Saturday, June 25, 2011

Good Advice From The Devil

Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti Llewellyn 2004
Earlier this week, artist Ciro Marchetti revealed on Facebook his reworked Devil card for his new project, The Gilded Tarot Royale.  (The old version is above, the new version can be seen in his FB photos) This card has long been one of my favorite expressions of Trump XV for obvious sexy reasons, but also because it clearly illustrates why temptation is, well, tempting! In so many deck renditions the Devil is shown as a revolting creature that could not tempt a flea to a dog.  The traditional grotesque symbolism is supposed to imply that we don't realize the ugliness until we're neck-deep in it, and I get that, but I think Ciro's version communicates the seduction aspect very blatantly. It also shows the not-so-bad side of the Devil without neglecting its potentially disastrous side.  Some decks use Pan or other horned gods like Cernunnos to stand in for The Devil because pagan tradition doesn't demonize this energy and is more accepting of its usefulness.  That's healthy, yes, but sometimes the images stray a bit too far into All-Is-Well-Land and diminish the stern warning the card is meant to convey.  Ciro's Devil is yummy, and it appears he's been working out since we last saw him,  but he is also blinded by his own self-interests.  He is choosing not to see.  The pentacle behind him is upright, symbolizing the healthy aspect of the Lord of the Material World, but the pentacle on the horned helmet is upside down, suggesting an unhealthy obsession with sensuality and hedonism.  This card's imagery is much easier to personally identify with also.  One can easily switch perspectives from being the Tempter to the Tempted and back again.   You can be the guy in the card or you can feel the temptation from him, and that helps a lot when trying to figure out its specific message for you.  It's much more difficult to identify with this:
Tarot of Durer By Giacinto Gaudenzi
 Lo Scarabeo
Can we easily slip into that beast? Or can we better imagine ourselves as the hot guy in the helmet?  Not only that, but the message of the Devil isn't always evil as the pagan themed decks well know.  It is often advising a healthy measure of self-care and attention to one's sensual needs, which, if neglected, can grow into devils themselves.
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
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: 
"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
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.

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.

9 comments:

Reticula said...

Another brilliant post. I love the literary comparisons you make.

(Coincidentally, the nonsense word I have to type in to post this comment is "bleasub." Say it aloud. Sounds similar to another devil word.

Ginny said...

Reticula, now THAT was funny! :)

Katrina W said...

Ms Ginny,

Thank you, again, for your brilliance and astute understanding of the nuances of Tarot.

Since this is the 15th Annual Tarot Retreat coming up in July, The Devil archetype has been a creative partner in designing our exciting and mysterious activities.

I will certainly be sending folks to this post for I appreciate your dedication to the art of Tarot.

Love & Light,
Katrina

Simona said...

Wow those are some extremely cool tarot cards! Maybe it is time change my old one here at home. I´m also a tarot reader and I just have to say that I really like the on your blog!
Can't wait to read your next post!

Frater Cor Meum Lucidum said...

This is pretty nice deck and your post is pretty amazing. I always appreciate a great blog

eversmith said...

Just great. In the very beginning of my Tarot education, my teacher made a spread, drawing two cards to represent me. This was a great expirience, since understanding these archetypes lead me to understanding of my way in this world. They are The Fool and The Devil. Now, June 25 is my birthday. This is next your post, I'm translating in Russian. I hope this will help to demystify The Devil, since many times he is seen as a grue, lurking in the pitch blackness of unconscious, waiting to devour our souls. So sexy:))

Ginny said...

The Devil comes with a warning label, but it is not "bad" per se. We just have to be aware of our weaker points and places where we may be susceptible to bondage. This card actually helps us become more aware of those places and is of great service this way. :)

Miranda said...

Just found this entry whilst searching and I have to say it is a really thought provoking post on a card we think we know so much about already.

Thank you

Ginny Hunt said...

Thank you for your comment, Miranda. I love the Devil card! I am fascinated with the cards most think "bad" or scary and find that their shadowy messages are truly the most rich in blessing.

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