Friday, March 9, 2012

Card Du Jour- The Devil

Extra big shout out to Mark Simmons of San Francisco for today's depiction of the card. I happened across this one, and while I can't attribute it to a deck (I don't think there is one), it gets the point across. Let's look at yet another negative card- numbered 15, here we see above it the more traditional depiction from the Rider-Waite Tarot. Looks a lot like the Judeo-Christian Satan, and this is not by chance. Actually it is a representation of Baphomet, a figure very similar to the depictions of Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, whatever name you know this figure by. Let's look at the common theme between these two cards- looks like a goat? Okay, true, but not what I'm getting at. There are chains in both pictures, in different places, as one is binding up the Devil himself, and the other binds two human-like figures to his pillar. Look also at the five-pointed star in both pictures. One shows it on Baphomet's forehead, the other shows it almost digging into his face. What does this tell us? Well, the figure is common in witchcraft as well as Wiccan religious practice, representing the four elements, with a fifth point, spirit, at the top, when the figure is upright. Here, it's upside down, indicating that the physical world of sensation has taken precedence over spirit. How does this happen? In a word, pleasure. Think of the chains as addiction. Addiction is an overwhelming desire for something, whatever it might be. Drugs, alcohol, sex, power, status, all of these are possible candidates for addiction.
Now, are these things evil in and of themselves? No, they are not. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things in life. However, addiction comes when these things take precedence uber alles; they become the most important thing in the world to us. We sacrifice ourselves, relationships, careers, self-esteem, you name it, it can go on the addict's chopping block to serve that need. This is why the card is titled the Devil rather than say, Addiction, though in more non-traditional decks it has different names. The point being, actually curiously enough, the Devil provides a convenient scapegoat (no pun intended) to blame for our shortcomings and addictions. "The Devil made me do it."
Well, let's take a closer look at these chains. The first picture shows the figures chained around the neck... but isn't there something a little odd about that? Look closer, and see how loose that loop is around their necks. Surely those figures could just lift the chain and throw it off, and just walk away. In the second picture, it seems like the Devil is looking down at something, or looking at something in front of him. He can't reach it though, because he is pressed up against those chains. But are there chains behind him? The only thing holding him in place is his own forward straining. And this is the key to understanding this card- it's all within our own power. We choose to remain in whatever negative situation we find ourselves in not because of the action of another- but because we do not choose to release ourselves. Now, again, this is not a character judgement- perhaps we never even considered the possibility of living any other way. Sometimes the card can indicate that new perspective coming to us. But therein lies another aspect of the card- it's not always the easiest thing in the world to acknowledge that we need to make some drastic changes. It could be wishing to salve our own egos (perhaps, arguably, another aspect of those chains) or simply a definition a friend of mine once put forth- that addiction will continue until such time as the cost of the addiction outweighs the benefits. There comes a point when you say it's just not worth it anymore. Alcoholics Anonymous calls this hitting rock bottom. Then you can bounce back up, and come to terms with the addiction you're dealing with.
So there is a negative message, as well as a positive one. The negative is that you may need to make a painful self-evaluation, and admit that there were some messed-up things in your life, and you may have been responsible for them. I'm talking hypothetically here, by the way. Each situation is different, so keep that in mind if and when you need to undergo this process. But once this is done, we discover that knowledge and understanding can be a powerful tool. It allows us access to things that previously we were, essentially, kept out of.
There is also another positive message in the Devil. The card reminds us that often great things are accomplished by that self-centered desire. How else would inventions occur, so many of which are geared toward human convenience? Of course, human convenience must be tempered also with knowledge of sustainability. We can build eco-friendly houses that keep us cool or warm, depending on the season, that run on solar power. This means we have a renewable resource (well, until the sun burns out) as well as convenience. This is what I mean, that in the long run we'll realize that it's possible to enjoy life responsibly. This too is a message of the Devil- not that the things we enjoy need necessarily be bad for us, but rather that we can enjoy them in moderation, instead of becoming chained to them. Learn this, and you'll recognize that life can be as good or as bad as we ourselves make it. Rather than being a fatalistic card, us pulled like puppets by our addictions, we can actually enjoy life to its fullest, and live well and responsibly.

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