The Red Death prepares to deal some Fate in The Masque of the Red Death, 1964.
A Tarot Death card, from the end credits of The Masque of the Red Death, 1964
Occult: From the Latin meaning hidden or concealed or secret. That which is hidden from view, …or seen only by the few.
A fair number of supernatural, religious, diabolical and occult horror films commonly present occult regalia such as crystal balls, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, magical diagrams, mysterious or forbidden books and all the elements commonly associated with Witchcraft, Voodoo, Black Magic or Satanic ritual. A prime example is Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist plays with a Ouija board which opens her up to demonic possession.
In real life these tropes can trigger – as experience has showed us time and time again – reactions ranging from suspicion to fear, or from derision to curiosity, fascination and even genuine interest. This path opened for us at a tender young age. We got our first printed deck of Tarot cards at age 13 (there was an early attempt at creating our own but the task was quite formidable due to our youth and ignorance) and have a real abiding passion for the Art. Our collection is now around 50 different Tarot packs.
Many encountering the Tarot cards in person for the first time prove inquisitive. There is a genuine interest in the symbolic imagery – the weird yet somehow strangely familiar hieroglyphic language of the Tarot. The cards first appeared in Medieval Europe and the earliest examples of Tarot cards date back to Northern Italy in the early 1400’s, though their provenance has much earlier origins. Many people have some passing recognition of the cards from either horror films like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors , or Masque of the Red Death ) or from a unique roommate they knew in college. Others have had a deeply suspicious (i.e. fearful) religious programming inculcated from a young age which, in no uncertain terms, deems such items as Runes, talismans and the Tarot cards as treacherous gateways towards eternal damnation. This idea has been fostered by Hollywood time and again in numerous films and television dramas. Church groups actively work to warn their congregants of the dangers of the Occult. it is their ignorance and misunderstanding of the deeper spiritual mysteries concealed within these divinatory tools that causes such fear.
The wonderful Peter Cushing spreads the Tarot and deals the fates of men traveling by train in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors.
For some, the call of the exotic and the taboo can prove both irresistible and upsetting. The twinkle which catches one’s eye can upset the balance of a mind confronted with the dilemma faced when their firmly held beliefs and religious views are called into question. While trafficking with spirit boards or dabbling with divination can offer a thrill, it can also upset those who find more Truth and Wisdom about themselves than they ever expected, or even guessed, they would discover beneath the veil of mundane life. Whatever preconceived ideas people have of the Tarot cards there is often a dreaded yet curious fascination towards one or two of the 22 Major Arcana “Keys” or “Trumps”: namely XIII DEATH and XV THE DEVIL.
THE DEVIL from The Aquarian Tarot
A very real Fear of looking into your own shadow-reflection, the darkness within, exists in most people. The Shadow, in psychological terms, is the Ego’s blindspot. Even when one has spent years in spiritual practice, and has done serious meditative work with one’s own psyche, there will always be a risk of being surprised by what lies within the inner abyss of the individual soul. Very, very, few are able to completely transcend the chains of material bondage over which The Devil so delights to lord.
The Shadow, in psychological terms, is the Ego’s blindspot.
In a manner of speaking, The Devil in the Tarot is one’s own Shadow. Those aspects of our deepest, and most natural or instinctual (dare we say… truest), selves which we hide away from the world – and even from ourselves. All our secret traumas which have been unconsciously repressed. All our unrepentant animal urges and emotional energies we consciously suppress, (yet – to tell the truth – secretly long to exercise). Sometimes a person may seem “possessed” and the “Devil cuts loose”. We wonder “Whatever could have possessed me?”, and say “The Devil made me do it!” We often cannot accept or even understand our own emotional responses or why we sometimes act in certain ways.
The Tarot Devil usually depicts two people, or satyrs, chained and bound to the Lord of Darkness who stands or squats menacingly above them. But either their chains are of their own making or their collars are at least loose enough to slip off if they chose to do so. But Mardi Gras is fun – though there are good reasons why we cannot have it every day; and some people have difficulty stepping away from the betting table even when they are about to lose their shirt – or even themselves!!
