "What color are the Packers' jerseys?" I asked. "Green," said my son, putting some eyeroll into it.
I thought to myself, "The only card I can think of where someone's got a green shirt is the 7 of Wands, so the Packers will win if he pulls that." I fanned out the deck and told the kid to pick the winner. Sure enough, he pulled the 7 of Wands! "Ha!" I crowed. "They'll win!"
Indeed, the Packers came from behind (11-0, at one point) to defeat the Redskins 35-18. What would I have said if he'd pulled, say, the 4 of Swords or really practically any card other than the 7 of Wands? I honestly don't know. But I didn't need to worry about that, right? because that's how tarot works.
How golden is your parachute?
What is it that makes anyone fight when things look bleakest? What makes us carry on when we are 11 points down and everyone seems to be arrayed against us? Perhaps it is the Greek concept of κλεος - the immortal glory that, to the Myceneans, was more important than longevity, peace, or excellent supplemental coverage. Honor might be given, in life, in the form of public recognition, war trophies or high office. But honor could also be earned in death, through valiant combat and a posthumous personal myth, to be burnished to a high gloss in succeeding generation.
Indeed, the precipitating drama of theIliad revolves around Achilles' refusal to fight when his war-prize, the slave-girl Briseis, is taken from him, thereby diminishing his kleos: "I swear, on this, a solemn oath to you, that a day will surely come when the Achaeans, one and all, shall long for Achilles, a day when you, despite your grief, are powerless to help them, as they fall in swathes at the hands of man-killing Hector. Then you will feel a gnawing pang of remorse for failing to honour the best of the Achaeans." Κλεος allowed a hero to live beyond his short span, transcending his own mortality.
For me, this calls to mind Netzach, the 7th sephira on the Tree of Life, to which all 7's in tarot refer. In the Hermetic tradition we most often translation Netzach as "victory," but a more accurate translation might be "eternity" or "endurance". Netzach and Hod (the 8th sephira) are known as the "tactical sephiroth" and can be contrasted as as leadership (Netzach) vs. community (Hod), emotion (Netzach) vs. intellect (Hod). Passion and inspiration - the heart's desire to do something great, timeless, undying - fall in Netzach. Hod gives us the mental capacity to figure out how to accomplish a mission, but Netzach gives us a reason why.
That glimpse of eternity is part and parcel of the Strength card - it's right there in the infinity sign over her head. Courage, I often remind folks, is not the absence of fear. Courage only arrives in the presence of fear. And that - the irrational conquest of a rational fear brought on by great adversity - is what we see in the 7 of Wands.
In 36 Faces, Austin Coppock describes the Leo III decan as "the Banner," a symbol of the hero's invincible heart. The Star-Spangled Banner, America's national anthem, was written at the battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, during the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key, held captive on a British gunboat, searched the explosive-ravaged skies for signs that the fort still stood in American hands.
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
It is worth noting that the final words of this anthem (as it is usually performed- there are three more verses nobody ever sings) are actually a question - is that flag still flying? Especially in troubled times like the present, it's hard not to wonder whether the values that flag symbolizes - the free world and the democratic ideals that uphold it - are indeed, still borne aloft. And it's worth remembering that the courage to defend them rises when - and perhaps only when - they are challenged.
Fighting for Glory, Fighting for Peace
Curiously, Agrippa suggests the decan signifies "love and fellowship and the lowering of oneself for avoiding battle" - in other words, giving up both hubris and kleos for a more ordinary life. Indeed, many of the decan images focus on quiet, friendly scenes, where someone is having something nice to eat. What do "love and delight and food trays and health" have to do with the blood-stained glories of the 7 of Wands?!
After puzzling about these homely scenes of gastronomic enjoyment for a while, I found myself thinking, inevitably, of hobbits. There's a scene in the first Hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey, where Bilbo returns after having gotten separated from the dwarves' company in the goblin caves. Given his general unfitness and prior reluctance, the dwarves wonder why he has come back at all. Here's the speech Bilbo (Martin Freeman) gives them:
"Look, I know you doubt me. I know…I know you always have. And you're right, I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that's where I belong. That's home. And that's why I came back, cause…you don't have one. A home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can."
This speech (which you will find nowhere in the original book of The Hobbit - it is an artful bit of narrative manipulation found only in the screenplay) provides a rationale for the soldier's bloody creed. What is it we are fighting for? Home, peace, a place to enjoy one's dinner undisturbed. Perhaps that is the banner that some of us dream of in our own personal trenches.
When you draw the 7 of Wands, you may well find yourself facing a daunting challenge (even if it's not the reclamation of a homeland, the destruction of the One Ring, or fighting a war of sovereignty against a better-armed nation). Remind yourself of what you're fighting for - is it worth the battle? What is your own personal kleos? Ask yourself: has my time at the top of the Wheel passed, and should I cede it to a successor? Or is that which I am fighting for so large, so meaningful, so necessary I am willing to give it everything I've got, and more?
I should emphasize there is no single right answer to this question. The 7 of Wands shows a human capacity to persevere, but it does not tell you whether you are using that capacity to live your own best life! You may wish to draw another card to see where your determination will take you next, and what price it will exact.