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Navigating Anger with Courage

Updated: May 19, 2023

How Leo’s Cards Strength and the Five of Wands Can Help Us Explore Anger, Boundaries, and Authenticity

I hope that you’ve all been enjoying some warm weather, the San Francisco summer fog seems to finally have lifted for me!

Before we transition from Leo season to Virgo on the 22nd, today I want to spend some time exploring how the Leo cards Strength and the Five of Wands can help us transform our relationships with anger.

I knew that I wanted to explore the 5 of Wands and anger in conjunction with Strength before we entered Leo season, and I’ve been working on this post all month! I know from working with clients that I’m not alone when I say anger can be tricky, so no surprise that I’ve found it a rich topic for discovery.

For some of us, anger can be a righteous safe haven from feelings of fear and shame. For others, it’s a taboo emotion that can trigger fear and shame. It’s a huge subject, hence the longer-than-normal post, but it’s a topic that is often ignored, so I would especially love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

Why Strength & The Five of Wands?

Numbered 8, Strength is the first card in the Second Line of the Major Arcana. We’ve left Line One and The Chariot, in which we learned how to complete the sentence, “I am.”

In Line Two, we embark on a new chapter that asks, “Who am I?” As we emerge from The Chariot’s cocoon, Strength greets us, because exploring the question, “Who am I?” will require strength and courage.

In The Chariot, we learned how to meet the expectations of others. Now, we must dare to pursue our authentic selves.

The Minor Arcana card for our ‘field-work’ with Strength is the Five of Wands. The Wands represent our fire, our passion. The Fives are moments of contraction or friction. The Five of Wands can often show up as anger, and how we engage with anger is very important in our spiritual evolution.

When The Five of Wands is informed by Strength, conflict and anger become gifts that inform our authentic self-expression, and that is one of the most courageous undertakings we can endeavor.

The Lady & the Lion

In the classic short story, The Lady, or the Tiger by Frank R. Stockton, a king discovers that his daughter is in love with a lower-caste man. This courtship is a crime and in this kingdom, justice is a matter of chance.

Any accused criminal must choose between two doors in a public arena. Behind one door is a beautiful maiden whom the accused man must marry immediately. Behind the other door is a ravenous tiger that will devour the defendant.

The princess learns which doorway leads to the maiden and which to the tiger. Her lover looks to her in his decisive moment, and so she must choose his fate.

Published in 1882, this allegory for an impossible decision was not written as feminist fiction, yet this impossible dilemma also applies to modern femininity.

If the princess chooses the maiden, her lover will marry another woman and she will be devastated; however, by sacrificing her happiness, she’ll embody a ‘good’ woman. ‘Good’ women never put themselves before the wants or needs of others, especially men.

If she chooses the tiger, her lover will die a gruesome death to satisfy her jealousy. What a bitch.

When it comes to identifying and expressing our authentic selves, women are forced to either confront or conform to the insidious programming that tells us we can either be nice ladies or bitchy women. In fact, ‘Nice Ladies and Bitchy Women’ was the working title for Dr. Harriot Lerner’s pioneering book, The Dance of Anger.

Dr. Lerner was the first clinical psychologist to study and publish on the topic of women’s anger, and though her book has sold over 3 million copies, she could not find a publisher for over five years. That was how little interest the publishing world had in women’s anger.

And of course, men are trapped by this framework as well. The fictional prince’s only choices are between sex or violence. His desire for women is assumed to be so general that marrying a different maiden would be a ‘happy’ outcome for him. His masculinity alone makes it reasonable for him to be pitted in battle against a wild animal.

So what does any of this have to do with the Tarot?

As always, the Tarot is a tool to help us connect with our highest and best selves. Instead of forcing us into impossible choices — the ‘nice lady’ or the ‘bitchy tiger,’ the Casanova or the hero, the Strength card is a teacher for how we can integrate the lady (feminine, rationable) and the lion (masculine, passionate) within each of us.

