The Devil, The Star, and the Mystery of the Disappearing Demon

The concept of evil as a projection of human characteristics on nature.

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!

The Star Tarot Card – Ishtar, The Dalai Lama, and the Re-Emergence of The Goddess

Just who is the mysterious woman in the Tarot card, “The Star?”  She’s one of what I call, “the astronomical cards,” that are grouped together at the end of the Major Arcana:  The Star, The Moon, The Sun, and The World.

For some reason it seems easier to relate to the other three cards today.  Perhaps it’s because they are so intimately interwoven with our daily existence.  We live on and with Mother Earth/The World. The Sun makes us happy and marks out our seasons.  The Moon controls the tides and is strongly connected with women’s fertility and men’s insanity.  

But what about The Star?  What comes to mind? Anything?  Not much?

The first known examples of the Tarot emerged 1500-ish.  We know that most of the natural philosophers (they didn’t have scientists, yet) were still using the Greco-Roman model of the universe at that time.  The Earth, of course, was the Center of the Universe because we are SO important. Then extending all around the Earth there was a great circle of a sphere which contained space and the moon and the sun.

The latest, most up-to-date thinking at that time was that stars were actually holes in the sphere that surrounded us and that the light they radiated was heaven shining through the holes.  Which is why heaven is, “up there,” even today.

BUT . . . there were also stars that moved around.  We call them planets now days but the thinking back then was that if they moved around, then, by golly, they must be alive because that’s what living things do and that’s what dead things don’t.

Now, it’s interesting because the Greeks (and their intellectual suck ups the Romans) decided that if there were magical, celestial beings whizzing around in space then most of them must have penises.  Yes, I know . . . there’s poor lonely Venus and she’s a female, but every other, “living star,” was a male. Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Pluto . . . not a vagina in the whole lot of them.

The rest of the world took an entirely different approach, however.  In most cultures there was no doubt that if stars were living beings they were definitely females.  And that’s what showed up in the Tarot, which we are told was a product of medieval Europe and which was still going by Greco-Roman thinking.  A woman. Odd, isn’t it?

In, “The Alphabet Versus The Goddess,”  Leonard Shlain makes a very strong case that all early civilizations were Goddess-based cultures.  And we can posit that Star Goddesses played a prominent role. The Sumerian/Babylonian Star Goddess Ishtar is portrayed here as her symbol, an eight pointed star:


And here we have an early Tarot deck version of The Star, with . . . ahem . . . an eight pointed star hovering over the Star Woman.


Or take the example of Tara, the Hindu Goddess who crossed over into Tibet.  She is portrayed with seven eyes – two in her hands, two in her feet, and three in her head – because she sees all of our suffering .


When the Buddhists arrived in Tibet they announced that Tara was actually the feminine counterpart of the bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”) Avalokiteshvara and came into existence from a tear of Avalokiteshvara, which fell to the ground and formed a lake.

Right.  Another example of a man giving birth to a woman.  We know that happens all of the time.

Tara is thought to be the oldest still worshipped Goddess in existence and she was in Tibet a LONG time before Buddhism arrived.  Tara actually means, “Star,” so we can guess that Tibetan society was originally a matriarchal culture centered around the worship of a Star Goddess.

If you want a clincher for that, the term, “Dalai Lama,” literally translates as, “High (or exalted) Mother.”  If the original Dalai Lama didn’t have breasts it would have been a damned peculiar title.

When a Tibetan Buddhist wants to talk about compassion and pure, unadulterated love, they use the the example of the love that flows between a mother and a child.  Several of them that I’ve run across – such as Tulku Thondup who wrote, “Boundless Healing: Meditation Exercises to Enlighten the Mind and Heal the Body,” – expressed frustration in trying to convey that concept to Westerners because we tend to have such screwed up relationships with our parents.  Mother EQUALS love in their culture, if not in ours.

So we can perhaps begin to cobble together a picture of who the Star Woman actually is.  She is a Goddess. A mother. Unconditional love. Compassion. Always there, gently shining down to guide and protect us.  The blessing of feminine energy.

And perhaps, as the Goddess archetype continues to re-emerge in the world, that image and that feeling will once again seem as normal to us as The Sun, The Moon, and The World.

Let’s hope so.

The World Tarot Card

 

world

A semi-nude woman, who seems almost to be dancing, is in the center of the card.  She holds a wand in each hand and is partially draped with a blue cloth. She is surrounded by an oval laurel wreath bound with red and purple cloth.  In the corners of the card are an angel, an eagle, a bull and a lion, representing Aquarius, Scorpio, Taurus, and Leo, the four fixed signs of the zodiac.

This is a card about balance, completion, honor, and rebirth.  A project is coming to a very satisfactory ending. The questioner has worked hard, overcome many obstacles, and is now being rewarded with great success.

The woman holds a wand in each hand, indicating that she has integrated the feminine and the masculine and is in control of all of the elements in her life.  She is balanced and in harmony. Moreover, she is surrounded by the fixed signs of the zodiac indicating that she is stable and grounded.

The laurel wreath indicates that the questioner will receive honors of some kind for his or her efforts.  Perhaps a promotion or a bonus. Perhaps public recognition.

