September 28, 2016

Describe Yourself in 3 Fictional Characters!

So there's this thing going around the interwebs which challenges people to describe themselves with three fictional characters. What can I say? Challenge accepted.


The very first person who came to mind is Gilderoy Lockhart, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In so many ways, he's me. He's charming and handsome, but he's also obnoxious and cunning. In the Harry Potter books, he embarrasses himself a few times when he's clearly out of his league, but he's not without skill: he's quite good with memory charms, don't you know. When it suits his purposes, he erases people's memories and rewrites their history to suit his purposes. Is he a one-trick pony? Yes. But look how far that one trick took him! And all he ever really mastered was how to erase memories and manipulate others' perception of him. Anybody who knows me is aware that I thrive on attention and am highly susceptible to flattery, but as a Tarot reader I also play the memory game - both with myself and with others!


The second person who comes to mind is Dr. Julian Bashir, the station physician on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Dr. Bashir has frequently tactless and ignorant of other people's emotions. When I'm not paying attention, I frequently brush people the wrong way. And of course, Dr. Bashir - like Gilderoy Lockhart, and like myself - is a bit of a braggart with a huge ego. Like it or not, he's very accomplished at what he does, and nary a moment goes by when he doesn't remind somebody of it. And why not? Who doesn't enjoy taking credit for a job well done? Dr. Bashir has a lust for life, and no matter how much he genuinely cares about getting along with people, he just can't stop himself from acting elitist and subtly or bluntly reminding everybody else of his accomplishments. He's obnoxious, but he's charming and he gets away with it because he's just that good at what he does.


I was tempted to name Schmendrick the Magician, but the third person who came to mind is the Wizard of Oz. And why not? I've always said from the start that I'm an entertainer. I take great pleasure in playing the role of the magician, but unlike some Tarot readers, I know full well that I'm just another Man Behind The Curtain. Am I saying that I'm a complete charlatan? Yes! Am I saying that there isn't any magic? No! Magic is as magic does, and even if I'm just playing a role, I play it masterfully enough to conjure real magic. But at the end of the day, I know that I'm playing a role, and I always take a bow and get off the stage when it becomes clear that the show is over.

September 25, 2016

Mainstream Satanism

I found an interesting essay on my RSS feeder this morning. This came from John Beckett, a Pagan who blogs at Patheos. In this essay, he's writing about mainstream Paganism. On the surface, it's nothing to do with Satanism since it's written by a Pagan author who's discussing a Methodist schism, but if you look past the surface, you'll see something relevant emerge: hierarchy. In the example given by the author, the true schism in the Methodist church didn't begin with GLBTQ+ clergy, but instead began when the church leadership decided to let the laity have a vote in church policies. 

According to this example, the "problem" is that the democratization of Methodism has opened the religion to mob rule. This is a really engaging discussion for me, because on the one hand I think that strong hierarchy is necessary for maintaining structure, but I also think that an entrenched hierarchy falls into stagnation and becomes disassociated from the reality in which the lower stratified members exist. 

Is growth "necessary?" Well, no. It's not necessary to maintain growth for the sake of growth. After all, who knows how many Fozzy Muppets and Whackadoo Weasels you'll attract? But then, if you're not growing and aren't turning a profit in the marketplace of ideas, then don't complain when you see somebody else doing something you thought was your sole purview when you've decided that you won't cross your self-selected boundaries into the real things that real people really care about. 

Does this sound familiar to you? It sounds familiar to me, and it's what I feel like I'm seeing played out in the cold war between the Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple, neither of which wants to be identified with the other. Despite some common threads of independence, personal liberty, and opposition to authority, the Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple share very little in common and both of have foundational elements which cannot be reconciled. There will never be a grand Satanic unification between these two organizations.

On the Church of Satan side, we've got a lot of people (myself included) who are very proud to support the only organization to promote Satanism as codified by Anton LaVey. The Church of Satan has clearly defined Satanism for over 50 years, and its leadership and members have produced vast tracts of writing and hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of video and audio content that expand upon the religion and philosophy of Satanism. 

