Conflicts, abuse, destruction, guilt, amends

About the meaning: The type of whip depicted in the earliest Lenormand decks (and in many modern ones) is a very specific type of whip with a very specific purpose. It is a multi-tailed whip called "cat o' nine tails". Cats o' nine tails were used for the corporal punishment of people guilty of crime, sin, or disobedience, well into the 20th century. Nearly all the Whip's meanings are literal or figurative deductions from this usage. The only partial exception I'm aware of I address in the last paragraph.

Conflicts / arguments / scolding / abuse: One of the Whip's most commonly used dimensions of meanings is that of (verbal) conflicts and arguments. The Whip can represent a clash of opinion, a clash of wills. It can signify confrontation, objection, opposition, and contradictoriness. The Whip can stand for hurtful remarks, and insults. It can stand for accusations and blaming, for scolding, scathing critique, for taking flak. The Whip represents any type of aggression, including threats, bullying, and physical abuse.
On a side note, cynicism and scorn fit in well with the aggressive attitudes described above. Sometimes the Whip seems to advise a querent to look at the world or other people with a less cynic or scornful eye.
All this is rather negative. On the positive side, the Whip does also stand for clarifying discussions, or for scientific or logical debate!

Hurt / destruction: Cats o' nine tails were used for whipping wrongdoers - for inflicting pain. Depending on how hard a person was whipped, and how many lashes they received, the whipping wouldn't just cause red welts but would break the skin and draw blood. In extreme cases someone would be whipped so hard that they died of their injuries. This is the reason why I often interpret the Whip as the infliction of physical pain, as any other kind of hurt we suffer by the hands of others, as well as wilful destruction of something which was good and whole. The Whip can indicate that something is broken - both literally and metaphorically speaking.

Punishment / a cry for justice / amends: Because cats o' nine tails were used for punishing wrongdoers another important meaning of the Whip is punishment. Often, the Whip represents punishment in the form of disproportional or even undeserved punishment. But whipping wrongdoers was also an attempt at restoring justice - unfortunately a very primitive, violent, and ineffective one. That's why I often interpret the Whip as vindictiveness, or an act of revenge. But sometimes, the Whip stands for a legitimate cry for justice. It can mean that someone has been wronged and that compensation is needed. The guilty party need to openly admit that what they have done is wrong, and they need to make amends. These amends can include some type of recompense and/or punishment proportionate to the wrong that was done.

Bad conscience / guilt / shame: If we look at the Whip card and transfer the image into a process going on inside our head, what the card then says is that we're beating ourselves up about something. We have a bad conscience. We have done something wrong, broken something - and we react with a feeling of guilt. This interpretation of the Whip has turned out infinitely valuable to me. Many people carry a lot of remorse around with them, a lot of regret for things they feel they should have done differently. And some people seem to not just feel guilty but also ashamed. Shame is worse than guilt, because when you are guilty of wrongdoing, you can confess and then make amends, and come out a better person, dignity intact. Shame, on the other hand, is intrinsically tied to a loss of self-worth. In actual readings, there are many ways toxic shame can play a role. For example: With many people, the whip inside their heads constantly beats them up about certain physical characteristics or other seeming personal shortcomings. Some people feel so deficient, broken, that they think they are not worthy of love. Others feel ashamed for their perfectly normal human needs and passions which their religion told them were sinful. I have even interpreted the Whip as full-blown self-hatred a few times. In all these cases, the Whip can be understood as a prompt to start accepting who we are. But sometimes, the Whip can mean that we actually have wronged someone. If this is this case the Whip represents healthy remorse and advises us to make amends.

For some readers also: clean-up / clean sweep: I mentioned above that almost all the Whip's interpretations are literal or figurative deductions from the cat o' nine tails usage for corporal punishment. There is one partial exception. The earliest as well as many modern versions of the card Whip depict both a whip and a birch rod. Many readers assume this birch rod is supposed to portray broom. It is because of this assumption, I think, why they include "clean-up" and "a clean sweep" in their interpretation of the Whip.
Note: I don't believe the original birch rods were supposed to be brooms. For rods of their design were not used for sweeping but for corporal punishment, just as the whips. In addition, in many old decks, the whips and the rods were presented crisscrossing each other. It looks to me as if the rods were added to the whips to portray argument (whip) and counter-argument (rod). A clean sweep or tidying up on the other hand is I believe much more directly represented by the Scythe. For a scythe actually is a tool for tidying up. I feel there isn't as much of a leap from tidying up a garden/field to "a clean sweep" as there is from corporal punishment.

See also the annakblogs articles >> So, is the Whip a purely negative card? and >> The evolution of the Anna.K Whip artwork.

About the Image: Very obviously, in the foreground of the image someone is holding up a whip. It closely resembles a traditional cat o' nine tails although I took some liberties with the design and material - the original cats o' nine tailes were made of leather. My whip is being raised; either as a mere threat or actually about to strike. In addition to the whip, my illustration also contains a birch rod. You can see it in the background, leaning in the window. Like I mentioned above many, maybe most, Lenormand decks include both objects. There were several reasons for my following suit. One I'd like to address here because it adds another little quirk to my interpretation of the card.
In the German language there is the adage "to put a rod in someone's window". It stems from an old Austrian/Bavarian custom. On December 6th, children who had been well-behaved were rewarded with sweets allegedly gifted to them secretly by St. Nikolaus. The children who had been naughty were presented with a rod which was put in their nursery window - allegedly by St. Nikolaus' dark, devilish helper, the Krampus. A rod in their nursery window told a naughty child that if they didn't better their act they would go without gifts on Christmas - or even risk a beating. This darker part of the custom is not played out anymore. St. Nikolaus nowadays delivers his sweets regardless of prior behaviour. But the adage is still in use. And the rod on the windowsill in my card will speak volumes to someone familiar with it. It threatens with unpleasant consequences if we don't change our ways asap.

Apart from the rod, the most important additional detail of my illustration is the china plates and shards. Three plates are still whole, up on the shelf, two plates are broken. We don't know how this happened. Maybe someone threw a stone through the open window out of mischief, and broke them. Or maybe someone broke them out of anger, to hurt the plate's owner, or even hurled them at someone. But it's also possible that someone climbed the chair, tried to lift the plates off the shelf, and dropped them by accident. We can't say for sure just looking at the result. Many smaller shards are scattered on the floor. But the largest part of a broken plate is propped up on the chair, almost as if someone had put it there; reproachfully, accusingly: "Look what you've done!". The broken plates serve as a symbol for many different things. They could represent the catalyst for an argument. They could stand for the damage hurtful remarks cause, for something which is broken (possibly beyond repair), or for injury. They could represent something we feel guilty for, or ashamed of. Additionally, if you are among the people who interpret the rod as a broom the shards stand for something which needs to be cleared away.  
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