Strength VIII

In Line One, the yin and yang energies are presented separately. The Magician I and The Emperor IV represent the masculine, while the High Priestess II and The Empress III express the feminine. When we enter Line Two, these forces harmoniously combine in Strength VIII.

If given the assignment to depict ‘strength’, I think most of us would illustrate large muscles moving heavy objects.

Instead, Major Arcana VIII, ruled by Leo, depicts a harmonious exchange between a lion and a lady under a lemniscate ∞.

In this instance, Strength is synonymous with courage. The truth of this card is that authenticity requires the courage to honor the whole self, both the masculine and feminine.

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor — the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are.”

We all are made up of Yin and Yang energies. The language of Yin and Yang bypasses the cultural baggage of masculine and feminine; but, as spirits in bodies, we cannot bypass those tropes.

When we embark on the journey of Line Two, we get to wrestle with our gendered cultural norms. The gendered experience of anger is one arena in which this struggle is most acute.

For the purposes of this article, I will use broad generalizations of boys and girls, men and women. These will not resonate with every individual and are not meant to reflect the nuance of gender identities that reside on a spectrum.

Little girls are discouraged from expressing anger. They are conditioned to smile and soothe, but they are also permissioned to kiss, dance, sing and cry.

Conversely, little boys are coached to control their emotions. By age five, whether they can control their tears or not, boys internalize the message that it is not okay to cry.

While parenting has evolved, especially with regards to addressing gender equality, no matter how evolved one family’s deliberate parenting may be, this is the paradigm that we have inherited and that we inhabit.

Girls are allowed to enjoy and express the Skittles rainbow of emotions -except for anger. Anger is reserved for boys, but soon it becomes their only approved flavor of feeling.

We understand all of this very early in our development. It’s baked into our language.

In general, angry women are portrayed as “unladylike”, “nasty”, “bitchy”, “shrill”, “ugly” and ultimately unlovable. If she is angry at a man, she’s a “shrew,” a “witch,” a “cunt,” a “hag,” a “nag”, a“man-hater,” and a “castrator.”

An angry man, on the other hand, might be regarded as “strong,” “decisive,” “credible,” and “powerful.”

Our language (codified by men) does not have one unflattering term to describe men who vent their anger at women. Even such epithets as “bastard” and “son of a bitch” do not condemn the man but place the blame on a woman — his mother!

Even more damaging is when this language extends to actual violence. When we speak of “violence against women” we place the focus on the victims instead of the perpetrators.

Domestic violence and sexual abuse are often called ‘women’s issues, but these are inherently men’s issues. And why? Because male sensitivity is portrayed as, “weak”, “fearful”, “impotent”, “pathetic”, and ultimately unlovable too.

So, how can exit the ‘safety’ of these ‘traditional’ masculine and feminine roles that The Chariot provided? We can courageously listen to the voice of the authentic self.

Unlike the voices of ego and fear, the voice of the authentic self is visionary and it knows that you can never be anything but lovable.

When we exit The Chariot, we are called to stay visionary in a world of egos.

In the world of egos, ‘strength’ is a tool for women to sacrifice their own needs and wants so they may place others first. In that world, women’s anger is only appropriate on behalf of others, preferably children, and never towards a man.

For men, the world of egos has replaced strength with toughness. Their sadness, sweetness, sensitivity, and pain, must all be channeled through either rage or silence.

In the world of visionaries, anger is a tool that enables us to unapologetically grow in authenticity. For visionaries, anger promotes positive change, self-respect, and loving boundary setting.

Enter the Five of Wands…

The Smith Rider Waite DeckIn general, the Fives express some difficulty or loss. The element of fire turns this experience into a confrontation.

In the Five of Wands, we see five boys each wielding their own stick. They are fighting, but they aren’t trying to hurt each other. Each boy wants to expand his individual ambition, but he must clash with his peers to learn how.

Their conflict is neither projected onto each other nor is it turned inward. Each boy is focused on his own desired achievement. When real boys do indeed play-fight with sticks, it’s not in an attempt to harm or even to win. It is a space to learn how to communicate boundaries.