Having said that, though, one of the core principles espoused by the Church of Satan is alien elitism. The Church of Satan has said since the beginning that it doesn't care about having a large membership: we only want the most productive, successful, influential, and accomplished people to climb our ranks. And why not? One accomplished person is arguably worth more than 10 unaccomplished people. An organization built on the selection and promotion of the strong develops an adamantine core.

And then on the other side, there's the Satanic Temple which even though it's a scant two years old, has launched itself into popular consciousness by often times very effectively inserting itself into real situations that affect real people. Of course, doing so has necessarily polarized the Satanic Temple to the political left, and has resulted in the popular conception that the Satanic Temple's primary (if not only) interest is campaigning for social change - Satanism as a religion is rather difficult to find within their publicly listed literature. The way it appears to me, the Satanic Temple has done away with hierarchy and democratized its goals according to popular sentiment.

And is that necessarily wrong? In the marketplace of ideas, the Satanic Temple is supplying the demand. Power is as power does, and if the Satanic Temple is capturing public attention and leveraging the Satanic archetype for their own purposes. Power is as power does, and if the Satanic Temple is successfully steering the definition of Satanism in a new direction, then who am I to complain about it if I'm an alien elitist who who holds himself apart from the hoi polloi? I can't have it both ways.

Democratization of religion naturally expands boundaries, but will those boundaries retain their original form? Enforcing religious hierarchy conserves tradition and crystallizes definitions, but removes the organization from the flow of time and culture. Can there ever be such a thing as mainstream Satanism? Well, that's a bundled question. If you start from the premise that there is only One True Satanism™ and that it's a religion for the alien elite, then by its very definition it can never be mainstream, and if it ever were, then it wouldn't be Satanism. 

But like I discussed in Left-hand Tarot #22) Satanic Jihad, cultural appropriation isn't a "political evil," but a fact of life. People have been taking ideas, customs, and traditions from people for as long as people have existed. As a member of the Church of Satan, I have the power to control what I myself think, say, and do. And while I of course can choose to actively oppose organizations which I consider to be non-Satanic, what does that really gain me? I think that the only thing it gains me is time and energy given to Satanism, which is time and energy that I could have spent on myself. 

And while it sounds like a silly thing to say since I publicly identify as a Satanist, I don't consider that identification to be my primary identity. Like Popeye, "I am what I am and that's all that I am." Satanism occupies a big part of my world paradigm, but if something happened tomorrow and it became necessary for me to abandon public support for and affiliation with the Church of Satan, I wouldn't be devastated. I would still know who and what I am, and nobody and nothing can change that.

But getting back to the democratization of religion... If, like Mr. Beckett posited in the essay that I linked earlier, the "real schism" at play here is is the democratization of religion, then any organization which gives itself over to management by popular opinion will become diluted and follow not the core intention of the religion, but the surface desires of those who steer it. What's to be done about this? According to Mr. Beckett,
Maintaining our Pagan identity does not require clergy. It does require people who are intelligent, educated, experienced, and dedicated to their religion and to its long-term success. And it requires the respect of the practitioners – not to follow the “experts” blindly, but to carefully consider what they have to say, especially when dealing with challenging issues.
Mr. Beckett isn't a Satanist, but what he said here sounds thoroughly Satanic to my ears: we need respect for hierarchy and the accomplishment of others. Not blind obedience, but rational consideration of the facts. The democratization of knowledge is frequently criticized as putting wise men on the same level as wise guys. Does this hold true for the democratization of religion? Time will tell, and depending on which side of the debate you stand, time has already told.

September 20, 2016

Tarot, the Devil, and You

The Last Judgement (detail)
Jacob de Backer
In the world of Tarot, there are few cards as polarizing as the Devil. And while the Devil of the Tarot has been around for a long time and has some well-established interpretations among the RWS and Marseilles traditions, each Tarot reader brings to the table his or her own cognitive biases and personal baggage. Depending on where you stand, the Devil is everything from a sex-slaved drug pusher to an iron-willed strongman. To help me through this discussion, I invited some of my favorite voices from the Tarot blogosphere to join the conversation and share their interpretations. Each respondent is shaping this conversation with his or her answer to the following four questions:
  1. How do you interpret the Devil?
  2. Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot?
  3. If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
  4. If you were the Devil, what would you do?
Through these four questions, each respondent is going to show us a different face of the Devil. Who and what will you find on this journey along the left-hand path? And lest anybody think that I'm skipping out on this exercise, you'll find my response at the very bottom of the page!

