True justice tempers measurement with wisdom, and masculine discrimination with feminine compassion: fire with water. Athena achieves this by combining blade, beam and scales: Although the scales are separated and pull in opposite directions, the beam connects them ("love") and converts their "strife" into a higher order of cooperation, which leads to equilibrium ("harmony"). Wisdom constructs such a balance whenever she finds differences, whether in head or heart, or in psyche or society.
These conceptions predate the distinction between nomos (custom) and phusis (nature), or, as we might say, before the phenomenal universe was divided into the mental and the physical (the subjective and the objective). Thus dike represents "right order" in a unified cosmos, comprising both cultural and natural phenomena. The central characteristic of this order is equilibrium: maintenance of balance and compensation for imbalance. It is this cosmological order, which is represented by XX.Justice. (Crowley 86; Peters s.v. dike)
The equilibrium of forces is essential to understanding physical phenomena, as Anaximander and Heraclitus understood. It is also essential to the well-balanced mind, represented by Athena (see below), for which the conscious and unconscious minds are complementary and in equilibrium. (Case 130-1; Crowley 86; Nichols 156, 160; SB&G 44)
Athena (or Minerva) is the goddess most closely associated with the well-balanced mind; she was called Pronoia (Foresight) and Boulaia (Counsellor), since she often gave Zeus advice (and sometimes disobeyed his orders, when she knew better than he did). Nor is she an impractical idealist, for she translates her ideas into action. Thus she is called Ergane (Worker), and is a patron of the arts, crafts, medicine and teaching, but especially of the activities favored by women. She is a defender of those civilizations which strike a balance between nature and the needs of people. (Case 130-1; Larousse 107-8; OCD s.vv. Athena, Minerva; Oswalt 50, 188; SB&G 43)
The scales are an important symbol of dike: from the opposed physical forces, which tilt the beam, to the commercial use of scales, which ensure that "you get what you pay for." It embodies both natural and social balance.
However, XX.Justice shows us in several ways that "right order" is not a simple matter of mechanical measurement. Thus, Athena holds the scales in her left hand because she appeals to her unconscious sense of fairness in determining whether the scale is balanced. Her undergarment is blue to recall the fluid unconscious of IV.High Priestess. This is also the reason that she is not blindfolded, as in the familiar images of "blind Justice." The tarot Justice is not blind, because she brings wisdom and prudence to supplement her purely objective judgements, for she knows that, with full awareness of context, each judgement is unique. On the other hand, Athena is chaste, which means that her wisdom is "intact and pure," and that her judgement is not distorted by passion (unlike Ares'); she is one of the few gods immune to Aphrodite's power (the others are Hestia and Artemis). (Case 129; Nichols 155, 160; SB&G 43)
The scales show that balance requires both separation and connection, for the scales could not function without separate cups, nor could it function without a connection between the cups. We can see that although the cups are opposed, they are not antagonistic, and that their opposition is a deeper form of cooperation. (Nichols 156-7) The cups are labeled with the letters alpha and omega to stand for the beginning and the end, or intention and consequence (Crowley 86-7), that is, "weighing means and ends."
Libra is Latin for a balance, and in astrology Libra, the Scales, are ruled by Venus, which means that our sense of balance is governed by our aesthetic sense and our creativity (see II.Empress); Justice is tempered by Love. Indeed, Justice is an alter-ego of Venus (II.Empress), which is why she has the same blond hair color (as does Andreia in IX.Fortitude, another aspect of the Empress). The crossbeam is copper with a green patina: copper and the color green both symbolizing Venus (the Cuprian) and Libra. (Case 128-9; Crowley 86, 88; Nichols 158, 160)
Libra is also an Air sign, which alludes to the importance of the Air element in Justice, for Air represents intellectual activity. Air is also signified by the ostrich plumes, because feathers are Air symbols, and because "the ostrich feathers of the twofold truth" are attributes of Maat, the Egyptian goddess of justice. (Horapollo, Hieroglyphics II.118, claims that the ostrich wing symbolizes equal distribution of justice, since the ostrich's wings are more equally balanced than any bird's.) The feather is also a symbol of subtle discrimination, which is why Maat determines how weightless (or unburdened) the soul is by weighing it against a feather. (Case 130; Crowley 86-7; Nichols 159-60) In 20.Justice she weighs the heart of the reborn child called to judgement in 21.World. Finally, Air is symbolized by the blue background, which represents the all-pervasiveness of spirit (Case 130), and that the entire background (of assumptions, beliefs, expectations, etc.) is incorporated in her judgements.
