Wednesday, July 19, 2006

El Diablo

We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell ~Oscar Wilde
There are three Major Arcana cards that routinely tend to provoke quite the freakout: Death (dun dun dun!), The Tower (a rather unwelcome shock), and The Devil. He's usually depicted in very grotesque form and it's a natural response to recoil from such nasties. Case in point, here is an image from a very early deck, the Visconti-Sforza, the first "official" tarot card deck made in the mid-fifteenth century. It's pretty typical devil symbolism what with the goat horns and bat wings, dragon-scaled belly, malevolent face, etc., but what is more disturbing about this card are the children. Good God, will someone not save the children? Actually, I don't think they're both supposed to be children, per se, as the female figure has breasts, but the male figure is clearly a boy. And they've spouted horns, so apparently they're becoming that which both lures and repels them. Tied loosely, they seem captivated, willing slaves. The young woman looks freakishly like a Stepford Wife and the devil is obviously the Puppet Master. These kinds of images make one wonder what could possibly be so appealing about the gruesome dude that one would stay, willingly, bound. Tarot is masterful in revealing the underlying forces at work, so while this card is adept at uncovering the underbelly of a situation and confronting, in-your-face-like, that you've been dabbling in doo doo, some other artists have captured the other aspect of the Devil that answers the relevant question of what on God's green earth could possibly seduce anyone to be chained to such an ugly thing? Take a gander at the Gilded Tarot deck's Lucifer: YUMMY! (Ok, don't get freaked out by the pentacle in the background like it means something evil. The Devil rules over the "material world" and pentacles represent that in tarot, the tangible, sensual, material things of this earth like money, food, sex, goodies like that.) Just look at the hotness, though. Now there's something to get all tied up about. I like this depiction of The Devil, obvious reasons aside, because it answers that question about temptation. The helmet, too, is significant, as it covers his eyes and suggests he's not seeing the temptation for all it is. Again, willful blindness is suggested because nothing is stopping him from removing the horny hat to assess his flaming desires. Another subtle question is posed here: is the man pictured the devil incarnate or merely devil spawn? By that I mean, is he caught up in temptation or is he the tempter? The perp or the victim? Or both? Oh, what tangled webs we weave, right?
Sometimes the Devil comes up in readings as advice which doesn't mean tarot is recommending you take a trip down to the neighborhood crack house but instead advises a bit of indulgence in some material comforts (Hi, Ben & Jerry) while recognizing their inherent addictive potential, so you don't OVERindulge to the point of irresponsibility to yourself or others. Instead, it's affirming that yes, sex is good, money is good, chocolate is very good, just keep your wits about you. Please. Else you end up back at The Fool and his ass doesn't look nearly as good as this guy's. You have been warned.


4 comments:

Sravana said...

It is my understanding the the Visconte-Sforza Devil card was a re-creation by Scapini (?) - as the original card is not extant.

Ginny said...

Hi Sravana, yes, you are correct. Interestingly, the more ancient decks come down to us with no Devil nor Tower cards intact, so this is indeed a re-creation of what it might have looked like. I used it as an example in this post as representative of typical historical depiction of the Devil. It has all the key symbolism of artistic renderings of the Devil of that same time period and is done in a similar style. Good call! :)

Serenity Star said...

Thank you for your site...!
I get the Devil card often lately, and I loved your take on it. I wanted to add some of my own reflections on it as well, if you don't mind. Two variations of the card that I enjoy are the one from the Buckland Romani deck (where a young Horned Devil laughs as he spills the cauldron of the camping site) and the one from the DruidCraft (of the two lovers over-looked, sleeping, by Cernunos -sp? I'm feeling a bit too lazy to look up the proper spelling now!-). Both remind me that the Devil teaches that if taken with a light heart, his lesson can be to just enjoy - as you say actually. I mentioned these two variations because I never saw the Devil that way before. To me, he represents obsession, bondage, unhealthy behavior/thinking/acting. Succumbing to temptation isn't bad if one doesn't act as if it's everything. In a way, I tie up his message to the Temperance card (one can be obsessively Temperate as you said in the appropriate post) and both remind me that sometimes, you have to let go consciously without falling in the trap of... obsessional behavior.
Take care.

Ginny said...

Hi Serenity and welcome to 78 Notes To Self! :) Yeah, the Horned One has gotten quite a bad reputation over the years, for good reason, but still we mustn't overlook his positive side. I really like the DruidCraft version because it highlights the mindfulness of physical or material pleasure, of always being aware of the dangers while not becoming puritanical about it.

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