Like the Magician Card, La Force, or Strength as she is sometimes called, is essentially a billboard at a crossroad. Where the Magician (the other billboard) symbolises Hermes, La Force is the feminine face of the traveller's guide known as Hecate, the guide for people entering dark places. Where the Magician is letting the Fool know that the journey through his world is illusory, La Force is telling the Fool that this part of the journey will be challenging, so much so, as the Fool you are going to have to dig deep to find the courage and strength needed to engage this part of the journey.
Essentially both the Magician and La Force are advertisements for what the Fool will experience in their respective domains (cards 2 through 10 in the case of the Magician and cards 12 through 20 in the case of La Force). Having come off the back of the unsolicited effects of natural justice (the Justice card), ageing (the Hermit card) and changing fortunes (the Wheel of Fortune card), all that the Fool thought was real have now had their true colours revealed - it was all an illusion. This is exactly what the Magician, being Hermes the trickster, initially implied. His props that he holds in his hands and that are found on his table are the tools of his trade as a magician. Power (wands), wealth (pentacles), love (cups), and fame (swords) could be there one minute and gone the next.
On choosing to enter this new path, La Force is telling the Fool they will require two things to successfully encounter this part of the journey: courage and hope, both aspects of strength. As such, it would not be appropriate to have Samson or Hercules here, because this is the kind of strength that has to be mustered not already possessed.
That Hecate in particular is depicted as the guide suggests that the Fool will initially encounter a ‘dark wood’, the type alluded to by Dante. This is the experience of the Dark Night of the Soul. Hecate can put light on the Fool’s passage through this dark night. But she is real clear that even to commence you will need courage and strength to get through this part of the journey, the sort of courage and strength that a ‘refined’ woman would need to hold open the mouth of a lion. But, you will need more than that. You will also need the hope that this journey will result in you possessing the Crowning Glory of Christ, the state of consciousness needed to see and encounter the Holy Grail, which allows the Fool to enter the kingdom of God.
The symbol of hope is the ‘zig-zag of effulgence’ seen at the top of Hecate’s hat (see card XI above). The golden dome surrounded by the zig-zag is the Crowning Glory of Christ. We first saw this zig-zag beside the left hip of the Empress (see card III to the right), symbolic of her giving birth to the Fool in the flesh, but with the reminder (the zig-zag of effulgence) that this child is divine, a child of man that can become the child of God. Courage and strength create momentum, where hope sustains it. Entering this world will require both. Without either, the dark night becomes a dark night of the senses, meaning that the pain and suffering that the Fool feels is fuelled by unresolved grief that arose due to the loss of those things (power, wealth, love and fame) to which they are still attached.
As the billboard to this world, Hecate is helping the Fool decide if this is what they really want. The Fool will be under no illusion that this is going to be a difficult choice, but also, if they do choose this path, it is clearly defined. This is preempted by the zig-zag of effulgence seen on the hat worn by Hecate that typically has seven peaks. For the Cathar, these seven peaks symbolised the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes was a series of statements made by Jesus in his first sermon after returning from his forty days in the wilderness. As will be revealed over subsequent blogs, each of the seven Beatitudes was depicted in a subset of cards found in the major arcane of the Marseille Tarot. These cards clearly show and explain what the Fool has to do and be in order to return to the kingdom of Heaven.
(Both of the images included in this article are from the Tarot de Marseille [Edition Millennium] © 2011 FJP Paris.