Let's open our discussion with Tarot Grandmaster Christiana Gaudet! Although I'm not a member of the ATA, I deeply respect the work they're doing to broaden and deepen the world of Tarot. As a grandmaster recognized by the Tarot Certification Board of America, Ms. Gaudet is no slouch! She's been recognized by her peers as a result of intense devotion to her craft, and even I don't read the Tarot exactly as she does, I revere her accomplishments and listen when she speaks. What has she to say?

How do you interpret the Devil?
In the moment of divination, all cards can speak in a variety of surprising ways. Typically, though, Major Arcana 15 can speak to me of a few specific things. I see the final seven numbered cards of the Major Arcana as the path to spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, card 15, the Devil, is the gatekeeper of that journey. No one becomes enlightened without confronting their Devil. What is it, then, to confront the Devil? The Devil can speak of our addictions, our emotional illnesses, and our obsessions. Often this card appears for people with mental or physical health problems, or to discuss the ravages of alcohol, drugs, food addiction, sex addiction and other unhealthy attachments. Sometimes this card can reveal our baser nature, that is, our tendencies toward greed, selfishness, and shallowness. When we confront the Devil, we see our own shadow self, or the shadow self of someone we love. We acknowledge our weakness, or lack of well-being. From there, we often have the option and ability to make changes and heal. From there, we always have the ability to take the journey toward our own spiritual enlightenment.
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot? Why is it your favorite?
There are two I find really poignant. In Spiral Tarot, by Kay Steventon, the Devil holds up a mirror for a woman to see herself. She recoils in horror, uncomfortable with what she sees. In the Robin Wood Tarot, we see a chest of treasure that is trapped, along with two people. It is possible for the people to be freed, but they cannot take their treasure with them.
tarot satanism
The Devil as featured in the Spiral Tarot
If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
So, this is a loaded question during the US political season, isn’t it? I am going to say that the Devil is the news media – creating for us an unhealthy reality that doesn’t truly exist, and making it difficult for us to know what is really true.
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
In many ways, we are all the Devil, in that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience, and the Devil is, in some ways, the earthy epitome of that human experience. So, I will say this. I am the Devil, and I do my best to stay slim, to be healthy and to stay in a space of compassionate detachment. My inner Devil wants me to eat chocolate, sleep too much, skip the gym and get drunk. My inner Devil wants me to care too much about things I cannot change. My inner Devil wants me to be afraid. Every day, I acknowledge and honor myself as Devil, but choose not to let that part of myself do the steering (most of the time).
So at the start of our exploration of the Devil, Grandmaster Gaudet takes us on a journey through the traditional interpretation of the Devil as a representative of base hedonism and unhealthy bondage to material concerns. According to Grandmaster Gaudet, the Devil is an innate part of all of us - you, me, everybody - but the first step toward spiritual enlightenment. For me as a Satanist, I find this difficult to reconcile because I'm an atheist and don't accept the existence of spirit, and of course Anton LaVey glorified the Seven Deadly Sins in his 8th Satanic Statement.

Although, having said that, I deeply sympathize with her depiction of the news media as the Devil since it's been shown (especially during this election cycle) that they have little concern for the truth and are almost entirely devoted to anything that keeps their ratings high and their bank accounts fat. The Satanist in me says that this is a perfect example of lesser-magic in action: viewers encapsulated within a figurative monoculture cocoon in which they're insulated against any opposing views. For many TV-consumers, it's not about current events but insulating themselves a self-affirming echo chamber. As long as they hear what they want, the chosen network's advertisers stay happy and the money keeps flowing. Clearly, there are consequences for being so thoroughly divested from reality! 