Saturn, Father Time, is exalted in Libra, which reminds us that all equilibration takes place in time, with alternation between balance and imbalance. Fair redress of imbalance depends on memory, especially on unconscious experience, which is represented by IV.High Priestess. (Case 128-9; Crowley 86; Nichols 158) Indeed, Minerva's name most likely derives from memini (to remember) (OCD s.v. Minerva).
XX.Justice is Prior Gladii, the First (or Principal) of the Sword, as shown by the sword she holds. The sword is, of course, a symbol of rational discrimination and intellectual strength, essential components of justice. However, it is also a symbol of strength and the courage to act, which shows that Athena's judgements are not intellectual games. Her right hand holds the sword because this is the hand of conscious action. The sword is two-edged because, although it can be seen as the retributive arm of justice, it is also defensive (see below). (Case 130-1; Cooper s.v. sword; Nichols 154-5)
Even Athena's retribution is not vindictive, as Nichols (160-2) explains. For example, when Phaethon lost control of the chariot of the sun, he was thrown down, not for punishment, but "as an act of mercy - to restore the equilibrium of nature." The sword represents the means for restoring natural balance whenever it has been upset (Crowley 86-7; Case 130).
Athena was originally known as a war goddess (specifically, she appeared in the Mycenaean age as a shield goddess) and is still well-known as a protector. She invented the war chariot and trumpet, was instrumental in the Olympians' defeat of the Titans, and is expert in battle. She is a patroness of heroes and protects those who fight in the front of the troops, and in general rewards bravery and daring. She is called Nikephoros because she brings Nike (Victory) with her (see VIII.Victory). She protects cities and their livestock, and is thanked for victory in war, and for happiness and prosperity in peace. She is especially fond of cities (such as ancient Athens) that are centers of civilization and the arts, in which she takes great pleasure. (Larousse 107; OCD s.v. Athena; Oswalt 50, 52)
Ares and Athena, war god and war goddess, are always at odds, for Athena cannot endure Ares' love of violence and strife, for she fights only to protect civilization or to enforce justice. Further, by acting impulsively, Ares often lets Victory slip out of his fingers, whereas Victory accompanies Athena because she plans carefully and acts prudently. (SB&G 43)
Thus, XX.Justice (Athena) represents a combination of the best characters of VIII.Victory (Ares), representing masculine strength and action, and II.Empress (Aphrodite), representing feminine consciousness, which is why the symbolism of XX.Justice combines features of the other two trumps. Athena could be called the spiritual daughter of Ares and Aphrodite - their affair was notorious. In fact, Harmonia was the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite - of Strife and Love (OCD s.v. Ares). The focal point of the combination of Ares and Aphrodite is the sword and balance pair, which we'll now consider.
The vertical sword with its two knobs is a masculine symbol. Unlike Ares' steel sword, Athena's is made of gold (the noblest masculine metal) to show its noble purpose; it vertical orientation represents spiritual striving - it is not simply a tool for head splitting or hair splitting. The rubies on the cross-guard are symbols of vitality, power and invulnerability, and refer to Ares and protective action. (Biedermann s.v. rubies; Case 130; Cooper s.v. jewels; Nichols 154-5)
The breast-shaped cups of the scales are a feminine symbol and are made of silver (the noblest feminine metal). (Recall the egg-caps of the children of the Sun trump.) As discussed previously, the greenish copper beam is a symbol of Venus; its horizontal orientation represents our practical, human limitations, which contrast with our (vertical) spiritual aspirations. (Nichols 154-5, 157)
For Crowley (87) the sword and scales are the Judex (Judge) and Testes (Witnesses). Of course, there is a pun here, for in Latin testes means "testicles" as well as "witnesses," so the scales double as a masculine symbol (indeed the scales are spherical in Crowley's tarot deck). To balance the pun, one could observe that the Latin word for scabbard is vagina. I will leave it unspecified whether Athena's upraised sword has a golden blade, or is sheathed in a golden scabbard.
