At the Crossroads: Anyone Bring a Flashlight?

A day in the life of one witch’s attempts at community organizing, group leadership, public Paganism, and joyous shenanigans. Balancing inner work with external obligations, a professional career with public Paganism, and a full social calendar with gratuitous amounts of sleep.

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The Devil (at the Crossroads)

Saturday, June 8, 2017 is International Tarot Day!  Trivia is celebrating by participating in the worldwide blog hop.  When you are done dancing with the Devil at the Crossroads, please be sure to hop backwards to enjoy Kimberly's post (also) about the Devil, and hop forward to take a tryst Janet in the Tower.  How are you celebrating tarot today?  What's your favorite way to enjoy the cards?  You can also check out the master list of blog hop participants over at Falcon Cloak Tarot.  Finally, Much love and thanks to Bree Ferguson at Nym’s Divination for putting this blog hop together!

While out for lunch last week I ran into a friend who I haven’t seen in a while.  We spent a few minutes catching up about mundane gossip and news, and after pleasantries were exchanged he asked hesitantly, “you once offered to do a tarot card reading for me.  Is the offer still open?” 

A mild panic rushed through me as I thought about my busy, overbooked schedule, but my anxiety also came with excitement.  “Sure!”  I replied.  “I love reading tarot cards for people!”  As busy as I am (and my schedule is a bit dire and frantic these days) it’s hard for me to say no to divination.  When someone asks me to read for them I almost always say yes, even though I’d probably be doing myself a favor by offering a polite “not right now, but maybe some other time.”  (What strange and metaphysical power compels us to say yes to things when deep down we know we should be saying a loud and resounding no? Hmm…)

While standing in line, waiting for our food, I asked my friend if he had ever had a tarot card reading.  A strange expression passed over his face, and then he said, “Once.  I drew the Devil card.”  Then tentatively he began to explain himself.  “I know that the Devil card doesn’t really mean the Devil, but it’s hard to not have those associations, you know?  It’s like if I drew a card called Luke Skywalker or one called Voldemort… Those names and images and stories have associations.  They mean something, and it’s hard to shake that.”

Of course we all know that the Devil card of the Major Arcana doesn’t mean Satan or Lucifer or anything like that.  But my friend made a really good point, I think.  As many esoteric and occult associations as there are in tarot (and there are a lot), one huge component to reading your cards is the trust of that first, initial, gut instinct.  What does that image, that name, that number, speak to you?  What is your visceral, deep reaction? 

One of the reasons tarot cards and other divination methods work is that they use archetypes.  Archetypes are the language of the Cosmos, of mysticism, of ourselves, our religions, and our lives.  Archetypes are the tools we use to tell stories, and tarot cards can be one of the best vehicles for us to use in our own personal narratives.  We create stories, which we put into tarot, which tells our own stories, which we put back into tarot.  We draw a card and it tells us something about the condition of the Cosmos with its image, its keywords, and its associations.  We then in turn use that narrative to understand our own narratives, and in turn we reflect our own stories out into the Cosmos, which in turn forges further and deeper associations into our decks and cards.  This cycle of story-telling and myth-creating is beautiful, empowering, contradictory, confusing, powerful, and divine.  This mythical, archetypal includes the Devil, and all of his myths, stories, baggage, and associations, which happen to be part of our own myths, stories, baggage, and associations, too.

The Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which is perhaps the most highly recognized and used tarot deck, describes the Devil card as: “ravage, violence, force, vehemence, extraordinary efforts, fatality” and also as curiously, “that which is predestined but not for this reason evil.”  Meanwhile, Biddytarot.com keywords the Devil card as “bondage, addiction, sexuality, and materialism.”

It’s no wonder that my friend had such a visceral reaction to this card.  It’s hard not to, with not only our own western cultural baggage, but also with such strong keywords and interpretations.  Some of these words are a bit scary – “violence”, “bondage”, “fatality”, and “addiction.”  But, they aren’t necessarily all bad… “vehemence”, “extraordinary efforts” and yes, of course, “sexuality.” 

My very first tarot deck was the Goddess Tarot, which is mostly sweetness and light, but has been known to dose out some tough-love, too.  The Goddess Tarot, presents the Devil not as a Judaeo-Christian being of ultimate evil, but rather as the Pacific mermaid goddess, Nyai Loro Kidul – a Siren.  She’s sexy and mysterious, but her promises are an illusion and her beauty is enslaving.  “Come swim with me,” she says. “I have such wonders to show you…”  In a way, Nyai Loro Kidul seems more relatable to me than the Pan/Baphomet hybrid of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  We women, as the Biblical story goes, have already danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight reflected upon the leaves and fruit of a beautiful tree.  We walked away from that temptation relatively unscathed.  Relatively(“That which is predestined but not for this reason evil.”)

