The Devil Tarot Card

 

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The Baphomet devil, horned and with huge bat wings, perches on a black cube.  His legs are those of a goat and his feet are talons. He holds his right hand aloft and the palm of it seems to be incised with obscure symbols.  In his left hand he holds a flaming torch. A nude female and male stand before him with their backs turned to him. They have horns and chains, which bind them to the cube, are draped loosely around their necks.  They also have tails and the devil seems to have lit the man’s tail on fire.

There are a lot of symbolic elements in this card, so let’s take them one at a time and work through them.  The man and the woman hearken back to the nude couple in The Lovers card, but there is nothing sacred or blessed about their relationship  They are chained, enslaved, and reduced to their lowest levels of feeling and being.

The enslavement may be on the obvious level of some sort of twisted sexuality.  Perhaps there is some level of bondage and domination going on in their sex lives that has gone way too far.

The enslavement may be on the physical level itself.  A love of materialism, money, a constant need for new and expensive toys.

It may fall in the area of addictions to substances that destroy the spirit and soul, such as meth, heroin, and excessive amounts of alcohol.  There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: “Booze gave me wings and then took away the sky.”

Whatever the form of bondage, it is to some extent self-imposed.  Note how loosely the chains hang around their necks. They could easily slip them over their heads and walk from their slavery, yet they don’t.  By not fighting for their freedom they are cooperating with their slavery.

There’s another element here that many of the New Age tarot books tend to ignore or gloss over and that’s Black Magic.  When The Devil shows up in a reading it’s possible that someone is directing malevolent magic against the questioner or that he or she is engaging in it.

If this card shows up in a reading about employment it’s possible that the questioner is chained to a job that he hates but can’t leave because of financial obligations.  If it shows up in a reading about relationships it’s possible that there’s going to be a lot of sex in the questioners future. A lot. Hot. Steamy. Sex.

REVERSED:  This shows that liberation may be at hand in the immediate future.  The questioner will do something to escape the spiritual and/or physical enslavement that she is currently involved in.  May show the end of a really bad relationship.

A Few Additional Thoughts About the Devil and . . . ahem . . .S – E – X.

It’s interesting to note that Eliphas Levi, the occultist who first sketched the goat of Baphomet that appears on the devil card, didn’t consider the devil to be such a bad dude at all.  In fact, he wrote:

“The flame of intelligence shining between his horns is the magic light of the universal balance, the image of the soul elevated above matter, as the flame, whilst being tied to matter, shines above it. “

He actually considered the devil to be a symbol of balance and integration of polar opposites.  And there are those elements in the depictions of the devil in the earlier versions of the Tarot.

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We see here that the devil is very much hermaphroditic having both breasts and a penis.  (As a folk artist I REALLY like the little face on his belly.) We can also see that this devil  is much more along the lines of the christian perception of the devil and the two people in the card look much less like humans and much more like imps.  Or flying monkeys, maybe.

So what prompted Waite to switch to the Levi version of the devil?  Well, you’d probably have to say sex. Or sex, sex, and more sex.

Waite described the humans on the card as being Adam and Eve after they’d been driven out of the garden of eden.  “The figures are tailed to signify the animal nature but there is human intelligence in their features . . .”

Their ANIMAL nature!  Whoa . . .

We have to keep in mind that Waite was very much a creature of the late Victorian era.  Women, for the most part, were still held up as being naturally, “pure,” and sex – if it was discussed at all – was left to the medical books and gentlemens’ clubs.  One physician noted that,

“the majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind. What men are habitually, women are only exceptionally.’

Troubled by sexual feelings . . . how terrible for the men.

And they were TRULY troubled by their sexual feelings.  One commonly held belief was that excessive masturbation would inevitably drive you insane.  Fortunately, the Victorians were able to respond to this threat rationally and so they manufactured a safe and effective anti-masturbation device for men:

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No, I’m not kidding.  That’s actually on display at the Science Museum in London and models of it were being sold as late as the 1920s.

So given that background you can understand some of the changes that Waite made to the devil card.  Despite his spiffy bat wings the devil is quite obviously a goat, an animal famous for its’ prodigious sexual appetites.  The woman in the card is actually standing quite primly, except for being totally naked, and has her little hands pointed outwards in the same pose favored by today’s beauty pageant contestants.

