D is for Devil, Don’t cha know?

Let’s see . . . What metaphor can The Bad Witch use for an absolutely impotent villain? More a drunken, hoary Miss Hannigan with swarms of orphans as her sycophants than a Femme Fatal, but not even that effectual; more like the bumbling coward who believes himself to be the evil genius – but even that character tends to bumble his way into one or two minor villainous successes, so no; I guess the Claymation “Humble Bumble” of the 1960s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would do if the Bumble wasn’t so freaking likable; not an evil twin at all – there is no yang to this yin. How about Mr. Burns? What about a blunt-toothed vampire?[1]

The Devil - XV - Aquarian Deck

This is my current conundrum with The Devil.[2]

This *ineffectualness in an attempt to be terrifying* is how I see the Devil of the Aquarian deck. Yes, TBW has another card to discuss. I drew a spread that ended with the appearance of The Devil. Rather than moving #15 to the signifier position and reading again, I thought I’d just stew on it a minute. But only because the deck I use represents the Fool’s Journey with entirely different implications than most decks.[3]  Rather than the temptation and command represented by the dragon-winged and phallic-horned Pan-ish creature with an inverted pentagram on his forehead (it is Ash Wednesday, after all), who is seated on a black pedestal and commanding a naked male and female figure in chains, the Aquarian Devil seems old, frail, and skeletal. His wings are almost diaphanous, his fangs are un-penetrating, and his horns are minuscule. He just looks old and tired.

In the typical rendering of this card, we have the seeker at the foot of a mountain where a half goat, half god creature reigns

Rider-Waite Devil

over a naked couple, linked to the god’s throne by chains. In many representations of this card the humans engage in every indulgence imaginable – typically sexual. The seeker, having forsaken carnal desire, notes fore mostly that the man and the woman are enslaved by their desires – or are they? In some decks there are people chilling out on the mountain in the background; they are unchained. And the chains on the humans at the cloven feet of the god are loose enough for them to escape. So, as Rousseau (and many like him) points out, we are only subject to the tyrants to whom we choose to be enslaved. The Devil is about material, carnal, and earthly desires.

Most cards urge balance, but not this card. This card is about dualism. This card is all or nothing. Either enslavement by revelry or freedom through labor.

Typically, The Devil stands for a choice between pleasure, abandon, wild behavior, unbridled desire and self-liberation and the empowerment (though difficult and uphill climb) of self-sovereignty.[4] It’s like choosing how to spend a day: sleep until ten, put whole cream in my coffee – twice, smoke, masturbate – twice, eat chocolate, watch a Polanski film, smoke again, blog in a self-indulgent sort of solipsistic way, start drinking by two-thirty, invite friends to help me turn my yard into pre-war Berlin,[5] and spend the evening feeding my ego on the energies of others.[6] Or, I could wake early, go to the gym, answer all of my emails in a timely manner, blog thoughtfully so that my logic remains cohesive and so that I’m at least making an attempt at enlightenment, and take care of my teenagers so’s to keep their bee-hinds out of . . . all sorts of who knows what.[7] After all, the card following The Devil is The Tower, signifying sudden and meaningful change (either good or grave). The lesson is that the changes that come follow because of our reactions to temptations.

The Devil, like other cards, can also represent people: in this case, those with erotic power, aggressive natures, controlling tendencies, or those who are just charismatically persuasive.[8] The worst case scenario is that we are dealing with an addict or a stalker – someone totally obsessed, relentless, covetous and deranged like Hedy in Single White Female (affectionately, SWF). At its very best, it is a card about cutting-lose, going for the gold, or climbing every mountain. After all, we don’t achieve greatness by sitting in our rockers and howling “I will” at the moon.

But back to my card. The Aquarian Devil. He’s a bit of a Sad Sack if you ask me. If the typical reading of this card stands for a choice between pleasure and self-sovereignty, then the choice is straightforward. The Aquarian Devil represents a decrepit compulsion. If you step back and look at it, the thing meant to tempt is an anemic version of the wantonness found in other cards. And if this The Devil represents a person, we have nothing more than the allure of a bowl, a baggie, a needle, and a spoon. Addictive as hell and just as ugly.

