Still writing at work! Now with the bonus that I woke up every two hours last night and have turned to various caffeinated beverages to stay focused, or at least give the appearance thereof.
As an occasional reminder: if you like my writing, you can find more over on my Amazon page, Barnes and Noble, Sourcebooks, or other places books are sold. I don’t talk much about the Tarot there, but I do write about people in a variety of times and places getting it on while in the middle of occult hijinks; on Amazon, you can also find my 1930s con artist and elf romance and my non-romance YA novel, Hickey of the Beast. These reminders will keep showing up in text, because the alternative is actually updating the links on the right, and uuuugh.
Last week, I rambled about Temperance and existing in two different worlds. The first card today, The Devil, is in part what happens when Temperance fails, and is one of two successive cards that are usually some variety of bad news.
There’s not much variation in appearance on this one. The Devil, in some form (often horns, often fur, sometimes waaay too many eyeballs–Jesus, medieval art is fucked up) hangs out on an altar while a naked man and woman (who are also sometimes demons, or at least tieflings, judging by the horns) glare at each other while chained to his pedestal. Classically, the poses of all three figures parallel those of the Lovers. (Exceptions: Robin Wood has the man and woman chained to a locked chest, for the reasons below, and the Lisa Frank Tarot features a banana in sunglasses and a leopard-print bikini, flanked by a watermelon slice and a pineapple, also in sunglasses; this is the best depiction of the Devil ever, and is also one of the images on my Twitter feed.)
This isn’t one of the Fucking Obvious Tarot, because it usually doesn’t represent the literal Devil or even necessarily a bad influence, but the meaning is generally pretty simple and unvarying: fear and desire. To quote a teacher of mine, these are two sides of the same coin (for the science-minded, flight-or-fight falls into the first category, and the other two fs are in the second, where your nervous system is concerned–though fear can also increase desire, which is one of the reasons taking a date to a horror movie *can* be a good idea, if you’re into that sort of thing) and each of them has its place in the world. Fear keeps us from getting ourselves killed, and desire makes us want to stick around and enjoy life. (And replicate, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
But they can both be a trap. The hazards of fear are obvious; those of desire are more about going full Queen and trying to get *everything* or holding on too tightly when you should let go, like the story about the monkey and the jar full of nuts. Temperance is about balancing two worlds, but the Devil is about being focused so much on the here and now, or the material, that you don’t see the bigger picture, whether that’s the spiritual elements of life, the social or interpersonal damage you’re doing while you chase your goals or avoid what you fear, or just that a different thing over there would actually make you happier. Notably, in most traditional depictions, the bindings on the man and woman are loose to nonexistent: they really can get out if they want.
The way I learned to read Tarot is that, when your hopes card and fears card come up, they generally refer to things you shouldn’t hope for or fear, either because they’re going to happen anyway or because they shouldn’t and should happen, respectively. One of the more valuable things my mom told me, for instance, after a breakup in college, was that at thirty I likely wouldn’t be the same person I was at twenty, and I probably wouldn’t want the same person, either. Likewise, most things that seem like the end of the world aren’t, and most things you think are the Holy Grail probably won’t solve all your problems. If the Devil comes up in a reading, it’s likely a sign to think about what you fear and desire, and how that might be holding you back.
Speaking of being held back…The Tower.
It’s a tower! It’s falling! Usually there’s lightning involved and also bodies plummeting from the windows. This, as you may imagine, does not mean anything immediately good, or at least anything immediately comfortable for the people involved. Danger, crisis, destruction, cats and dogs living together, and so forth. However…
Fact I picked up from a book on religious experience and have wanted to use somewhere for a while: in Ancient Greek, “apocalypse” literally means “uncovering.”
So you kind of know where I’m going here. If you don’t: think Ragnarok. Or the Masque of the Red Death. The tower is destroyed, and that completely bites in the short-term, maybe even the medium-term, but the destruction has to happen, because the tower in the image, whatever it was originally, ended up being a trap. Set up impregnable-enough walls and you have a hard time getting out, until some event comes along and shows you both that there’s a world outside and that the things you’ve built and hoarded can’t keep you safe.
In other words: if you buy into what the Devil’s selling, this card is a reminder that you can’t take it with you and that, if you eat right and exercise, you’ll die anyway. It’s pain and loss, but it’s also freedom and a tough sort of enlightenment: an event that breaks down some kind of borders (physical, emotional, societal, mental) and literally lets some light in, or one that destroys what had to go and leaves the field clear for new growth,
Like the man said, a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
And when it’s finished falling, we have The Star, one of the most good-omened and in a way most complex cards in the deck.
Like Temperance, the central figure in this one has one foot on land and one in the water. Like the figures in the Lovers and the Devil, she’s naked. There are stars above her and a reflecting pool in front of her, and she’s pouring one flask into the pool, one onto the land (which is generally all verdant and healthy-looking). Everything’s calm and peaceful and very free: nobody is binding this woman, or striking her with lightning, or bothering her in any way.
There are a lot of meanings here. “Hope” is the most basic, and the one that comes up the most in some form, as do cleansing and renewal, wisdom through meditation and intuition, and occult adeptness. (Unlike the Magician, the woman here isn’t showing off for potential patrons; unlike the High Priestess or the Hierophant, she’s not serving a role in an organized community; unlike the Hermit, she hasn’t defined herself by shunning that community. She just kind of is, and knows what she’s doing, and does it.) As with Temperance, her feet show that she’s comfortable in two worlds at once, but she’s pouring all of the water out into different places, not balancing the contents between two containers. She’s not being careful about excess or not: I’d argue that she knows that part of life will work itself out.
In reading methods or decks where The Moon and The Sun can mean the experience of being female or male (respectively) or of finding the ideal partner of that sex, The Star (despite being the only one of the trio with a naked adult on it) means the experience of simply being a person, independent of gender. It might actually go further than that, and mean the experience of being a person independent of societal roles, reactions to or attempts to manage those roles, or any of the necessary “clutter” of mortal life. It’s being in the moment and the world, while knowing that there will be others of both, and being okay with all of that. Take a breath, do what you need to do, and trust that the rest will work itself out.
Next time: More Cosmic Forces!