The man, on the other hand, has one hand extended toward the woman and the devil is lighting his tail on FIRE!!!  No doubt IN – flaming his base, animalistic, sexual drive. If only the poor guy had an anti-masturbation protector to keep that critter between his legs under control.

Alas, he doesn’t have one and so both he and the poor, normally totally pure woman with a pomegranate tail are CHAINED to the altar of the devil, slaves of their genitals!  Well . . . his genitals. The woman has genitals but she doesn’t feel them. Everyone knows that.

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Temperance in the Tarot

 

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An angel stands on the edge of a placid body of water, one foot on the ground and one foot in the water.  She holds a chalice in each hand and is pouring water from one into the other. A shining solar disk is on her forehead and a triangle is emblazoned upon her chest.  A road runs off into the distance where a crown glows like the sun just beyond a range of mountains.

This is one of those cards that’s always sweet to find in your reading.  It basically means nothing’s wrong and everything’s right. You’re in the flow and life is good.

This card often appears after the questioner has gone through a difficult phase in life and has earned a period of peace through his or her hard work.  It may indicate tranquility in life in general or in specific areas of life such as relationships, work, or home. Look at the surrounding cards for clues.

Above all else, this card talks about balance and peace.  Psychologists interpret water as representing emotions in dreams.  The angel has one foot in the water and one foot on land, indicating that she can fully indulge in emotions while staying well grounded.

This is not a card of gain, per se.  The water being poured from one cup to the other is not increasing, it stays the same.  The message is that the questioner has enough just as it is.

REVERSED – This may indicate a period of intemperance of some sort.  It could be drinking too much, partying too much, working too much, even worrying too much.  The key here is to carve out a little time for peaceful reflection and rest. Do some yoga or tai chi.  Curl up with a book. Take a bubble bath. Chill.

A Few Extra Thoughts About Temperance

Temperance is one of the most under-defined cards in the Major Arcana, so it can be kind of fun to look at.  The standard quickie definition is that it stands for moderation which is probably true on a certain level since the card was, indeed, originally named, “Moderation.”

So, if a questioner draws the Temperance card you can just say, “Well, it looks like this is a period of moderation and balance in your life.”  If it’s reversed you can just say, “You’re really drinking like a swine, you sot.”

Just kidding.  

“You may be overdoing your recreational libations a tiny bit.”  There, that’s better.

Aleister Crowley named this card, “Art,” in his Thoth Tarot deck.  A trifle puzzling until you realize that he was referring to the art of alchemy.  And there is strong symbolism in the card showing the mixing of two different elements in the two chalices just as the alchemists did in their rituals and experiments.

Arthur E. Waite flipped off into some weird place with his definition, stating:  “All of the conventional symbols are renounced herein . . . So also are the conventional meanings.”

Okay . . .  I’m guessing they didn’t know that the hell to make of it, either.

This particular image – a woman pouring water from one jug to another – was actually all over Europe prior to the first recorded publication of the Tarot.

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That might be expected since Temperance is one of the four cardinal virtues of the catholic church.  The usual take on it is that the woman is mixing water with wine, thus diluting the effects of alcohol and showing temperance.

But then the Tarot – as usual – does something a little weird with the image.  The woman is converted into an angel, even in the very early decks. Why?

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My theory – and it’s only a theory – is that the card may refer to another meaning of the word, “temperance.”  As in, “to temper.”

If you want to make a metal harder or more flexible you add other metals to it when it’s in a molten state to change the composition of the material.  You take it’s basic nature and you add something that changes it but builds on that basic nature without destroying it.

This card might very well refer to the adding of a, “divine element,” to basic human nature.

We’ve all seen the, “ancient aliens,” shows where they expound on the fact that something radical happened at one point in our species history.  We share so many of the characteristics of our simian cousins that the link between us and the apes is undeniable. Yet, somehow, sometime, somewhere, something happened that caused us to be entirely different is so many ways.  We developed agriculture, art, philosophy, science, religions, etc., etc., etc.

The ancient aliens take on it is that some higher species flew down in their space gizmos and fiddled around with our basic DNA to manipulate us into a more advanced  species. Just exactly WHY they did that isn’t quite clear. Maybe they were on a picnic and they were bored.

