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Turn not your face; evade me at your peril,
For I am your shadow, and the power of the Devil.
I have seen experienced Tarot readers and students alike pale at the turning of the 15th Card of the Major Arcana, the Devil. It is a loaded card, filled with misconceptions and misunderstanding. Let's take a moment to peer into the Devil's eyes and see if we can glean inspiration and insight from this seemingly dreadful figure.
In many modern decks the name is often changed, an attempt perhaps to alleviate the immense Judeo-Christian baggage associated with the Devil. In truth, we have nothing to fear of this card other than the perpetuation of a state of ignorance and our addiction to illusion.
In Western Occultism the path of the Devil is a bridge from the overtly intellectual aspect of the human mind to the place of beauty and moderation. This in itself is a struggle, a paradox, for the bridge represents the normal, rational, intellectual state of consciousness and the path to our true spiritual awareness. In order to perceive the spiritual, one must shatter the illusions of the material world. The Devil teaches us the nature of the illusions that may hinder and close our eyes to the reality of the spiritual. Look closely at cards positioned either side of the Devil to glean the nature of the illusions pertinent to the querent's enquiry.
Evil is perhaps one word that can easily be associated with this card, for it is indeed the perception of evil that may hinder our quest on the journey to illumination. However, he does not represent absolute evil, for in the world of Tarot no such thing exists. Trapped into the gravitational density of our planet, our perceptions of real and unreal, good and evil are as complex as we are many. The Devil is the ambassador for our mis-perception of reality, whilst simultaneously he is our liberator.
We can easily over intellectualise our own limitations and idiosyncrasies and fall into patterns of appeasing our inner saboteur, and perpetuating an addiction so many have to their own anxieties. The Devil asks us to consider the nature of that which is hidden—either out of necessity, obligation, or shame. These form the chains of our own restrictions. Taboos are represented here, particularly those that cause us to feel things that we may not wish others to know about us. So, we disguise them beneath intellectual veneers.
In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck the Devil looms above two figures reminiscent of the couple in The Lovers. Look closely at the numerological value of the Devil—15—to discover the number reduces to 6 (1+5=6). The same couple appear again in Judgement, each time they are confronted by an archetypal energy that looms above them. We are compelled to perceive these mystical figures as somehow external, but we would be foolhardy to do so. The looming figures, be they angelic or demonic, represent aspects of our own psyche. Typically, the male and female figures are chained about their necks to an iron ring firmly attached to a pillar of stone. A closer look will inform you that the chains are not restrictive, they are fathomed and forged by the limitations and restrictions the couple have placed upon themselves.
This quality can be further explored by studying the attributes of Saturn, which rules the astrological sign of this card: Capricorn, the sea goat. This sign is demonstrative of the heaviest of earthy attributes and lends itself well to the illusion of materialism. The chains of these illusions are those about the necks of the figures. However, Capricorn itself offers us a key to understanding the hopefulness hid within this card, in the Northern Hemisphere Capricorn is heralded by the Winter Solstice. In turn this tells us that there is hope, a rise from the darkness of illusion into the glorious light of the sun.
Therein lies the true message of the Devil, not as adversary, but as liberator of illusion, as that which brings us to the light of the sun. Observe the sheer density of black that occupies this card. We fear the shades of darkness so much, and yet the Devil asks us to consider the mystery that truth is a treasure of darkness. Within the dark lies all potential, what demons occupy it are so often created by our own vivid imaginations. The Devil highlights our shortcomings and the manner in which we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. It is one of the most important cards in the Major Arcana, for it asks us to be fully beholden and accepting of who we are. Once we achieve this, our eyes open to a new light born of darkness.
The inverted pentacle above the figures head, represents an upside-down human being, things are topsy-turvy, not as they seem, but there are essential keys that can turn that pentacle the right way up. One of those keys is mirth. Laugh in the Devil’s face, for against the sheer assault of laughter, nothing can truly stand unaffected. The severity of our own intellectual limitations can be crippling, but how do we deal with that and break the chains that bind us to the illusion the Devil represents? An issue can rarely if ever be solved on the same conscious plane that it was created upon. The illusions that bind us must be torn by forces that they are unable to deal with, and the most powerful is humour. To perceive the Devil not as the unadulterated force of evil, but as our own inherent bogey-man is to expose him as a parody of your true self. Laughter and mirth are energies so pure that the chains of illusion cannot withstand them. The Devil compels you to not take yourself too seriously all the time.
The next time the 15th card of the Major Arcana reveals itself in your readings, compose yourself for a moment, smile and know the mystery—The Devil teaches us the business of serious mirth, and to ensure our lives are equal measures of profundity, profanity and frivolity. Fear him not, for his task is to lift you to the glorious light of the spirit.
Kristoffer Hughes (Wales) is Chief of the Anglesey Druid Order, a Mount Haemus Scholar, and a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. He is a teacher, writer, workshop leader, and guest speaker at Pagan conferences, ...