Let's move on to our next voice, Carrie Mallon. Ms. Mallon is a prolific blogger and a woke voice in the Tarot blogosphere. One of my favorite posts of hers is a vlog she made about how the Tarot can't tell you anything you don't already know. You may feel differently, but I agree with Ms. Mallon because although I accept the magic and mysticism of the Tarot, I first and foremost consider it a tool for creative thinking and purposeful imagining. Check out her blog! In meantime, what has she to tell us about the Devil?

How do you interpret the Devil?
The Devil is definitely one of the more multi-faceted cards for me. Along with the more traditional view, I sometimes interpret this card as associated with all-consuming addictions or a sense of being enslaved by forces either internal or external. For me, this card shows up a lot when I'm dealing with resistance, or feeling blocked and uncreative, or refusing to look at the big picture in a given circumstance. But in a more holistic view, I sometimes interpret this card in a more irreverent way. Mainstream culture generally condemns the archetype of the devil as bad, scary and evil. I think this card can ask us to examine WHY we condemn certain things as "wrong." The Devil can be that fresh-blooded force that turns our assumptions around, that causes us to actively check-in with our moral compass instead of just letting it run on auto-pilot. Sometimes the things that we think are wicked are actually just repressed by an overzealous society.
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot? Why is it your favorite? 
I wanted to say something more unique but I have to go with the good old Waite-Smith version. The Baphomet imagery hits such visceral notes for me, and combined with the naked, chained, tail bearing humans and the dark background, the card doesn't hold back. It packs a punch!
satanic tarot
Good old Baphomet as featured in the well-known Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot.
If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
Oh jeez, there's way too much low hanging fruit right now for this question. You know, I think Hillary Clinton is actually a pretty interesting example. She's famously loathed, and she's done some things that have been largely perceived as devilishly unscrupulous. But I'd argue she's also kind of a bad-ass who has done some pretty cool, if controversial stuff (pushed for unprescribed access to the morning after pill, for one thing). Like the Devil, she's complex and not easily defined as "good" or "evil."
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
I see the Tarot cards as reflections of the human psyche, and I think we all have an "inner Devil" just as we have an inner Hermit or an inner Fool. I will say that I don't think Devil energy is one of my primary modes of being, but I do let my inner Devil roam wild every now and then. If I were REALLY to let that Devil energy come out, I think what I'd most likely do is some light-hearted trolling of religious fanatics. I mean, I wouldn't want to TORMENT them or anything, just poke a little fun. That may sound terrible, but to me the Devil shows that part of us that simply wants to rebel and embody our OWN version of freedom.
Wow! What great provocative answers. What I most enjoyed in Ms. Mallon's perspective is the nuanced and misunderstood qualities of the Devil, but also the usefulness. So the Devil represents the "bad" stuff? And who named that stuff "bad?" Dig deeper and you'll find the answers. And yes, say what you will about Hillary Clinton - and there's a lot to say - but she does embody some Devil qualities such as strength, originality, and nuance. I appreciate Ms. Mallon's sympathy for the Devil!

Next in our discussion is somebody I call a Tarot friend, Angelo Nasios. Mr. Nasios is the author of the recently released Unlocking the Arcana and also voted Young Tarosophist of the Year when he was only 23. So when I see somebody who's proven himself and been recognized by his peers, I take notice and even if I don't agree with everything he has to say, I listen to it. I've had the privilege of chatting with him on occasion, so it's a pleasure to share his thoughts here.