An equally unprovable theory (which I happen to like better) is that human souls began incarnating in simian bodies and that the DNA changed over time to match the souls.  Thus the angel mixing up a fresh brew of whatever is in those two chalices, literally adding a, “divine spark,” to the body of an ape.

Dr. Candace Perk demonstrated that our brains manufacture neuropeptides that match our emotional states and that these bond with receptor cells throughout the body.  Without going into too many boring details our emotions literally manufacture our bodies cells and that recurs about every 2 months.

So why couldn’t a Higher Soul in a simian body literally remanufacture it?

It’s an intriguing question.  I’d always looked at the road in the background of this card as leading AWAY from the angel and the distant crown as a goal to be achieved through the practice of moderation.  But maybe that’s the road that the angel just walked down, from the divine . . . to us.

Sound too weird to be true?  Hey . . . Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  All weirdness is now on the table.

 

The High Priestess

 

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There is no other card in the deck that took a deeper dive into Hermetic imagery than this one.  The two columns represent Boaz and Jachin, said to have guarded the entry to King Solomon’s temple.  The TORA scroll represents the divine wisdom and secrets of Jewish Kabbalism. One imagines that the exact directions for this card came from Arthur Edward Waite, rather than the fertile imagination of Pamela Colman Smith, who painted it.

Leaving aside the rather glaring irony that women were not even ALLOWED in the inner sanctum of Solomon’s Temple (unclean creatures, doncha know?)  we can move right along and affirm that the Lady on the card is a lunar Goddess. The crescent moon at her feet is a common symbol of the lunar Goddess and is found even in Christianized versions of her such as the Virgin of Guadalupe’.

The real message in the imagery of this card, though, is about balance between opposites and the center point where intuition reigns.  The cross on her chest is the solar cross rather than the Christian cross, its’ four arms all of exact equal length from its’ center. She sits exactly between the white and black opposites of the columns.  The crown she wears is a solar disk surrounded by crescent moons, emphasizing the opposites of night and day.

By now most of us are familiar with the left brain/right brain dichotomy.  While not absolute, the left brain tends to be more involved in so-called rational, logical thinking, while the right brain tends to be more involved with imagery, emotion, and artistic endeavors.  Mysteries, omens, subconscious patterns tend to percolate and grow in the right brain. At a certain point they may cross over into the left brain and become a conscious realization. That phenomenon is often described as the, “Ah, ha!” moment when something which was previously puzzling and odd suddenly makes sense.  It’s also described as intuition and intuition is what the High Priestess is all about.

When the High Priestess appears in your reading it means that it’s time to start paying very careful attention to your intuition and subconscious.  Answers to problems which have been bothering or blocking you can be found in dreams, sudden insights, or hunches. This card points out the need to trust your deep Self.  Listen to your inner voices. If you’re having trouble hearing them then take the time you need to meditate or go sit by yourself in isolation. Let the answers bubble up from your subconscious and trust those answers.

If the card applies to a person in the questioners life it may be a very intuitive, mysterious, but fairly asexual person.

Reversed:  The questioner isn’t paying attention to his or her intuitive nature.  This is a card of being out of touch with your inner Self. The pomegranates on the tapestry in this card hearken back to the myth of Persephone, a Goddess of crops and Spring who was kidnapped by Hades, dragged into hell, and then forced to live there half the year because she had eaten a single pomegranate seed.  It was a myth which was meant to explain the changing of the seasons: when she was living in hell the world turned into winter and the crops died.

It can have a deeper meaning with the reversed presence of this card.  The creative, intuitive, feminine right side of the brain is being overpowered and held hostage by the logical, sequential, male left side of the brain.  Intuition and creativity are being ignored in favor of so-called rational thinking. There is a need here to reconnect with your primal self. Take the time for meditating, long hot baths, dancing, art.  Get back in touch with your creative energy.

Just as an interesting side note it’s been absolutely fascinating watching the rise of the new women’s movement in the United States.  Starting with the massive march on Washington, D.C. right after Trump’s inauguration and running through today’s Me Too movement, we’re seeing a massive awakening of Right Brain perception in the United States.  The Divine Feminine is asserting itself and the Goddess is alive and well.  No doubt the High Priestess is hiding a smile.