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” But it lies buried.
The Devil is numbered XV = 15 in every Tarot deck. Numerology links 15 to 6 (1+5=6). 6 is The Lovers in the Tarot. The comparisons between The Devil and The Lovers are striking in many Tarot decks. The Lovers are often in an ideal setting and are receiving benediction from an angel on high. The Devil card is like the Shadow version of The Lovers card. The blissful situation has soured or sunk to a lower level. This in itself does not indicate “evil,” however.
We will not be delving deeply into divinatory meanings here, but The Tarot Devil can, at times, be seen as inverting or perverting the divine union of The Lovers into a kind of sick co-dependency, or bondage through materialism. It can also offer us a sense of play, mirth and delicious enjoyment. rapture of the flesh rather than the spirit (but the two are really one, you know).
THE LOVERS illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith
THE DEVIL illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith
The Lovers in a Marseilles style deck
The Devil in the Oswald Wirth Tarot
STRENGTH card from The Morgan-Greer Tarot.
However, beware of casting out your Devils that you do not lose the best part of yourself, your fundamental creative impulse, your Daemonic genius. As Joseph Campbell said: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” But it lies buried. We find it beneficial to care for and nurture your inner demons just as one would for wild beasts – cautiously and with close attention and strict guidelines. Just as the woman in The Strength card (Arcana VIII or XI – depending on the deck, which Aleister Crowley re-titled “LUST“) tames the lion with gentle ease.
“Be careful when you cast out your demons that you don’t throw away the best of yourself.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra
LE DIABLE from a Marseilles pattern deck
Additionally, The Devil in the Tarot can be an addiction to a habit or condition which has become overpowering and possessive of one’s soul, causing the individual to surrender his free will to the whims of a desire grown monstrous or even poisonous. A common example would be when instead of drinking alcohol the alcohol begins drinking you! Intoxicants, stimulants and sex can be used as rocket fuel to the Divine. They can cause ecstasy and transcendence. As stated in the Kularnavatantra: “One reaches heaven by the very things which may lead to hell.”
“One reaches heaven by the very things which may lead to hell.”
However, as Kenneth Grant points out in his Introduction to ‘Cults of the Shadow’: “if the sexual energies are not properly controlled and polarized, destruction awaits the practitioner who uses them without fully understanding the formula of the Left Hand Path which is, of all paths, the swiftest and the most dangerous.”
This gives credence to the ancient Tantric dictum: “The knower of truth should go about the world outwardly stupid like a child, a madman or a devil.”
“The knower of truth should go about the world outwardly stupid like a child, a madman or a devil.”
Arcana XIII – Card number 13
From an 18th century Florentine Minchiate Tarot (Etruria)
Most People dread thinking about their own death . Displaying a picture of The Grim Reaper, or turning over the Death card before their eyes will cause them to wince and whine. People hate to be reminded of their own mortality. In early decks this card is often left unnamed, only the image and the number serves to give it’s meaning.
In horror films, the appearance of the Death card inevitably means something terrible is about to occur. In reality, this card usually indicates a tremendous change to one’s circumstances or a metamorphosis taking place from within one’s soul.
But this is precisely the medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality, Memento Mori – Remember Death, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. In our shallow, materialistic culture of today, which celebrates and promotes youth and beauty and shuns acknowledgement of the aged and our inevitable end of existence, we seem to fear and try to fight off Death as something hateful and bad.
ARCANA XIII from Jodorowsky’s restored Marseilles pattern deck.
When one is capable of not only accepting the inevitable disintegration of one’s own organism but to even fully embrace it – and thereby to even more fully live, then we have to ask the question…
“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”
“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55
DEATH tramples upon King, Pope, Maiden and child in the Tarot illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith for the Rider-Smith deck.
Here is an instructional video we made for our Arcana Tarot Study Group here in Osaka, Japan. @ArcanaTarotOsaka on Facebook.
Click on link below for youtube video…
How to read the Tarot: Celtic Cross spread