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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Cosmic Tarot: The Devil

Cosmic Tarot, US Games 1988
To be honest, I'm not overly keen on the Devil card from any deck, but this one in particular does nothing for me. When it's first turned over, it looks comical. He's a bit silly with his big nose, face jutting forward on his scrawny neck. You think, oh, it's one of those decks where the Devil is a silly figure. But as you look at the card, it's not very silly at all, and I find that a drawback because it is a very serious card that has a funny first impression.

The Devil of course dominates the card, standing there in his suit, wearing his ska two-tone tie (it was the 80s after all), and his inverted pentagram medallion. He's got a ring in his nose and horns on his head, and a long braid trailing over his shoulder. Pointy ears. Looking more closely at the suit, its pocket, chain, and stripes on the sleeve suggest that it's an ever-changing amalgamation of a business man's suit, a military uniform, and some counter culture elements. The Devil can be found everywhere - misuse of power and abuse of self and others can come from anywhere. He has a hump on his back and a pair of tattered wings that look like they have been manufactured. In fact, they also look like the riggings of sails, and the setting of this card could be a dock.

Looking around at the setting, we have a brick wall, wooden fencing, a concrete wall, a post with a wire, more wires in the air, and a prison watchtower in the background. In the brick wall are openings; one imagines they lead to a dungeon below, but they might also be exits. They're no use to the people in the card, though, who are all chained. To be honest, though, it does look like they could slide those rings off those posts and escape, if they wanted. Even the cuff around the Devil's wrist is way too big and would slip easily over his hand. At least three of the five human figures, though, don't seem interested in leaving. I think the best Devil cards suggest that the people in the card don't seem to realise they are in bondage. The man has his chest jutted out, the woman is striking a haughty, self-aggrandizing pose, the woman at the bottom of the card seems to actually be sticking her tongue out in defiance. The woman in the background with her hands tied above her head clearly thinks she is very scary indeed--powerful and terrifying! And yet all these people are bound to the Devil. The only one not having a good time strutting his stuff is the man on his face (being tramped upon by the woman with her butt stuck out). Well, it's a competitive world! Sink or swim! Kill or be killed! Yadda yadda.

Yeah, the Devil is in charge of all that stuff, all that type of thinking. It's interesting how many different arenas for misuse of power this card can call to mind. The main setting, to me, seems to be the docks in a big city, a place where petty thievery and muscle takes place. (I'm reminded of films like 'On the Waterfront' and of course 'Rocky'.  Both of those guys were boxers who made a living breaking the thumbs of those who failed to pay up).

The Devil here seems to be all about pettiness, petty people, petty sins, the pointlessness and sordidness of it all. Maybe that's why he looks comical. All their strutting and posturing and struggling would be comical, if it weren't so tragic.


  1. "I think the best Devil cards suggest that the people in the card don't seem to realise they are in bondage."

    What a piercingly incisive sentiment. You've just made me see The Devil in a new way.

    "Maybe that's why he looks comical. All their strutting and posturing and struggling would be comical, if it weren't so tragic."

    What need have we of deck companion books when we have thoughtful bloggers like you to offer such insightful analyses? (I have the Jean Huets text but it's not as interesting to me as your analysis here).

  2. I get a definite counter-culture feel from this card: the Devil is "the Man", authority and militarism and corporations taking over the world. And just buying into that makes us his minions...

    1. Absolutely! There's a feeling here of decadent machination, whatever that machine may be -- government, big business, organised crime, right down to drug use and prostitution. It's a sordid little card.