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(For a list of all card articles, open March 2008 on the sidebar).

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Devil

blotting out a yellow sky
one plague upon another
a figure formed from sex and smoke
a little bit of all you feel
a little love, a little hate
a shape that's holding all it can
a little light, a little shade,
it doesn't know the difference
between what it loves
and what it is
its lust, its rage, its fear
a swarm within the cloud
no boundary
no sense,
no self
no reason

See also a song from the moon to the devil.

The Devil is my year-card right now, so I expected a few telling encounters, but I started up a daily tarot-log again recently and I just drew this bitch two days running so went OKAY FINE I'LL WRITE YOU DOWN THEN today. >: I know why: you usually do with the Devil. Subtlety isn't one of its strong points.

And there's a devil in everyone's deck.

The Devil comes by every so often to show you how to hate properly. One gains in finesse at this with each encounter; you learn to untangle hate, love and sexual attraction; you learn to see the good side of people even as you watch their bad sides swallow themselves and everyone around them; ultimately, the Devil shows you how to love, even when you shouldn't, even when you don't want to - it asks if you believe in compassion and then stretches that to its limit. It forces you into painful compromises with your own feelings. It drags you to the tight emotional corners - jealousy, shame, anxiety, the things that are only brought on by caring too much about everything but your own inner self. Sometimes, in those corners, you look upon the Devil and you realise you have to be kind to him, and be kind to yourself. Sometimes you realise you are him, the enemy who's knocked three times, the girl with her name in one hand and her rucksack in the other.

It happens because people get tangled up in other people. Where the Priestess draws imaginary lines, the Devil draws imaginary chains.

I can't dislike the Devil, well, no more than the level of annoyance I might have with, say, the Hierophant. My policy is sympathy for this place and the people in it; as the song goes, if the devil lost his fire, he could count on me for sparks. But oh god, not fuel. When dealing with the Devil it's tempting to suck those around you into fights they don't belong in, and one has to refuse to be a part of that. Don't enable other people's feuds or disorders, kids, it's bad for you.

Something about the Devil that only struck me a few days ago; it appears between Temperance and The Tower, and I honestly think that its main role, in that gulf between harmony and anarchy, is that of peacemaker. By dealing with your troubles here, emotionally, by venting and challenging yourself and engaging in malicious acts of kindness (ever sent someone a christmas card just to test whether you can bring yourself to do it? Completely stupid, but it's the kind of thing the Devil drives you to), you don't need to tear the walls down. You don't need to enforce moderation. You can bring your troubles to the Devil, and make peace.

The Devil is a higher chime of the Lovers. It's also the opposite of the Lovers. There's this space to be found between making your choices and being chained to them, between loving and hating, where you can find the truth.

Images of the Devil

Like certain other Majors - Judgement especially - the Devil is usually Christian in theme. The Morgan-Greer Tarot gives us a close-up of a piece of Christian mythos; Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. Here you've got a lot of symbols that recur on Devil cards - an inverted pentagram, a horned (ie, sexual) god, a fly, fire burning; it's all black magic and bestial impurity and lack of control. The Aquarian Tarot is broadly similar - a huge bone goat skull, bat wings, a giant flying penis, etc. (yeah) There's two naked people too, not looking at each other but at the fire all around them. They're tailed, already committed to Hell.

I'm more fond of the Robin Wood Devil, which has no devil, only two people chained to a box of treasure that, you assume, represents their own greed. They're far from the light they came from, but still reaching for it...if they let go of their want, they'll be fine. Learning not to want, not to hold, is another of those things the Devil tends to show you.

The irony of looking for a Devil card that frees you from your own Christianist heritage aside, there's fortunately a lot of alternate takes on the Devil out there. The One World Tarot offers us Deliverance; the sun setting behind Saturn, rings half in the dark. Saturn is Father Time, and his story is not a happy one; it was prophesied that he'd be brought down by his own child, so he began consuming them at birth out of fear - needless to say one escaped and later killed him. (And cut off his penis and threw it in the sea. Greeks, you've gotta love them.) This acting out of fear and selfishness, this literal 'eating your own' and what it leads's all come to rest here, in the Devil, where you lose and your worst instincts win.

The Osho Zen deck goes with something similar; Conditioning. The picture's from a story about a lion raised among sheep, a lion the sheep all loved and accepted and who believed he was really one of them. That lasted until he met another lion. So this Devil is about the Other within, I guess? It's a story a lot of queers might recognise, and which a lot of pagans might recognise, and which a lot of people in general might recognise; coming to terms with the inner instincts you think you're not supposed to have is a freeing, but disruptive, experience.

Amano gives us a big green monster. The immediate association to me is 'jealousy', but that may be anglocentric of me.

What I wrote about the Devil in 2005

I don't have much more to say about The Devil. Yes. That's how it is... He's the downfall of every fluffy tarot hack; deeming him as necessary and inescapable as anything else in the deck whilst preserving his essence on the page isn't pleasant, and it does appear to make some give in to deception. The Devil is the truth that the world needs the rough as well as the smooth, and there is no point in denying it, because he will catch up with you sooner or later. Probably more than once. I've seen him twice now; never fun, but what would it be if there wasn't a name to call it and a card to pin it down with? He is part of you too, and to believe otherwise will, if nothing else, leave you surprised and unprepared one day. He is you, but he is not you, and to give him a name is to divide and to conquer.

The first time I fancied I could fight him in the name of purity. The second, someone happened to turn round and tell me; "Cope," and I think that's a more realistic end.

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