We might describe this scene in the Five of Wands as, “healthy competition.” Unfortunately, in my experience, that is a phrase reserved for boys. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that the answer is for girls to pick up stick-fighting; however, I am suggesting that, unlike boys, girls are discouraged from fighting, even play-fighting. As a result, young girls learn to express their boundaries covertly.

When I think of girls competing, I picture sabotage and backstabbing, and usually, it’s for male affection or attention. Because aggression isn’t permitted or modeled for girls, it can’t be channeled into healthy competition. And so, it becomes inhibited and goes underground. For boys, because pain, sincerity, and affection are discouraged and even punished, those feelings are squashed and later converted into resentment and rage.

So how can the Five of Wands help us move from ego to visionary?

Exiting The Chariot is an act of expansion. Whenever we expand, we get to explore new boundaries. We’ve graduated from the kiddy pool and we’re exploring an adult swim. Splashing around in this bigger enclosure, we seek out the walls and depths.

If we can reimagine our relationship to anger, like the boys banging sticks, we can begin to differentiate when we are in expansion mode, seeking out new boundaries, versus when we are in defense of the ego.

Courageous Anger

“Anger is a powerful catalyst but a life-sucking companion.” — Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

It has taken me a lot of time to come to my own entitlement to feelings of anger.

I grew up in a house with a man whose outbursts of rage were both regular and unpredictable. Our family would play musical chairs, switching from attacker, to victim, to rescuer, and around and around. These patterns took a huge emotional toll on me, and I soon found myself repeating them with my college boyfriend.

I had the good fortune to be able to work with a therapist to unpack all this at age 21. I remember sharing with her that I’d made the decision at 16 to never get angry. I had determined that anger was only a smoke screen for the real emotions of fear or sadness, and I was very much at home navigating fear and sadness.

My therapist replied, “Anger is an important emotion because it alerts us to when a boundary has been crossed.” Mind blown.

The consequence of this revelation was- not only was I entitled to feelings of anger, but I was also entitled to boundaries. Holy smokes.

Until then, I had believed that anger equaled male rage. In an attempt to stay safe, I had shut down my ability to recognize the physiological signals of my own anger. And so, the work of reconnecting to my highest and best interest began. I picked up the metaphorical stick and started to explore my boundaries.

Boundaries are what happen when you can sense from your authentic self what you need and want, and access your voice to speak to those things.

If in an attempt at self-preservation you, like me, have shuttered your voice to anything that could be perceived as anger, you’ll be unable to effectively communicate your needs, wants and boundaries — even and especially to yourself.

Similarly, if you’ve made a lifelong practice of replacing feelings of sadness, sweetness, and vulnerability with silence and rage, the voice of the authentic self will be inaudible. In its place will be the convincing egoic mirage of strength, but that ‘strength’ must always find battle, and so you will become easily threatened.

This is when we must call upon Strength VIII.

When we define strength as the courage to speak our truth from the heart, we can honestly enquire of ourselves, “Is this right for me?”

Remember that Strength VIII is ruled by the Sun, the ultimate fire energy. The Sun’s brilliance, light, and power isn’t a ‘power over’ but a radiant and unapologetic ‘power to.’

Just as the lemniscate ∞ connects the lady and the lion in a closed loop of creation, beauty, and power, when you’re connecting to your core authenticity, you can stay courageously connected to your heart’s power.

Conversely, The Chariot is ruled by Cancer and the Moon. Like the hard shell of the crab, we feel we must defend and protect our interior emotions, wants, and needs. If this is our center of power, we’ll believe that, like the Moon, our radiance comes from an external source and that radiance will be forever changing.

Let’s look at the question, “Is this right for me?” from the perspective of The Chariot and the Five of Wands, verses from Strength and the Five of Wands.

Since it’s a popular movie and a fictional scene, I’ll use an argument from the movie The Breakup as our example. It’s a fictional fight, but I think many of us have either witnessed or participated in some version of it.