“Temptation” is my favorite keyword for the Devil card, and one I think is often ignored.  A professional tarot card reader told me recently during a reading: “Oh, the Devil!  That means you’ll have a lot of fun with the person in question!”  But not a week later another professional reader warned me, “Oh!  The Devil!  When the Devil comes up it means that this person is bad news and the encounter won’t end well.”  At first the divination seemed contradictory to me – two very trusted readers giving me what seemed to be opposite opinions on the same card.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized - lots of fun can still mean bad news… and that’s the Devil card, right there.

“There are consequences if you engage in this path of action,” the Devil card warns.  “But oh, won’t it be fun?”  Personally, I enjoy the challenge of drawing the Devil during a spread because he serves as a warning, (“ravage”, “violence”, “force”) but also, such great adventures.  (“That which is predestined but not for this reason evil.”)  When the Devil appears there are lessons to be learned and experiences to be had in abundance!

For many Pagans the Devil isn’t evil, not really.  Hell, most of us don’t even believe he exists!  Medieval depictions of the Devil often confuse him (intentionally) with hairy, horned, and horny Pan.  The Herbal Tarot depicts this pastoral Pan rather than a conniving Devil.  He is presented as a figure that looks more like kindly Mr. Tumnus from Narnia than Beelzebub from the deepest, darkest reaches of Hell.  In a stark contrast to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, this card’s keywords include: “playfulness, frivolity, make believe, getting loose, and lightening up”.

Depicting the 15th card of the Major Arcana as Pan may seem like a benign, non-threatening choice, but he’s sexy, hairy, and tricky, and comes with his own risks and temptations.  Pan invites us to leave the civilized world far behind and to go dancing in the wild and untamed forests.  Joyous as it may seem, there’s a great risk of such behavior, too.  Why, just ask the innocent nymphs about Pan’s “ravage”, “violence”, “force”, and “vehemence”.

A Bacchic orgy or passion-fueled tryst might be exactly what you need, but such things are usually not without consequences.  (“That which is predestined but not for this reason evil.”)  But ultimately doesn’t the Devil archetype represent choice?  This is not a choice between right or wrong, or good or evil.  The Devil card is not at all as simple as that.  He serves as a warning, a reminder that whatever we choose, whatever we do, we are bound to that choice, for better or for worse.  He is a point of no return, the taste of forbidden knowledge or a glimpse into Gnosis

The Devil as a mythological character may be an archetype of free-will, but the Devil tarot card is a bit more subtle than that.  We have free-will, sure, but we’ll almost certainly make a bad decision.  The temptation is far too great.  Some of our decisions, the big ones (and even some small ones) bind us to a path, to a destiny.  Think about Eve taking a bite of that apple… Lucifer rebelling against God… Orpheus glancing over his shoulder for Eurydice as he emerges from the Underworld… that decision to dance in the pale moonlight with Pan… going out for drinks rather than working on your reports for work… texting back that certain someone even though you know it’s a bad idea… putting that super nice television on your credit card… ordering an appetizer AND drinks AND an entrée AND dessert…

These are all examples of the Devil archetype in action - choices that serve as warnings to us, but experiences that have long-term, devastating, wonderful repercussions.  But at least we have the power to make these bad decisions, even knowing we will almost certainly be hurt in the end.

Then again, a life of carefully calculated choices and decisions sounds boring.  Where’s the fun in that?  What’s a life if not one with both thrills and pain? 

Maybe the Devil card isn’t about risk-taking after all.  We draw this card and we know exactly what we are going to do.  Where is the danger if you already know how the story will end?  It won’t be a happy ending, but at least we chose our own ending!  “I did it my way!” the Devil cries out, and the tarot card says “and you will, too, for better or for worse.”  That’s the appeal of this card, really - the power and temptation of full authority and autonomy.  You may find a time when we are looking behind yourself at a wide path of destruction, but hey, at least it’s your path of fiery inferno, and no one else’s.  

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Thanks for dancing with me (and the Devil) for International Tarot Day!  Please don't forget to hop backwards to enjoy Kimberly's post (also) about the Devil, and hop forward to take a tryst Janet in the Tower.  (Kimberly also gets credit for the spectacular graphic above... thanks, Kimberly!)  You can also check out the master list of blog hop participants over at Falcon Cloak Tarot.  Finally, Much love and thanks to Bree Ferguson at Nym’s Divination for putting this blog hop together!

How are you celebrating tarot today?  What's your favorite way to enjoy the cards?  Please feel free to leave a comment (or two or more) below!

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Trivia is a social worker, freelance writer, minister, and priestess. She loves to have a good adventure. Follow her exploits on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TriviaXRoads) and on Tumblr (http://triviaxroads.tumblr.com/)!

Comments

  • kimberly essex
    kimberly essex Saturday, 08 July 2017

    What a great exploration of the Devil card, Trivia! I love how you bring life to all that is said about this card. “That which is predestined but not for this reason evil.” What a funny thing to say after listing such horrible-sounding things, haha. More puzzling than comforting, especially for a newbie reader with nothing to go on but that LWB. I agree that it is the consequences that are key to the energy here. The orpheus myth is one my favorites, too :)

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