|Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti Llewellyn 2004|
The thoughtful and wise part of me knows that what Wilde is saying here is absolutely true, but there are many caveats, exceptions and asterisked footnoting going on in my brain. Certainly many could take this as carte blanche and defend rampant selfishness and reckless douchebaggery, weak argument though that may be. If I am tempted towards harming someone, my soul would grow exponentially more ill if I gave into that temptation. So let's just rule out giving into any temptations involving robbing, maiming, abusing, or killing anyone, m'kay? In the original context, Wilde is talking about how society sets up a code of "morality" that forces a great number of people to live deceptive lives in which they pretend to abide by the code but instead are secretly breaking it. Living a lie is very stressful and the ripple effect is detrimental to not only one's own psychological health in terms of unnecessary guilt and self-recrimination, but it also affects the health of society as a whole with far-reaching repercussions of pent-up frustrations spilling over into violence, overindulgence in response to forbidden temptations, lost jobs, broken families, and just a whole lot of hurt all around. Wilde was a successful poet and playwright enjoying high society life in Victorian Britain when he was accused by his male lover's father of "posing as a sodomite." He sued the accuser for slander and lost. A guilty verdict on the charge of sodomy at that time meant life imprisonment and a lesser "gross indecency" conviction garnered a two-year hard labor sentence. He received the latter judgement and his career went down in ruin. Ironically, had he not sued his accuser, probably nothing would have happened. By attempting to deny an accusation Wilde knew to be true, he brought about his own professional demise. Prison humiliated and humbled Wilde and caused him to reflect on his former indulgent lifestyle:The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful"– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray 1891
If we take both quotes together we get the most nuanced meaning for tarot's great tempter. Whereas the first quotation is true, the second is also true and a warning that we must use the first with care and wise judgment. While he still maintained the social laws were unjust and unhealthy, Wilde also recognized that if we indulge our temptations without thought to the effects on ourselves and others, we risk losing our personal freedom. And there we have it: XV The Devil whose message would best be compared to Polonius' advice to his son in Shakespeare's Hamlet: "To thine own self be true." Polonius was not advocating reckless pursuit of sensual indulgence, as that would have been harmful to his son and disloyal to his son's self. Instead, he was telling him that he must first take care of himself so that he could be in the position to take care of others. Just like the flight attendants tell us to please make sure to secure your own mask before assisting others, if we neglect our own selves and souls, we can be of no service to the ones we hope to help.
"Desire at the end was a malady, a madness or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character...I ceased to be Lord over myself. I was no longer captain of my soul."
- Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
The balance is a delicate one, sure. How do we know when we are crossing the line from healthy self-care to selfish harm? Wilde's observation holds a tremendous clue: when you risk losing your freedom, when the thing desired or the desire itself begins to control you instead of the other way around. But sometimes yielding is exactly what we need to do because the temptation itself has become the problem and doing what we want to do, consequences be damned, is the healthiest choice. If one's fight against temptation has resulted in living a lie, that lie itself is the Devil's bondage. Ciro's Devil must remove the helmet to see and so must we when dealing with temptation. If we refuse to examine the ripple effect of our yielding to this tempting thing, we cannot know if it will be harmful or not, nor will we care. When temptation arises, the Devil card gives the best advice because it prompts us to examine our motivations and ultimately urges us to choose wisely for our soul's best interest.