In this clip, Jennifer Aniston’s character, Brook, fights with Vince Vaughn’s character, Gary, over doing the dishes. She asks him to help, but he resists and then finally acquiesces. The fight escalates when she says she wants him to want to do the dishes. Their communications devolve into sarcasm, name-calling (crazy, nag), resentments, manipulations, defensiveness, rage, yelling, contempt, stonewalling, and ultimately a break-up. It’s a master class in ineffective communication.

From inside The Chariot, if Brook were to ask herself, “Is cooking and cleaning and sacrificing for a dinner party right for me?” the answer is yes. It’s what’s expected of her. It’s what a ‘good woman’ would do. Elegant dinner parties are what ‘good couples’ present to the world, and the best way to demonstrate love for another person is self-sacrifice. Her belief is that “If I am good, if I sacrifice for others, then I will be able to receive love.”

When that externally motivated ‘yes’ leads to feelings of exhaustion, comparison, and resentment, she turns to the Five of Wands to try and force her partner to see that she’s good and deserving of love and support.

Brook’s anger over the dishes is outsized because she’s ignored her boundaries in almost all aspects of her day and her life. She wants Gary to magically intuit her wants and needs, and when she finally surfaces a boundary, she’s so ill adept at holding it, that she also feels the need to make him like it. From inside The Chariot, Gary knows that he doesn’t want to participate in the dinner, the cooking, or the cleaning, but he also knows that part of being a ‘good’ man is to go along with the plans his partner makes, and that will both require and entitle him to emotionally check out.

Once inside the conflict, their stick fight takes on an energy of its own and proves deadly for their love. Asked the question, “Is this fight worth having? Is it right for me?” the answer from both is, “Yes! I am being attacked! I matter and my value is being threatened!”

If Brook asked this same question from Strength, she would either do the dishes herself or insist that Gary do them with her, regardless if he wanted to do them, because that would be right for her. As for Gary, if he were able to ask “Is this right for me?” from Strength, the answer would be no. No to almost all of it. No to the dishes, no to zoning out with video games, and no to asking her to validate his rage.

At the conclusion of their fight, he tellingly screams, “Nothing I ever do is ever good enough.” This is the fearful belief that keeps most people in a state of anger and numbness or fear and shame. While Brook has over-extended her boundaries in an attempt to keep the peace, Gary has tried to maintain peace by not expanding at all.

Like the Sun, the authentic self is unapologetic in its authenticity. It doesn’t exert its value to others and it doesn’t contort itself for expediency. Courage is not acting without fear but in spite of it.

If we apply all of the lessons from Strength and use the Five of Wands as our practical guide, we can begin to listen to our bodies when we feel threatened. If we’re feeling tight or exhausted, resentful or panicked, we can pause and ask, what is the real unaddressed need? If a boundary has been crossed, is it real and authentic, or is it an egoic armament? Is this right for me?

If the boundary is egoic, we can investigate what is the fear. Fundamentally Gary and Brook both fear they aren’t good enough. The ego may convince us that fear is motivating, but before we know it, it has motivated us into fighting against our own best interests.

The authentic self will never invite you to act against your own best interests.

When we realize that we are in a fight that is having us, that is against something, and not for something, we know that we’re employing the Five of Wands from The Chariot, and we can change on a dime.

We can call upon Leo’s card Strength, and we can deploy the Five of Wands to make positive changes within ourselves and for each other. We can host anger without violence or fear. It can inform how we act and react, so our actions and reactions come from our true authenticity.

Though Leo season is almost over, the lessons from Strength, especially as it pertains to anger and boundaries, will be required fieldwork for all of our ongoing spiritual growth and expansion.

Remember that nothing real can be threatened, and nothing that can be threatened is real.

Thank you so much for reading, I know this was a long one and I really appreciate your attention! I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and reactions. How does anger inform you? Thank you, thank you, thank you!


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