Athena's aegis and helmet crest are red, which shows her connection to Ares (Case 128-9; see also VIII.Victory = Chariot). In Athena's case, however, the red is put on, for protection or extraordinary action, over the green, which shows her fundamental nature, which is cooperative and nurturing. Athena balances the Martian and Venusian characters (the Martial and the Venerial!).
The last male-female pair of the Major Arcana, XIX.Angel (Hermes) and XX.Justice (Athena), both have an androgynous element. As discussed previously (I.Magician), the union of opposites is characteristic of Hermes, who is sometimes considered hermaphroditic; also, in Christian mythology angels are sexless. The androgyny of Athena is more subtle, but is apparent in (1) her birth from the head of Zeus, (2) her chastity (refusal to accept a female sex role), and (3) her association with masculine activities, such as war. Both XIX.Angel and XX.Justice display a more balanced psyche than the lower trumps, but the final unification is achieved in XXI.World.
Themis is another goddess associated with XX.Justice, for her name means righteousness and "firmly established custom or law, justice" (originally, Themis meant "steadfast"). In origin an earth goddess, the daughter of Ouranos and Gaia (Sky and Earth), she is a prophetess, the mother of Prometheus (XII.Hanged Traitor), and the second consort of Zeus. Although a Titan, she still sits at Zeus's side, where she gives wise council. Thus she is called Euboulos (Good Counsellor) and Soteira (Savior). We often see her holding scales. (Hesiod, Theog. 901-6; Larousse 136; OCD s.v. Themis)
The daughter of Zeus and Themis was Astraea, "the star-bright maiden," later called Dike, who lived on earth among mortals during the Golden Age. When the gods withdrew at the end of the Golden Age she stayed longest, but finally, "the maiden Astraea, last of the celestials, left the blood-soaked earth" (virgo caede madentis / ultima caelestum terras Astraea reliquit) (Ovid, Met. I.149-50). She ascended the heavens, where we see her in the sky as the constellation Virgo, next to Libra, her scales. Ancient poets predicted the Virgin's return and the birth of a new Golden Age (see the quotation of Virgil's Eclogue iv.1 at the end of 21.World). (Anthon s.v. Astraea; Gayley 467; Nichols 160)
Recall that Kronos (XI.Old Man) tried to swallow all his children, so that none would depose him; however, Rhea tricked him out of swallowing Zeus, who did indeed depose his father. Metis, "the wisest of the gods," prepared a potion for Zeus that caused Kronos to vomit up the other gods. Metis became Zeus's first consort, and when she became pregnant, he in turn, feared that she would bear his successor and convinced her to be swallowed. Nevertheless, Athena burst out of Zeus's head. (Hesiod, Theog. 886-900, 924-6;OCD s.v. Metis) We may speculate that Athena Parthenos (the Virgin) is destined to succeed Zeus and, with Hermes, restore the Golden Age of her grandparents Kronos and Rhea (see XXI.World).
Athena is "bright-eyed" because she was originally a storm and lightning goddess. She is most often represented sitting (e.g. a porphyry statue of Minerva in the Louvre) or standing (e.g. the Velletri Athena), as a shield-goddess, wearing a long chiton (tunic) and helmet and holding a spear in her right hand. (In the Athena of Velletri she wears a himation over a Doric peplos.) On her chest she wears the aegis (often thought to be a goat skin), which originally signified a stormy night. The Gorgon Medusa's head is mounted in the center of either her shield or the aegis. She is often associated with birds, and in classical times with the owl, considered the wisest bird. (Abrahams 51, fig. 18; Larousse 107-8, 207; OCD s.v. Athena; Oswalt 49, 51, 188)
Athena's red, snake fringed aegis with Gorgon head should be compared the fringed, red chlamys and Gorgon head in I.Magician, which stresses the connection between the trumps.