There is also the element of rebirth.  The laurel wreath is very much in the shape of the birth canal and this indicates that the questioner is emerging into a new world or about to start a new project, strengthened and reinforced by his or her past experiences.

On a mundane level, this may indicate the completion of a successful pregnancy or extended travel.

REVERSED:  The questioner is this close to finishing a project but has run off of the tracks for some reason.  Shows a lack of focus on the final goal and perhaps someone who has lost herself in the minutiae of a project and is not seeing the overall picture.

 

A Little More About The World:

There are people who believe that the Major Arcana of the Tarot contain some sort of a secret doctrine, a hidden path to wisdom that can be discerned by those who have the occult knowledge necessary to understand it.  I see very little evidence for that.

I think of the Tarot as less of a path and more of a mirror.  The Major Arcana show us the large, archetypal forces that are operating in our lives at any given moment.  All of us experience those forces at one time or another. We all feel the child-like joy of The Fool, the sense of mastery and control of The Magician, the luxuriant contentment of The Empress.  We all experience the mourning and loss of Death, the sudden reversals of luck that are signified by The Wheel of Fortune. Certainly since 911 The Tower is seared into our psyches.

These are forces that move through our lives, that shape us, help us to grow and evolve and sometimes defeat us.  To say that there is a path in the cards is somewhat simplistic, I think. Rather, the path is in ourselves, in our own individual dharma, and the events and forces that the cards portray help us to define that path.

I’m in the third act of my life now and so I have the luxury of hindsight.  Not to disparage the Wisdom of Forrest Gump, but life really isn’t like a box of chocolates.  Unless some of the chocolates are laced with arsenic.

Life is a lot more like a mountain river, sometimes wild and out of control and then spreading into a serene meadow before plunging into the next set of rapids.  As we go along we sometimes get dumped into the chilly water and have to fight our way back into the raft. And sometimes we can just sit there and float, enjoying the scenery and grooving on the serenity.

One way or another, though, we are always moving forward, from beginning to end of each incarnation.  And one way or another we learn a lot about how to navigate the river, how to get through the rough waters and how to savor the calm.

The World is the last card in the Tarot deck but it isn’t about the end of the journey.  It’s a pause in the journey, like pulling into a peaceful, quiet cove to rest and assess what we’ve been through.  It’s the full realization of all of the skills that we’ve gained in following our paths and the confidence we can feel in using those skills in the future.  We’ve been through the mill and we’ve come out the other side stronger, wiser, and more capable. We’ve integrated the lessons that The World teaches and they’re a part of us now.  No one can ever take that away.

To quote the Beatles:  “Life goes on within you and without you.”

 

 

 

 

The Star Tarot Card

 

the star

A nude woman kneels beside a placid body of water.  She holds pitchers in both hands and is pouring water out onto the ground and into the body of water.  The sky above her is spangled with stars and a bird sings in a tree.

This is one of the loveliest cards you can get in a reading and indicates hope and good things to come.  

Her nudity indicates both an innocence and a freshness, a starting over without the trappings of a former life that may have weighed her down.  Her foot in the water indicates that she is fully in touch with her emotions while the other foots placement indicates that she is well grounded.  The singing bird denotes happiness and the fact that she is freely pouring out the contents of the pitchers indicates abundance.

Basically, this card means blessings and sweet times ahead.  If life has been hard for the questioner or he or she has experienced poor health they can expect wonderful improvements in the very near future.

REVERSED:  The questioner is letting self doubts and pessimism seep into his or her spirituality.  There has perhaps been a new and wonderful start but doubts are beginning to spring up.

A Few Extra Thoughts About The Star:

I’ve been collecting books about the Tarot for decades.  One which has gone out of print described The Star as, “The Star of Hope.”  I have to say that from my experience that’s exactly right.

Sooner or later we all go through one of those awful periods that are marked with the appearance of cards like Death and The Tower.  Sometimes we feel totally demoralized and defeated. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been beaten right down to our knees, bowed and bloodied, and unable to get back onto our feet and move forward.

But it’s the nature of life that if we hang on long enough, if we don’t give up and become cynical and jaded, a glimmer of hope will enter our lives and we begin to see the possibility of being happy again.

One might just say, “Well, hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and leave it at that.  We are, after all, a pretty hopeful species. We do tend to rebuild and regenerate after disasters and catastrophes.

I think, though, that there’s something a little more to it, at least as far as The Star is concerned.  I think that there are times in our lives when we get periods of grace, periods of blessings, when we’re protected and helped by higher powers or higher realms.  When we have peace and contentment, many times after our hardest struggles.

The Tibetan Buddhists have a wonderful way of looking at karma.  If you’ve led a really, really good life (or many of them) and you’ve helped a lot of other Souls then you’re likely to reincarnate in really, really good circumstances in your next life.

BUT – they warn – even a large accumulation of good karma can be used up so it’s important to keep living a good life and to keep helping other Souls.  It’s sort of like a karmic piggy bank: you have to keep putting some more good karma back into it or sooner or later you’ll run out.

It’s likely that something similar happens when we go through really bad times.  When life absolutely beats the shit out of us and we endure the pain and suffering – AND WE CONTINUE TO HOLD LOVE IN OUR HEARTS! – then we earn that period of grace and blessings.  We earn that Star of Hope that surrounds us with its’ light and protection.