This is why I love my Aquarian deck, it helps me pull this stuff out of the depths of my subconscious, like a bad Freudian slip. Though I have other decks, I’ve used this one regularly since I was a sixteen-year-old relative-innocent who was baffled by the mystic undertones of my hum-drum life. The Fools Journey made more sense to me in an intuitive, almost subliminal, way.

I started reading with the Rider-Waite in my twenties and the Thoth Deck after that. When I do, something about the occult-heavy intentions behind the images makes me traverse a progression of logical deliberations (and sometimes re-read some old books[9]) rather than the gut instincts I can follow from the Aquarian Images. Not that there is a value judgment implied. Obviously we have to balance both.

You see, if were using my (second favorite deck) Thoth Deck, I would have to pay special attention to Eyes[10] and kaballah and IAO (Aleph, Yod, ‘Ayin), Saturnine masculine energy and Set,[11] the ass-headed god, spiral horns and allusions to the “highest” and “most remote” things,[12] and the extremes of light and shadow represented by Atu 15 and shazam – an entirely different meaning comes to mind. Now, if you know how The Bad Witch makes cognitive leaps, you’ll understand that I suddenly see that I’ve unraveled this thought-sweater and have a pile of thought-yarn laying on the thought-floor in front of me and I have to put it back together in some meaningful way. I’ve gone clean on to NOX and LVT in “The Formula of Tetragrammaton” and I’m thinking that my decrepit old Aquarian devil looks more like the image of the aged man (which counters the image of the young girl[13]). And then, I don’t know what to do with it (in regard to the question at hand).

This is all just to say what I said about the 7 of Cups. When we divine, we choose our method of divination/introspection (and if we choose Tarot, we choose the deck) as part of the entire process. This means that I have to respect the curious, if not unconventional, Art Deco card’s message as specifically meaningful. And I have to deliberate its peculiar imagery beyond the customary imagery of other permutations of Trumps XV.

In this case? Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

This post is (late) part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://onewitchsway.com/pbp2012/).

[1] Some of you already know that The Bad Witch is teaching World Lit with a vampire versus zombie theme this semester. (And now, you all know.) I plan to show that episode of The X Files with the fangless vampire, “Bad Blood.”  I can’t help but pee myself a little at the following dialogue:

Skinner: [The kid who’s a vampire]’s body has gone missing from the morgue, in conjunction with this the coroner’s been attacked. His throat was bitten.

Scully: The coroner’s dead?

Skinner: No. . . his throat was . . . bitten. Just sort of. . . gnawed on.

[2] I’m not trying to be flip about evil, “the devil” him/herself, or Satan/Lucifer/Hades/Pan or any other permutation/misinterpretation of any number of characters, gods, or ideas. I’m trying to separate the things with actual power from the things which allege power in the fetid shadows of their own obscure impotence.

[3] I read somewhere that the artist of the Aquarian deck stripped the images of all intended meaning. But I find such stripping, if it is even so, leaves room for Jungian interpretations that tap into my subconscious rather than dictating interpretations like a literary theorist with a blunt (likely phallic) object.

[4] Cause, damn, it’s easier to have someone tell you what to do than it is to take responsibility for yourself, i’n’t it?

[5] Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome / Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret! (Opening Friday night at the Telfair Peet Theatre, the closest I get to Rosie, Lulu, and Frenchie anymore.)

[6] See, told you The Bad Witch doesn’t know from debauchery . . .

[7] Sure, there’s a balance in real life. But The Devil is about extremes, not your-everyday-run-of-the-mill-afternoon.

[8] Or (E) All of the Above.

[9] And by old, I mean Ancient.

[10] And the letter ‘Ayin and the sign of Capricorn and the number 70 and .

[11]Note that Shabbatai, the “sphere of Saturn,” is the Sabbath. Knowing a little (just a little!) Hebrew and understanding that

I dig this guy. And his fiddle.

the language is more numerological than phonetic is a damn big-deal. To treat all languages as if they must abide by English systems is, well, silly. Before you make an argument about what a Hebrew or Biblical name or place or story means, please-oh, please-oh, promise The Bad Witch that you’ll read more than Wikipedia. Thanks.

[12] As well as the early biblical fears concerning those who “worshiped places on high.”

[13] Now to look at where the Pages fell in that spread.