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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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!