Although Athena is usually armed with a spear, in a statue from Lavinium (southern Italy), she holds a sword in her right hand and her shield on her left; snakes coil around both arms (Stassinopoulos & Beny 148). In the Mantegna Tarocchi, Justice holds an upright sword in her right hand and scales in her left; a crane holding a stone stands by her left foot (Kaplan 40).
In addition to gold and silver, which correspond to the masculine and feminine psyche, the principal colors of our image are copper, green, blue and red, which correspond to the elements (earth, water, air, fire, respectively). A seventh color, black, fills in the shadows and corresponds to prima materia. Together the seven colors represent the planets (and trumps): blue = Mercury (I.Magician), green = Venus (II.Empress), copper = Jupiter (III.Emperor), silver = Moon (IV.High Priestess), gold = Sun (V.High Priest), red = Mars (VIII.Victory), black = Saturn (XI.Old Man). (Cooper s.vv. elements, planets)
As explained under XVII.Moon, XX.Justice corresponds to the Babylonian god Marduk, who is the son of Ea/Enki, who corresponds, as we have seen, to XIX.Angel. Marduk is associated with judgement, which connects him with Shamash = XVIII.Sun, and with wisdom, which connects him with Ea = XIX.Angel. His mystic number is 50, and a hymn recites the Fifty Names of Marduk. (Black & Green s.v. Marduk) Parpola (177-8) connects Marduk with the Sefirah Hesed (Mercy), since he was called "Merciful God/Father/Lord, Merciful and Forgiving, Merciful to Mankind," etc. His other ubiquitous epithet, "Great Lord," corresponds to the other name of this Sefirah, Gedullah (Greatness). (See XVII.Moon for the correspondence between the Sefirot and the last ten trumps.)
The Pythagorean interpretation of the decad (1-10) generally corresponds to the Universal Triumphs, the second half of the Major Arcana, trumps 11 to 20 (in the Ferrara sequence!). Thus, Justice corresponds to the Decad itself (10), which the Pythagoreans say measures and orders all things; they call it the Principle of Natural Equilibrium, Wholeness, Well-rounded Whole, Trust, Concord, the "All-embracing, All-limiting Mother" and the Hermaphrodite, because it balances the male and female (10 = 2 X 5). It is the first number that balances the primes (1, 2, 3, 5, 7) and composites (4, 6, 8, 9, 10). As we've seen, Justice has an important connection to memory, so it's significant that the Pythagoreans called the decad Memory and Mnemosyne (the Muse of memory), which correspond to the Platonic Anamnesis (Recollection), the return to a state of innocent wholeness. (Hall 72; Iamblichus, Theol. Arith. 79-86; Jung, Aion 40; Schimmel 180, 182; see also my interpretation of the 10s in the Minor Arcana.) Finally, the decadic character of Justice is confirmed by the numerical value of AQHNH (Athene) = 76, which reduces to 11+6-7 = 10 in the Hendecad.
The earliest ordered listing of the tarot trumps (Sermones de ludo cum aliis, c.1500) makes Justice trump 20 and Fortitude (Strength) trump 9 (between the Chariot and the Wheel). This is also the arrangement in early decks from Ferrara (as opposed to those from Milan and Bologna). However, in the earliest tarot decks with numbered trumps, Justice has moved to trump 8 (between the Chariot and the Old Man) and Fortitude has become trump 11. This makes Athena and Ares consecutive, which reflects their close connection. Later, MacGregor Mathers and some other authors in the Golden Dawn tradition, including Waite and Case, switched the position of Justice and Strength (which are, as we've seen, closely connected).
I have seriously considered demoting Justice back to the Triumph of Virtue (between Love and the Wheel). I have not done so, because it would disrupt the Ogdoads (including the male-female couples) and destroy the balance between the two halves of the Major Arcana.
I have also considered promoting Justice to Lady of Necessity, which makes some sense, but creates many problems. First, the Lady of Necessity corresponds to the suite of Cups, which does not fit well with Justice or Athena. Further, the Star, the current Lady of Necessity presumably would have to take trump 20, where a Sword is required, which hardly fits the Star. It also has no historical support, since the Star-Moon-Sun order is invariable in tarot decks. The structure as it stands is too tight to permit much rearrangement.
Send comments about this page
Last updated: Mon Jun 7 20:54:12 EDT 1999