How do you interpret the Devil?
As with all the cards, interpretations can go into many directions. In personal readings, I see the Devil as an indication that I am spending too much money or buying too much stuff. On the mythic scale, the Devil depicts the hero’s descent into underworld. Joseph Campbell viewed this as the journey we take into the unconscious mind to discover our strengths during a moment of helplessness. Campbell also viewed it as our coming to terms with our dark or negative self. So, with this in mind, the Devil, while challenging, can in the end result in something positive in terms of self-development. Some other things that the Devil means for me is blockage, ignorance and fear.
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot? Why is it your favorite?
The Devil in Ciro Marchetti’s Gilded Tarot Royale, because come on look at that body!
tarot satanism
The Devil from Ciro Marchetti's Gilded Tarot Royale
 If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
Just about any politician, take your pick. Why? Because politicians feed the public fear and the Devil is about fear, playing on your fears and manipulation.
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
My first answer is NSFW ;)
The angle captured by Angelo in this reading follows the common association of the devil with hedonism. This isn't simply a matter of material indulgence, but of gross, indiscriminate consumption; however, like previous responses we've seen, the Devil is the material dark-side to the Tarot's spiritual light-side, so consequently you can't appreciate the heights to which you might ascend until you've fully experienced the depths to which you can fall. Which makes a lot of sense to me since I understand many things through an expression of polarity and opposition. But of course, me coming from Satanism, I struggle to accept the Devil as a necessary step toward spiritual enlightenment when spirit is something I don't believe exists. Well, to each his own. And I suppose I could always be wrong? But until then, I'll join Angelo in his celebration of the Devil as a gateway to material happiness and physical indulgence! You can visit Angelo at his website, and don't forget to subscribe on YouTube!

Next to share her perspective is Ms. Ginny Hunt of 78 Notes to Self. She's a terrific writer and of her offerings I've specifically enjoyed her exploration at the intersection of intuition and mental health (you should read her essay about hypervigilance.) Due to my own struggle with mental health, I thought that it was a really engaging essay and am happy to share her writing with you. Ms. Hunt, would you please do us the privilege of enlightening us?

