Not gonna lie, you guys.
I was hoping for this guy to pop up sometime soon.
The Devil. “Am Fear-millidh” in Scottish gaelic, assuming I’m not beling lied to (and I have to be honest I’m not trying exceedingly hard to make sure I’m not…my strategy is basically find an online translator that is NOT Google Translate, so…full disclosure).
I do like this guy, you guys. I’ve always kinda liked this guy.
Let me tell you why.
So just, not even tarot-related, I went to a church until I was 14 where it was literally sinful to question the bible. I don’t capitalize the words “bible” or “god.”
You should know that right up front.
And I’m not sorry for it.
Even as a kid I was like, “ummm…if you’re afraid of questions, the only logical conclusion is that it’s because you don’t have legitimate answers.” Like, I was taught that Adam and Eve were evil for seeking knowledge, and reaching out and taking it after they were told, explicitly, not to.
I’ve never been a fan of demonizing knowledge. Knowledge is, quite literally, power. And anyone who wants to withhold knowledge from anyone else is nefarious in my mind.
Later, I went to college. In college, I took Philosophy classes (notice how I capitalize the word “Philosophy?” Priorities). And I realized the first time a professor taught me how to evaluate arguments that Lucifer was nothing more than the world’s first (fictional) philosopher.
And, not gonna lie, I fell a little in love.
Explains a lot, actually, looking back…
Hmmm. This is becoming an uncomfortable little rabbit hole.
Curiouser and curiouser.
All Lucifer did was ask questions and accept a grand total of zero, count them zero, bullshit answers. Okay, that’s not all. He got up to some shady shit too. But that only humanizes him, for me, deepening the infatuation.
I’ve been a strong supporter of that policy from my first year of college on.
And I’m old as crap, you guys, so that’s a long time I’ve been advocating knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
Even when I don’t want to, when I want to just say “because I said so” and have them accept it, I’ve always allowed my children to question me for that specific reason.
That’s why I have a couple of difficult-to-parent children and want to pull my own hair out by the handful on a daily basis. But they’re also wildly brilliant, already amazing at evaluating my policies, and really, scarily, good at calling bullshit on me when I’m engaged in lazy parenting.
Look out, world. My kids are either going to lead major companies or prison gangs in 20 years. Which they choose really remains unknowable at this point. But what I do know, for absolute certain, is that they’re going to be fierce as shit.
Anyhow, the whole Satan-philosopher thing is more dogma than it is tarot.
But it’s pretty easy to transition from the judeo-christian idea of the devil to the archetypal character the tarot’s Devil asks us to conjure up.
“Lucifer” translates in all instances to some variation of “shining one,” “day star,” “morning star,” and “son of the morning/dawn.” It’s clear that Lucifer was associated with the bringing of light. And, like Prometheus, he is punished for it.
In Christian tradition, Lucifer is cast out of heaven and denied full angel status. In Greek canon, Prometheus is chained to a rock where an eagle eats the liver out of his body every day, only to have it regenerate each night. In both cases, the “evil one,” as dogmatic legend likes to call him, is punished for bringing knowledge (light and dark are, in Jung’s symbolic psychological theories, synonymous with conscious and unconscious awareness) to man.
And those who follow the gods of their respective religions would view him as a troublemaker. How dare he tempt them into gaining knowledge they were never meant to have?
But what no one seems to stop to ask is “what kind of benevolent parent figure wants to withhold real wisdom and knowledge from her children in the first place?” If god were benevolent at all he’d have been pureeing that apple and spoon feeding it to those two nekkid goofballs from day one.
Good parents do not withhold information.
Maybe you need to craft the narrative in order to keep it age appropraite, but you tell your kids all of the things. All of them. Even the ugly ones that you wish to hell weren’t true.
This. This is why I reject religion across the board. There are very, very few mainstream religions that don’t ask the practitioner for blind faith in a deity that claims to be all-beneficent and then pulls some bullshit move like demonizing knowledge.
And asking questions – seeking knowledge – is forbidden, and at least frowned upon, if not punished, sometimes mightily, in christian tradition.
No thank you.
I’m going to continue to learn every single thing I possibly can, and throw serious shade at anyone who tries to shame me for it, because they can only have not good intentions at heart.
