When you first look at the Tarot card, The Devil, you might experience a deeply profound, spiritual reaction. Something like, “YIKES!!!!
I mean, he’s big and he’s scary and he’s pissed off. He’s sort of a goat but he has those bat wings happening and talons on his feet. And, as Inga said in Young Frankenstein, “He vould have an enormous schwanzstucker!”
He’s the stuff of nightmares, really. And he always makes me think of the planet Venus. I know, I know . . . weird . . . but bear with me.
We all remember the childhood ditty that said:
“Twinkle, twinkle little star.
How I wonder what you are . . .”
Primitive humans actually had the same reaction to the stars, only it was more along the lines of, “What in the hell ARE those things?” As educated, modern humans we look at the stars and we might think something like, “Glowing orbs of burning gaseous matter.” Our ancestors, though, would look at them and think, “Wow . . . magic!”
As they studied them more and more, they realized that some of the stars actually moved around in the sky. What they were seeing moving is what we call planets, but to the ancients they were glowing stars that were in motion. And, of course, if something moves that means that it’s alive, as opposed to not moving which frequently means that you’re dead, or maybe a rock or a doorstop.
So, primitive humans had reached a point where they were able to observe the night skies, chart different constellations, and notice that some of the stars seemed to be alive. And they went from their original question about the stars – “What in the hell ARE those things?” to a deeper understanding. This was verbalized as, “No, REALLY, what in the hell ARE those things?”
They started to make up stories about the apparently living creatures that were moving around the sky. They decided that since the moving stars are above us, then they must be – you know – ABOVE us, as in superior to us, and so they came to believe that the moving stars were gods or angels.
All of that’s perfectly rational thinking, given the degree of knowledge that primitive humans possessed. They went on to assign characteristics to the star gods, based on appearance and behavior. Mars was blood red, so he must be the god of war. Jupiter was huge, so he must be the main god. Mercury was very zippy, so he must be a messenger with wings on his heels that let him flash around the sky very quickly.
When they looked at Venus, though, one thing stood out to a lot of the ancient star gazers: Venus disappears. In fact, Venus has very, very strange behavior, indeed. Venus appears as a morning star for 263 days and then, for the next 50 days, Venus disappears and cannot be seen in the sky at all. And THEN Venus reappears, but in the evening sky, where it remains for another 263-day phase before disappearing below the horizon for 8 days. At the end of these 8 days, Venus reappears as a morning star, and the cycle begins again.
So our ancestors looked at this very peculiar behavior on the part of this particular star god and tried to figure out what it meant. Why did the star god keep switch-hitting between being a morning star god and an evening star god? And where in the hell did it GO when it disappeared? It was all very perplexing.
The Romans and the Greeks focused on the fact that Venus (as a morning star god) was always brightest right before the dawn. They reasoned, then, that Venus must somehow be bringing the dawn into existence each day, and they named it, “the light bringer,” which in Latin is written as, “Lucifer.”
The Middle Eastern star gazers had a different take on it. As we all know, Middle Eastern religions tend to favor angry, bi-polar male gods and so they reasoned that Venus was PISSING OFF god, and doing it on a regular basis. When god got pissed off at Venus, he made the star god just disappear from heaven. “All right . . . that’s IT . . . get out! And don’t come back for 50 days, if you know what’s good for you!”
As the story evolved into judeo-christian theology, god wasn’t just making Venus disappear, he was throwing his ass out the door. He was tossing the star god – now known as Satan – out of heaven and Satan was plummeting into darkness and hell fire. When the expanding christian culture encountered the Greco-Roman god Lucifer, they said, “Oh, yeah . . . disappearing star god . . . we know about him . . . that’s Satan.”
And so Lucifer became Satan and Satan became the Devil and we ended up with this bat goat critter with an enormous schwanzstucker.
All of this would be kind of hilarious if it didn’t represent an amazing projection of our own very human fear, anger, and malice onto the universe. There is no crazy god with a white beard throwing devils out of heaven every 50 days. Bats aren’t evil, they’re just . . . you know . . . bats. The goat is being used as a symbol of rampant sexuality but the truth is that goats aren’t nearly as horny as people.
Bottom lining it, we’ve taken our very worst traits – our, “evil,” if you will – projected it onto nature, and then declared nature to be evil. And then we made war on nature.
And, yep, our first reaction is probably appropriate: Yikes!