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Monday, 11 March 2013

What, no sock handy?

Thoth Tarot, Crowley-Harris

Lon Milo DuQuette tries very hard, in his 'Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot', to convince me that the Devil is not the 'bad' card of the tarot. He nearly had me:

'If the Devil is supposed to be the card that represents evil, which card should we pick to represent good? All the other cards have the potential for good and evil...Can't the Fool be thoughtless enough, the Magus larcenous enough, the High Priestess seductive enough, the Empress wicked enough, the Emperor tyrannical enough, the Hierophant bigoted enough, the Lovers unfaithful enough, the Chariot pretentious enough, Lust lascivious enough, the Hermit self-abusive enough, Fortune ill-fated enough, Adjustment unfair enough, the Hanged Man tormented enough,  the Tower catastrophic enough, Death murderous enough, Art chaotic enough, the Star despondent enough, the Moon deceitful enough, the Sun narcissistic enough, the Aeon destructive enough, or the Universe cold and cruel enough to handle all the evil in the world? It should be obvious that the Devil is something other than ultimate evil.' 

That's pretty hard to argue with. But I still can't help seeing the Devil as a no-good, very-bad thing. He is called 'Lord of the Gates of Matter'. To me he is associated with all voluptuous fleshly indulgences that can lead to harmful excess. He is obsessive and abusive relationships, self-harm. Over-indulgence to the point of excess and beyond. Debauchery.

In this strange depiction of the Devil, we see a pink background with web-like patterns which remind me of ... let's say, dried mucous-based organic smears? The card is dominated by a huge phallus wearing a halo (at least I think that's a halo), and writhing in the testes are humanoid figures taking shape, ready to be expelled into existence, perhaps? (The starburst markings on the left and right inside the testes reminds me of images of cellular division.) Perched above the testes is a grinning three-eyed goat with very large twisty horns. The card corresponds to the zodiac sign Capricorn, thus the goat. But the goat has long been associated with the Devil. 

The Devil, to me, represents perversion of earthly pleasures, excess that leads to destruction. Knowing what we know about Crowley's life, it's not surprising that he writes:

'The formula of this card is then the complete appreciation of all existing things. He rejoices in the rugged and the barren no less than in the smooth and the fertile. All things equally exalt him. He represents the finding of ecstasy in every phenomenon, however naturally repugnant; he transcends all limitations. He is Pan; he is All.'

Note the phrase: 'however naturally repugnant'. I won't go into some of Crowley's personal practices because I don't want to make you sick, but trust me, many of them were 'naturally repugnant'. Like, throwing-up repugnant. 

So nah, mate. The Devil is not 'the All' for me. He might be sort of like the Id, he might be blind instinct, he might be natural appetite, but he is these things gone wrong. Other readers can read him however they want.

Now I do admit that the Devil can be read to indicate testing the water where the concept of 'sin' is concerned. What is true 'excess', 'debauchery', 'overindulgence'? What isn't? So the Devil can very well suggest testing of boundaries, testing of what we've been taught, to decide for ourselves what is 'debauched' and what is morally neutral. But that's about as good as the Devil gets for me.


  1. Great post, and I totally agree, the Devil card is supposed to represent a warning not an encouragement. And if I recall, the halo is in fact the rings of Saturn - ruler of this Capricorn card.

  2. I have to agree with you, overall. For me, the Devil is about giving in to our base instincts and appetites, without any rational limits. It's not that the material is per se bad: I'm all for enjoying sex and food etc! But if we do so without seeing the higher side of it, without appreciating the person we are making love with or giving thanks for the food and treating it with respect rather than greed, then we quickly fall into the hands of the Devil...

    1. Yep. I also see the Devil as addiction, substance abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse...

  3. "The Devil, to me, represents perversion of earthly pleasures, excess that leads to destruction."

    this is exactly how I have always seen the devil - not necessarily as an individual controlling or directing such things, but as an image of what we become when we give into perversions and excesses that lead us down a path to destruction. It is more a force of nature. Also, I think there are very few things that are perversions in and of themselves but when they become excess - something we think about all the time, something we act on to excess, something that harms others... then they become a negative thing and fall under the prevue of this card. I think of this card more as a warning - maybe something is becoming an excess in our life, or maybe it's already a full fledged excess that we need to get under control. Maybe it's a sign that something we are doing is hurting others even though we don't realize it. For me, it's somewhere between a strong warning and a complete STOP sign. In this way I see it as a positive because it draws to attention something we seriously need to work on or get under control

    1. Great comment, Morandia! I like the way you put this -- a strong warning or a complete STOP sign. Yep, I see it that way, too.