Pamela Coleman Smith – The Real Genius Behind the Waite-Rider Tarot Deck

 

The most popular Tarot deck in the world is the Waite-Rider deck, authored by A.E. Waite and published by the Rider Company.  The illustrations in the deck were done by Pamela Coleman Smith and it’s been within recent memory that people have started referring to it as the Waite-Smith deck.  The standard description of it is that the illustrations were prepared by Pamela Coleman Smith, “under the directions of A.E. Waite.”

It might be more accurate to say that the illustrations were prepared by her DESPITE the instructions of A.E. Waite.

 

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PAMELA COLEMAN SMITH

 

She’s one of the more fascinating people in the history of modern occultism.  She had a wonderful smile and was so tiny that she was nicknamed, “Pixie.” As she was growing up her family shuttled between London, Jamaica, and New York and she spent several years living in Kingston and absorbed much of the Jamaican culture.  Her mother was an artist and she, too, developed artistic talents at an early age and began attending the Pratt Art Institute in New York at the age of 15.

By the age of 21 both of her parents had died and she moved by herself to London where she supported herself working as an illustrator, author, and set designer for theatrical productions.  It was there that she met the poet William Butler Yeats who introduced her A.E. Waite, one of the founding member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Shortly thereafter Waite commissioned her to illustrate his Tarot deck and the rest is history.

But that’s where it really gets interesting.

There have been many, many people who have claimed that they were channeling some sort of a higher power that guided their creativity and, “co-created,” with them.  Painters, sculptors, writers who felt the presence of a greater power than themselves literally telling them what to paint, carve, or write. Some of them talk about spirit guides, others describe the guides as angels, a few might even think that god was talking to them.

It is my strong belief that this is exactly what happened to Pamela Smith when she created the Waite deck.

Consider this:  Smith created ALL 78 cards between April and October of 1909.  That means that for that 6 month period she was pumping out an average of 13 highly complex illustrations a month.  As an artist I can tell you that’s nearly impossible.

There is also strong evidence that Waite may have had fairly precise instructions about the Major Arcana but Smith pretty much invented the illustrations for the Minor Arcana herself, even using some of her close friends as models.  With the sheer volume of illustrations she produced and her admittedly short exposure to occultism, you have to think that those pictures were almost painting themselves.

And, finally, there is the evidence of the nature of A.E. Waite himself.  He was, to put it mildly, one incredibly boring old fart. Shortly after Smith produced the cards Waite published a book called, “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot.”  Here’s just a bit of his definition for the card The Magician:

“With further reference to what I have called the sign of life and its’ connexion with the number 8, it may be remembered that Christian Gnosticism speaks of rebirth in Christ as a change, ‘unto the Ogdoad.’ “

And it gets a lot worse.  Can you imagine having a drink with that guy?

The Waite-Smith tarot deck is truly magical.  Every card is beautiful and tells its’ own unique story.  That magic definitely didn’t flow out of A.E. Waite. It flowed out of the eyes and soul of Pixie.  She was in the groove and some higher force was using her mind and her hands to bring those cards into being.  Aren’t we lucky that happened?

 

The Major Arcana of the Tarot

 

The Major Arcana are composed of 22 cards and are the original heart of the Tarot deck.  They can be dated back to the 15th century where they emerged in Europe as the basis for card games.  The symbolism of the cards is so complex that it’s difficult to believe that they were conceived merely as a game but any further clues as to their origin have been lost in time.

Theories about the Major Arcana abound and the occultists of the late Victorian era, such as A.E. Waite and Aleister Crowley, spun some whoppers.  Based upon who you listen to the cards may have originated in ancient Egypt or perhaps Atlantis and Plato himself may or may not have been familiar with them.  

There are also those who claim that the Major Arcana conceal a secret doctrine, a path to higher realms and knowledge that only a few can decipher.  My personal experience with the cards is that those claims are nonsense. If there’s a path hidden in the Major Arcana it’s so overgrown that it would take a bulldozer to find it.  Emphasis on the, “bull.”

So what are the cards of the Major Arcana?  Modern psychologists, particularly Jungians, like to compare them to archetypal images, primordial representations buried in the unconscious of all humans.  And they may be right but that leaves unanswered the questions of who composed them and for what purpose.

There are a few things about them that we can say with certainty.  The Major Arcana represent . . . well, MAJOR forces in our lives. When we encounter the Major Arcana in a reading we know that some significant, life changing events are happening to the questioner.  We’re talking about births, deaths, disasters, major karma coming home to roost, and profound spiritual renewal.