Anyhow. I am getting farther and farther off-topic. Can I assume at this point that you’re picking up the venomous distaste for organized religion I’m laying down and move on?
Okay, I’ll try.
So. Tarot Devil.
So. If we’re asked to believe in something blindly, “because god says so,” and we do it, then we are no farther along in terms of wisdom than a child, and no more free of will than an animal. If faith is mechanistic, then it’s not faith. It’s just behavior.
And Lucifer brought us the ability to eat of the fruit of kowledge. He is the reason we have free will at all.
So we owe him a little hat tip, at least, you guys. For sure, we do.
That doesn’t mean we have to believe everything he tells us either.
Because, everyone – everyone – has an agenda, and in this card, the Devil represents a collection of ugliness symbolizing our own projections. Here are our own worst qualities seen in those external to ourselves. This devil is our hangups and cognitive biases. He’s our addictions and our logical fallacies.
And check out those two clowns at his feet. He looms over them, and they wear collars of chain, bound to his podium, where he seems to command their very lives.
Warning: blatant Walking Dead reference ahead:
And yet, they smile.
It had to be done.
But for real, look at these asshats.
See how they’ve got animal parts? On top of their heads, and those tails trailing behind them?
They don’t even realize it. They are enslaved by their own fallacious beliefs and unconscious motivations.
And if you know anything about Jung you know that the animal does not represent a symbol of man’s highest cognitive and emotional potential. Jung talks – at great length, even when you want desperately for him to stop – about the difference between the latent, unconscious, animalistic components of humanity and the civilized, conscious, domesticated parts, and the ongoing conflict between the two.
Neither is better, he said. But what makes for trouble is when our animalistic natures remain hidden in the unconscious. That, he said, is the ultimate failure of man. Because our animal natures still influence our behaviors. But if we don’t understand them, Jung would say, then we cannot channel them into appropriate outlets.
Animal natures are great. They make us competetive. Suspicious. They make us willing to fight for our greatest potential. But they are also ruthless, dumb, and amoral.
We’re capable of so much, Jung would say, and the unconscious motivations of our more animalistic sides are what get us moving toward great things, but they will also derail us if we don’t learn to drive them rather than letting them drive us.
The Devil, when he shows up in the tarot, reminds us that we need to make sure we’ve got this big bad fucker on a tight rein.
In writing, that makes perfect sense. We need, as we write personal essay and memoir that we intend to shop around, to be sure that what we’re writing is of service to the world and not to ourselves.
The urge to indulge in navel-gazing, to be sensational and exploitatitive of our relationships, and to take karma into our own hands, needs to be clearly recognized and mitigated. If our story does nothing for the world but air our dirty laundry then it is not worthy of an audience.
Furthermore, no story exists without conflict.
I often try to remind myself of this essential, Creative Writing 101, capital-T Truth. There is no protagonist without antagonist. There is no victory without struggle. No piece of worthwhile literature has ever existed without a conflict. Some insurmountable odd for the protagonist to attempt – win, lose, or draw – to overcome. Whether she does indeed overcome it or not is irrelevant. It’s nothing more than the difference between comedy and tragedy. But the presence of the conflict is one of very few nonnegotiables in a field so wide open in potential.
The hardest, most crushing part of my life was my marriage, but I’m past the suffering portion of the event and it’s time now for me to emerge, either the victorious or the tragic herione of the tale.
But, like the light-bearer, I am at a point where I am struggling to constantly remind myself that my antagonist is not entirely evil. Nor am I entirely good. It’s a common trap into which the best narrative nonfiction authors fall. But it needs to be dealth with, and no manuscript that indulges in such black-and-white characterizations has any place on any legitimate bookshelf.
And that’s the hardest thing, for all of us, isn’t it? My biggest struggle at this point in the process of getting the narrative on the page is accurately assigning both qualities to each of us – honestly exploring his and my own best and worst qualities. Our own faults. Our own infractions against one another. Understanding the entire experience without assigning either too much or too little blame to my ex-husband, or to myself.
It’s really, really hard work. I tend to want to default to demonizing both of us entirely.
But neither one of us deserves it.
Ugh. I just blew chunks in my mouth a little, writing that last sentence.
But goddamn it, it’s true.
I hate it.
And it’s true as hell.