Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And Justice For All

When we think of what is "just" we often equate it with what is "fair." However, what seems fair to one person is often not how another would envision it. Enter, Justice. She is the embodiment of the moral virtue that would not be swayed by personal interest, nor an individual sense of fairness, but an overarching global, cosmic sense of what is "right" because in the end of it all it is just and fair.

No idea in Western civilization has been more consistently linked to ethics and morality than the idea of justice. From The Republic, written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, to A Theory of Justice, written by the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls, every major work on ethics has held that justice is part of the central core of morality. So where does the concept originate? Social justice is likely as old as the first humans as they structured their communities and fought among themselves for their own conflicting interests. Without the cooperation and equity justice provides, we would quickly extinguish our own species. Egyptians knew her as Maat, the one who weighed the hearts of men. Greeks knew her as Themis, goddess of order and oracle at Delphi who was the mother of Dike, goddess of justice. Romans knew her as Justitia. It wasn't until the 16th century that images of justice showed her blindfolded to represent impartiality, but the sword and scales have shown up in her various incarnations over the ages.

She is one of the four cardinal virtues in Christianity (borrowed from Plato anyway), representing the need for individuals themselves to cultivate justice as a spiritual and moral quality in order that society itself be just for all. Divine virtues are intended to reflect the divine nature of God in humans, and as such she reveals God as perfectly just. Therefore, from her earliest incarnations as Maat, she represents the concept of divine justice. Karma. What goes around comes around. If you don't get your comeuppance in this life, you'll be sure to get it in the afterlife or the next life or something.

Traditionally, Justice's number is eight and Strength is eleven, but Waite changed the order to better reflect the astrological correspondences developed by the Order of the Golden Dawn. There are still hard feelings about this. But the Golden Dawn's Qabbalistic reasoning is not without merit. Justice corresponds with Libra and Libra is the cardinal sign starting Autumn. The Hebraic month of Tishrei corresponds to Libra, and sees the celebration of the Jewish New Year, followed by Yom Kippur, the prayer of atonement to divine Justice. Also, in the Hebrew alphabet, prior to the letter Lamed, there are exactly 11 letters, since Lamed begins the second half of the alphabet, leading the next 11 letters. The problem with doing this was that it screwed up all the other cards' associations and so the Golden Dawn folks practically rewrote the Tree of Life to fit with their ordering sequence. Ok, well. Historians and tarot purists will argue this ad infinitum with good cause, but suffice it to say that a century of misalignment has resulted in a new ordering system which is now considered legitimate. This is why in most Rider-Waite-based decks Justice is eleven and Marseille-based decks have Justice as eight and deck designers of all kinds get to pick and choose according to their own preference. Personally, I don't have a preference. Numerologically speaking, both numbers have good associations with divine virtues in general and attributions that can be applied to both Strength and Justice.

We can understand the need for divine, individual and social justice, but when the Justice card shows up in a tarot reading, her meaning can seem too broad, too vague, and difficult to understand in the context of a reading that hardly involves anything to do with the Supreme Court or the Final Judgement of your soul. Divinatory meanings pare things down to manageable size somewhat. Justice can represent a legal matter in a querant's life, a divorce, any kind of legal document or contract. She bodes well for such things and assures the seeker that things will likely shake out in your favor, or at least fairly. She can tell you you're in the process of making a Big Decision in your life. As a Major Arcana, she represents matters of destiny, big choices that impact the course of your life. As advice she urges you to consider all the evidence, weigh it, and above all: Be Fair! Sometimes you may need to cut something out of your life in the process of balancing those scales or add something in order to find that equilibrium. Her sword, just like all the swords in tarot, represents wisdom and communication, but it also stands for just punishment for wrongdoers. Be careful where you point that thing.

More often than not, as a Major it represents a decision that will impact you rather than one you have to make. It can point to events occurring through which divine justice will be evidenced, karmic balance. There's no need to fear Justice's sword unless you've been racking up check marks in the naughty column. Even so, you will know that when it comes down you deserved it. Above all, she is fair and there isn't any railing against her, even though you might be kicking your own backside up the street.


Image source: Edwin Austin Abbey, Royal Academician, The Record of His Life and Work, by E.V. Lucas, 1921, London: Methuen and Company Limited, New York: Charles Scribner's Son.

3 comments:

RChMI said...

The counterchange between the positionings of Justice and Strength for the Tarot was actually done by S.L. MacGregor Mathers in the 1880s for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as opposed to the commonly held notion that A.E. Waite did it in 1910 for the Rider Tarot, of which was meant to be used in conjunction with practices for Waite's Holy Order of the Golden Dawn.

Ginny said...

Yes, you're right, Mathers was the one who did the switcheroo, but it was Waite's deck that established the change. Now most tarot decks produced today have Strength as 8 and Justice as 11 because of Waite's deck.

Heart said...

Off topic:

Happy New Year, Ginny!

Hugs,

Heart

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