In some cases the questioner herself may be causing the appearance of the major force.  In the card The Devil, for instance, we have a willful embrace of ignorance, cruelty, and mindless sexuality.  The Hanged Man may show up when we choose to take a break from life and reassess our spirituality.

In other cases, the cards may appear because of events which are external to the questioner and over which he has no control.  The Death card may appear frequently after the loss of a loved one. The Tower may pop up after a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood.

The best way that I can conceptualize the presence of a card from the Major Arcana in a reading is as a  powerful wind blowing through your life. You can’t stop the wind. You can fight against it, you can give into it and let it blow you where it will, or you can hunker down and wait for it to pass.  The one thing you can’t do is ignore it.  When you see a card from the Major Arcana PAY ATTENTION!

Can You Learn to Read Tarot Cards?

Over the 50 + years that I’ve been reading Tarot cards I’ve had many people ask me if they could learn how to read the cards.  The answer, of course, is, “No.”

Just kidding.

The answer is an unreserved, “Oh, hell, yes.”

Anyone can learn to read Tarot cards.  There are really only three things you need:  a deck of Tarot cards, a good set of definitions and layouts, and a little time.

The deck you choose will probably depend on what sings to your subconscious.  You have a very wide choice already and it seems like some enterprising artists and writers are coming up with new designs almost every month.

If you’re a purist at heart you may want to consider a nicely done reproduction of The Marseille Deck.  This most closely resembles the original decks that were used in the 15th and 16th centuries. A word of caution:  the, ‘pips,” – cards ace through ten of the four major suits, AKA the Minor Arcana – do not have the intricate illustrations of themes and situations that we associate with modern Tarot cards.

A nice alternative is The Aquarian Tarot Deck.  These are beautifully illustrated with knock-your-socks off Art Deco pictures.  Not the deck I use, but absolutely elegant cards.

The most popular deck by far – and the one that I personally favor – is The Rider Waite Tarot Deck, Rider being the company that manufactures them and Waite being A.E. Waite, the person who authored them.  Thanks mainly to the amazing artist who did the illustrations – Pamela Coleman Smith – it’s definitely the most magical deck out there. There have been several variations in colors and inks through the years so you can find them in hues that range from fairly muted to near neon.

You can find nearly all of the decks that are available on Amazon.com if you want to browse through them and most decent occult shops or larger book stores will have a few on hand.  Something to be aware of when selecting cards is to be sure that they actually ARE Tarot cards. There are a ton of card decks that are used for fortune telling or intuition work that have nothing to do with the Tarot.  The Inner Child Cards and Medicine Cards come to mind – both lovely decks but not the Tarot.

Finally, it is highly NOT recommended that you ever, ever purchase a used deck of Tarot cards.  They do tend to retain the vibrations of the original owner and you don’t want that popping up in your readings.

As far as finding a good set of definitions and card layouts, I personally recommend

STAND BY FOR SHAMELESS ACT OF SELF-PROMOTION 

my book, “Just the Tarot,”  by Dan Adair available as an Amazon Kindle ebook for only 3 bucks.

END OF SHAMELESS ACT OF SELF-PROMOTION

There are, of course, a lot of alternatives.  The most popular of the free online definitions at this writing are at biddytarot.com and tarot.com.  Both of them have excellent definitions but tend to be a little New-Agey so be prepared to be inspired, uplifted and filled with positive thoughts whether you want to be or not.

You can also, of course, browse through the books on amazon.com and compare the various reviews that the readers have left.   A strong caveat: if you’re thinking of buying, “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot,” by A.E. Waite, don’t bother. Ironically it’s one of the worst books on the subject that’s ever been written and it is MAJORLY boring to boot.

As far as the third element necessary for learning the Tarot – time – that’s up to you and your individual temperament.  Some people are really into taking classes and socializing and you can find online courses or, if you live in one of the hipper locations of the country, you can probably take personal classes.  If you’ve got a busy schedule like most of us do, try to do a reading or two a week. Write down the results and then go back to them at the end of the week and see how accurate the readings were.  As time passes you’ll start to get a personal feel for each card and begin to develop a talent for putting all of the cards in a layout into a story.

Have fun!