The Magician, The Devil, and the Habit of Evil


Have you ever had someone in your life who was truly evil?  I mean, beyond our usual descriptors of, “He’s an angry person.”  Or mean. Or disturbed. Or selfish. 

I mean, really, genuinely evil.  Someone who consciously inflicts as much pain as they can, knowing that it’s wrong.  It can leave you wondering about the world and about everything you believe in.

For most of history, human beings have been using a sort of, “argument from nature,” to excuse their worst behavior.  They point to the world of animals where fangs and claws seem to rule, and pronounce that it’s either kill or be killed, the strong survive and the weak die, and, since we’re animals, too, those rules apply to us, as well.  We HAVE to be cruel because it’s our nature.

Even leaving aside their totally disregarding all of the love and nurturing that we ALSO see in the animal world, it’s a bogus point of view.  They are deliberately ignoring the fact that good and evil are choices and that where no choice exists no concept of evil can exist.

We might feel pretty squeamish watching a cat torture a mouse but we don’t think that the cat is evil because of it.  We recognize that it’s the cat’s nature and instinct to hunt and kill and that the cat hasn’t made a conscious choice in the matter.  There’s no evil because there’s no choice between good and evil and where there’s no choice there can be no morality.

In The Fool card, we see pure energy entering into the world.  In The Magician card we see a human being directing that energy and choosing how it will be used.  He or she can use it for benefit or harm, for good or for evil, and that’s the point where morality is born.

To a certain extent, those of us who have embraced the New Age movement are guilty of being a little goody two-shoes about the existence of evil.  We try to live in the affirmation of love and caring and we try to NOT let negativity, malice, anger, and hatred into our lives or our consciousness.  But, as Louise Hay said, “If you are going to clean the house, you have to see the dirt.” Pretending the evil isn’t there doesn’t make it go away.

The good news is that there’s probably a LOT less evil in the world than some religions would have us believe.  If we recognize that true evil involves a conscious choice to hurt and cause suffering we can eliminate all of the animal world because they operate on instinct, not choice.  

Psychotics – even serial killers – can’t really be called evil in the pure sense because they can’t make rational choices.

Serious alcoholics and drug addicts can’t really be called evil – no matter how much damage they do – because they’re driven by their compulsions and disease.

Sociopaths and narcissists get us into an interesting – and scary – gray area.  Sociopaths actually recognize that other people make moral choices between good and evil but they have no internal moral compass themselves.  They recognize the concepts but they just don’t care about them.

Malignant narcissists also recognize that other people make moral choices but they think we’re stupid to do so.  They delight in manipulating people who have a sense of right and wrong and use those deceptions to enhance their own sense of being superior to everyone else.  “See how I charmed you and lied to you and you were too stupid to know the difference?”

And that’s a strange thing to wrap your head around.  If someone knows the difference between good and evil behavior on an intellectual level, but has no heart, no compassion, no empathy with others, are they actually capable of understanding the hurt and pain they’re inflicting?  And if they don’t really understand it, are they evil or just very flawed humans?

I dunno.

Sadly, it seems that a lot of the evil in the world and in ourselves is a matter of plain old habit and rationalization.

The Devil card is very dramatic.  We see two humans in chains with a literal Bat Out of Hell glowering above them.  The riff on this from fundamentalists christians would be that there is evil everywhere and if you’re not careful The Devil can reach out and SNATCH you up, just like that!

But – again – evil is not something that is external to us;  it’s an internal choice. In fact, it’s a series of choices. Despite the theme in horror films, no one is born evil.  We just get comfortable with it. We CHOOSE to act wrongly, to react with anger instead of compassion, to indulge our rage instead of finding our love, until choosing to be a curse in the world rather than a blessing is a habit.

So the people in The Devil card aren’t just wearing their chains.  They made them, one link at a time.

“Little by little a person becomes evil, as a water pot is filled by drops of water… Little by little a person becomes good, as a water pot is filled by drops of water.” – Buddha

Even Hitler was once someone’s beautiful baby boy.  Choose carefully.