Strength is possibly my favorite illustration I've completed for the tarot series thus far, coming very close to the vision of my initial concept and delving heavily into my own mythology to convey both the cards meaning and its feeling for me personally. Though the card was orchestrated only somewhat directly in the concept stages, I later noticed a song I'd written several years earlier for my glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin seemed to reference the events of my Strength illustration specifically.
The card focuses on the mythological entity of the Cosmic Colossus wrestling a black lion, another creature with previous appearances within my mythology. The Strength card seemed to fill in the blanks between these two myths to something coherent and linear.
The black lions may have been referenced as early as the early 2000s when I was practicing weekly in my apartment in Florida with my girlfriend and friend in a band called Designer Genes. Some Designer Genes songs would drastically mutate into ideas that made it onto Peppermint Pumpkin's record including two twin songs called "Black Lions in the Court of King Nero" and "Black Lions on the Serengeti."
While the music of these tracks served as a loose basis for the Peppermint Pumpkin track "Mannequin Museum", lyrics in the song "A Safari Without Death" pointed much closer to the story presented in the "Black Lions…" tracks. The lyrics to "A Safari Without Death" seem to not only refer strongly to the black lion at the center of this illustration's conflict but also the hyenas in the borders as evidenced in the following excerpts:
"My hyenas laugh at their fears and comfort with leers"
"I see their silhouettes infecting the red light of the corridor and through laughter
The black lions have left their dens to rid the world of constellations
The titans have risen from the sea and hyena laughter brings you no elation"
"And we'll sleep in the ruins of the temple of stars"
From these lines, it may be deduced that the space hyenas in the border are a symbol of laughing off fears. The star at the center of their foreheads may indicate an overcoming of instinctual cowardice to a third eye path to the light of the astral plane.
As the Strength card progressed and I started noticing the similarities between my lyrics and the images in the illustration, I determined that black lions are incarnations of nightmares at war with the light of the astral plane. As the lyrics to "A Safari Without Death" indicate (and the lyrics to another song "The Degenerate" echo) they kill the stars which they see as related to dreams. The black lions can be viewed as representative of ego-based fears, using ego resistance to actually strengthen the ego and further their reflexively dark designs.
The Cosmic Colossus in the illustration is one of a race of guardians of the astral plane (a realm of dreams and higher light frequencies) created from the energy of constellations. The stars connecting the joints of the Cosmic Colossus aren't just an allusion to the constellation but also represent the Cosmic Colossus' attunement with the astral plane. As a guardian of the astral plane, the Cosmic Colossus exists at a higher frequency than those who dwell in the egoic 3rd dimension.
The black lions are able to access the 4th dimension (the astral plane) but their actions (or more specifically the reactions to them) can viciously drag beings back into the 3rd dimension. The message as portrayed by the image of the Cosmic Colossus successfully wrestling the furious black lion is one of overcoming fear as well and likewise stunting the strengthening of ego through fear. The Cosmic Colossus gazes past the struggling lion, focusing on something we can't see, symbolic of putting faith in something beyond the physical illusions of ego.
The Cosmic Colossus wrestles the black lion at the edge of a black hole which could easily be interpreted as a tragic end to the Cosmic Colossus but this wasn't my intention. Rather I wanted the black hole to represent a potent form of ego death as well as the Cosmic Colossus' conscious acceptance of ego death.
The reasoning behind the pink lipstick on the Cosmic Colossus wasn't immediately clear to me but I came to the conclusion that it represents the brute strength of the primitive ego being pulled into the feminine through the higher mind.