How do you interpret the Devil?
We are talking about the tarot card here, right? Because if not, then we don't have time for my answer. The thing about me and tarot is I can't divorce it from its medieval roots. I know some can and do, I just can't. Blame it on my inquisitive bent that always wants to know why and my fascination with human culture and sociology, but I trace things back to the beginning, or as close to it as possible, and then see how said thing was viewed in its current time. I then bring that view to the present and adapt it for modern use.  
The Devil, in medieval times, was a foul creature that fucked up pretty much everyone and everything by cunningly tempting people to be their own undoing. Master of illusions and manipulation, Lord of the Material World, the Devil was a mixture of ancient tribal belief and religious, specifically Christian, teaching. The Devil, although present in pre-Christian and even pre-Judaic literature and art, was truly fleshed out by the early Christians. By medieval times, Devil depictions had transformed into a hideous and deformed shadow of Pan, Baphomet, and other pagan deities. I find this truly fascinating because the Greeks' dualism and early Judaic teachings state that each of us have these characteristics within us, the evil and the good. But somehow the Devil became an entity in his own right by 70 AD, a sovereign being outside of the self that tempts the soul to do bad things to gain more souls for Hell to get back at God for some unknown prehistoric slight. Fate itself is personified in medieval art, and in tarot (The Wheel) as are the Virtues, or many of them -- Justice, Temperance, Love, etc. It's also notable that the Devil, sequentially, comes right on the heels of Temperance as if to say too much moderation can be a bad thing. Just god damn funny, tarot is.  
Taking the medieval Devil and bringing him into 21st century tarot means seeing the very scary and ugly side to human existence, the one they could not own as part of themselves. The card brings to mind the crazy things we do to ourselves in our striving to "be good" and then radically failing because we really are depending on some outside force to either keep us motivated or blame our downfall on. It centers around the theme of taking responsibility for oneself. The Devil, to me, represents many other themes -- rationalizing poor choices, obsession, self-absorption, addiction, etc. In action, it's usually taking a good thing too far. And these issues usually have psychological or emotional roots, but they demonstrate themselves in a physical way with very real, material consequences. What's deceptive about it is that the "things" being indulged in are not in themselves negative or harmful -- usually. It's the way in which they are practiced and the justifications and rationalizations that follow. Damage is done primarily to the one dancing with the Devil, but also to many others as collateral damage, side victims. 
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot? Why is it your favorite? 
Can't choose just one! I have two that come to mind immediately. First, Tarot of Durer By Giacinto Gaudenzi. This not only depicts a pretty authentic medieval Devil in form but also symbolizes the custom of scapegoating -- the Hebrew Saʿir La-ʿazaʾzel, means “goat for Azazel," one of the fallen angels in the book of Enoch. It highlights the "personal responsibility" theme and the false idea that we can place the blame for our own misdeeds on someone or something else. Below the picture is the word "Malefaber" which means "contriving evil, cunning, crafty, insidious." The part animal, mostly human being with secondary sexual characteristics of both male and female indicates this tendency is found in both male and female humans and is an "animal" impulse -- we expect more from ourselves. 
Another favorite Devil is by Ciro Marchetti in his Gilded Tarot. This guy is hot. A horny Captain America. On the practical side, medieval depictions of the Devil often take a lot of historical and even Biblical backstory to really understand (like who else could readily see the scapegoat imagery in the other card but someone like me -- history and religious symbolism geeks?) whereas this image is not at all hard to understand even though it also is rife with symbolism. Funny, Ciro admits didn't even know that much about tarot when he designed this deck but this card is, to me, one of the most profound even in its Harlequin romance novel-ish imagery. The Pentacle in the background alludes to the idea that the Devil is earthbound and Lord of the Material Realm. You can't tempt someone with repulsiveness, so the allure of the attractive naked physical body, the dangerous seductiveness of the flames along with the secretiveness of the helm that covers his eyes so not only does he not see you but you can't see his true identity either. It's really quite packed with meaning. 
satanic tarot reading
The Devil as featured in the Tarot of Durer
If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
You would have to ask this in an election year. It would be too easy to point to Donald Trump --but only in the way that others before him and others after him will continue to enable others to indulge in scapegoating, blame, and abuse of the Other. He's not the least bit attractive, but he legitimizes what some people already do and want to do and I think that is tempting and attractive to many people -- to not give a shit about others you perceive as the cause of one's problems. But I think the Devil is more subtle than Trump and could even be someone promoting ideas such as Bernie Sanders campaigned on -- as much as I like him and agree with him, his supporters also felt justified in blaming and harming others. I honestly don't think the Devil can be personified like that. We all have these impulses and have all fallen to them. The whole culture we live in is a big mirror that reflects the Devil in all of us as well as the Gods/Goddesses we all are. The 24 hour profit driven cable news networks, the newspapers, etc. all have a stake in creating dependence and followers, so these are very Devil-like attributes. At the same time, social media has connected us in ways we couldn't be before and has played a real part in holding people, businesses, law enforcement and even ourselves responsible for our actions in real time. The Devil is woven throughout because he is us. 
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
I am. And I would tell myself to go ahead and eat that chocolate cake because it's been a long, hard day and I deserve it. To hell with the gym and while you're at it light up another cigarette. Relax. It can wait until tomorrow. My personal demons.
Of all the responses I received for this survey. Ms. Hunt's response is the one with which I most sympathize. Not that she's more correct than anybody else, but that her interpretation is something resonates with my approach to Satanism and Tarot. Ms. Hunt's view of the Devil as an agent of chaos, instability, and disorder is very close to my own interpretation of the Devil, and of course speaking as a Satanist I was nodding along at her insistence that the Devil represents animal impulse in humans. And frequently tied into animal impulse is sex and sexuality - the Devil literally lets it all hang out and doesn't put up any pretenses about having reaching a plane of enlightenment where such desires no longer exist. Say what you will about the Devil and its lying, manipulative ways, but it's consistently honest when it comes to sex. Sex, sex, sex... what? Where was it? Yes - and cruelty, too. This is the first time in our survey where the Devil has been given its due as a mean and inconsiderate. Is the world in which we live frequently cruel and inconsiderate? Absolutely. And while it's the prerogative of travellers on the right-hand path to look for spiritual ascension and pushing toward the ennoblement of human consciousness, to me - as a traveller of the left-hand path - I wonder if it isn't a fruitless effort to train every generation away from its animal instincts. Can such work be accomplished? Time will tell!

