XI. Bear

Fortitude, inspired by the song Monkey and Bear

Sooner or later you’ll bury your teeth.

Joanna Newsom, “Monkey & Bear” (Ys, 2006)

Image Description

A woman standing in the water, emerging from a falling bear skin. The constellation Ursa Major is visible in the night sky behind her. She is the same color blue as the sky, blending in. The bear has eleven red claws visible (sic on one paw and five on the other), and the woman wears a crown made of six red claws or teeth. In the water below the bear skin, small fish swim in a lemniscate or figure-8 shape.


Each of the two decades begins with an image of birth or rebirth. I. Anecdotes materialized in open air, and XI sheds her skin to leave her shadow in the sky.

This card is inspired by the second of the tarot’s Cardinal Virtues, Fortitude (the other virtues are VIII. Justice and XIV. Temperance). In English tarot decks, Fortitude is sometimes translated as Strength. However, the virtue of Fortitude emphasizes a moral or spiritual element rather than just physical strength. Bear herself exemplifies both physical and spiritual strength. Despite her physical advantage, she endures Monkey’s humiliations for the promise of a better life. (Monkey himself appears in Trump XV). She escapes his deception not by the obvious route of mauling Monkey, but by ascending into the stars and eternal remembrance. Sloughing off her physical body, she chooses to bury rather than bear her teeth. Monkey would prod Bear into displays of her strength, thinking it no more than dumb savagery. Leaving her corporeal form gives Bear the chance to determine her own life, a new sort of strength.

Selected Meanings

Fortitude, courage, bravery, magnanimity, power, audacity, emancipation, disintegration, endurance, legacy.