Another Tarot blogger I'm happy to share with you folks is Ms. Mia Alviz. I've enjoyed several entries from her blog including her discussion of the Tarot grand tableau, but have also enjoyed other discussions. She's so friendly and her writing and so interesting that I couldn't imagine leaving her out of this discussion! What does she have to say?

How do you interpret the Devil?
Well, the Devil is a card I've grown fond of with time. I feel very appealed for all its complex implications. To be honest, first thing that comes to my mind when I see the Devil is rough, animal sex, the kind of crazy sex that creates a bond, though not always the healthiest; however, its implications go above and beyond that. The Devil is sexy, is inappropriate, sometimes toxic but it feels so good. To me it represents our guilty pleasures, but also the ties that hold us back but are so damn difficult to get rid of because we actually enjoy them.
The Devil is the toxic relationship we are tied to because we become addicted to the emotional rollercoaster, the shitty job we don't dare to leave because it is what pays the mortgage at the end of the month, the lifelong friend we can't stand anymore but we appreciate and the victimization we enjoy because it feels good to be the "poor me" and wake up the compassion of our surroundings.
Some people compare the Devil to a cancer, but I differ, for it is not something we can get rid of. Being "on terms" with the Devil is pretty much our own responsibility. To me, it is not the cancer, but more like smoking, something we could just stop doing if we had the guts for it. In a nutshell: The Devil is tempting, but it doesn't point to our head with a gun, we go there by our own will, and we are as free to leave. If we truly want to.
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot? Why is it your favorite?
Yes, of course I do! My all times favourite Devil card is the one from The Housewives Tarot. It is just perfect and it speaks a lot to me. What a better depiction of the Devil that one that stays away from mysticism and woo-woos and dare to show the real, simple, and daily stuff we become addicted and sometimes dependant to? The Devil is a sexy brownie who smokes, as simple as that, and yet as complex. It is one of the funniest and rawest depictions I've ever seen. There's no emotional blackmail, there are no promises, it is just us and our vices, whether we like it or not.
satanic tarot card reading
The Devil from The Housewives' Tarot
If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
First thing I thought was Donald Trump, but then I realized he is neither that handsome, nor that smart. I think this is the most difficult question here... I think it would be more like a shopping channel or the Tarot reader's show at 3 a.m. Something that gives you your dose and sucks the hell out of you without reporting any true benefit.
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
This one is short and simple. Minding my own business and partying like hell!
And this is why I enjoy follow Ms. Alviz's blog! Her perspective is maybe the most entertaining that I've read so far, and I love the way that she approaches the Devil not just holistically, but with the sense that the Devil takes not by force, but by temptation. Spam, Cheese-Wiz, TV dinners, uppers, downers, martinis, smokes, and devil's food cake: the Devil is all the stuff you want and voluntarily choose, but also all the stuff that you know will do you in before the end. I think she perfectly captures the every-day temptations that so many of people blame on the Devil, but also the truth that the Devil-as-temptress is easily countered by self-discipline. And while I disagree with Ms. Alviz that the Devil is somebody who needs to be defeated (since I believe the Devil is merely a metaphor for the carnal self), I whole-heartedly agree with the importance she ascribes to iron self-discipline. Who knows what can be achieved if you truly want it?

One of the biggest traps that I fall into as a Tarot reader are the Satanic sins of solipsism and orthodoxy. It's so easy and tempting for me to see nothing outside of myself as a Tarot reader, and this is especially easy to do when I strongly disagree with another reader's perspective. In this situation, that's why I appreciate Steven Bright, professional Tarot reader and tutor: not because I identify with his work, but because I don't! Mr. Bright's white-light, right-hand path, angel-communication Tarot is so far away from what I believe that practically speaking we've got no common ground, but I find that few things help me better define myself than polarity and well-defined opposition. So while you, Mr. Bright, may be wondering why I even bothered inviting you to participate, I assure you that I mean this as a compliment! What has Mr. Bright to say?

How do you interpret The Devil?
I always see the Devil as depicting our shadow side. As with everything, I find it advisable to acknowledge our dark and light side, so the card can concern letting your hair down, enjoying yourself, and embracing your animal instincts. However, when we allow ourself to become controlled by these things, the card can take us out of balance. This is when it highlights difficulties for a lot of people.
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot?
The one which always comes to mind is from Robin Wood Tarot. Within the image is an illustration of a monkey carved onto a treasure chest. The monkey has its hand inside a trap. It could easily escape by letting go of the treats within its grasp but with his fist clenched it is the wrong shape to pass through the opening and he is eventually caught by hunters. The version shows how we can become trapped by greed or choose to not walk away from those things which are really not helping us.
satanism tarot reading
The Devil as featured in the Robin Wood Tarot.
Sorry, the detail is too small to show the monkey Mr. Bright described.
If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
Within the news, I cannot think of any one person who would resemble the Devil. However, I feel he could describe anyone who is attracted to power for the wrong reasons - to manipulate or control. 
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
Like many cards within the tarot, I think that the Devil can be misunderstood and unnecessarily feared. With that in mind, if I were the Devil, I'd probably entice a couple of fellow pleasure-seekers and go and indulge in all of those things I've given up over the past four years! 
Though I somehow doubt that Mr. Bright has any experience with Satanism, what I hear him describing here are two very Satanic concepts: Indulgence instead of compulsion, and the danger of counter-productive pride. Contrary to popular opinion, Satanism is not gross hedonism, but careful selection of the best that life has to offer. In this sense, I completely agree with Mr. Bright that there is danger in falling out of balance due to disgusting and unhealthy compulsions. And like the monkey he describes with its hand caught in a trap for the sole reason that it won't release a handful of treats that it grabbed within the box. Sadly, I couldn't find any high-resolution images showing this scene, but I'm sure you can imagine it. If the monkey in this scene could acknowledge its counter-productive pride and release the treats, it'd live to see another day. So, strangely enough - even though Mr. Bright and I come at the Tarot from nearly opposite directions - he and I share common ground. Funny how that works, eh?

And now, I present to you one of my absolutely favorite Tarot bloggers, Ms. Benebell Wen. There's so much that I love about Ms. Wen's writing. Naturally, I'm quite fond of her website because I won a free copy of the Dark Tarot in a contest that she was hosting, but also because she helped me find what's probably my favorite Tarot deck of all-time, the Tarot of the Loka. So, thanks for that, Ms. Wen! And for those reasons and others, I'm delighted to be able to include her voice in this survey. What say you, Ms. Wen?

How do you interpret the Devil? 
I interpret the Devil as self-indulgent defilements that tether us to suffering. It represents that which we must renounce in order to break free and be truly liberated from the cyclical nature of what it means to be human.
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot? Why is it your favorite? 
I don’t have a favorite, but I’d like to share three versions of Key XV—from the Hezicos Tarot by Mary Griffin, The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot by Chic and Tabatha Cicero, and the Celestial Tarot by Kay Steventon and Brian Clark. 
I’m intrigued by the enduring depiction of the Devil as a horned goat-god and in the majority of versions, such as you see in the Hezicos Devil and The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot, the depiction of human bondage. It’s not my favorite but I’m intrigued by such imagery because the allusion to the satyr is more about indulging in physical pleasures, which of course suggests that we associate physical pleasure with defilement and suffering, and that to me is interesting, because that is a current of philosophical thought in both Western and Eastern religion. 
satanic fortune telling
The Devil as featured in the Hezicos Tarot
If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
I have no idea. The Devil card touches upon an internal struggle and to me, it isn’t necessarily an indication of public persona. I don’t know anybody in the news well enough to know if they’re going through a “Devil-card-internal-struggle-that-tethers-them-to-suffering,” so I don’t want to make uneducated assumptions. 
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
By that, do you mean if I were to embody the archetype of the Devil while retaining my consciousness and character or if I were to diverge from who I am now and become someone who is my interpretation of the Devil? If the first, then I would try to exorcise those demons and work conscientiously at transcendence to evolve out of that archetype, and if you meant the latter, then knowing me, I would aspire to be the best, most powerful, most notorious Devil there ever was.
Ah-ha, ever so diplomatic, Ms. Wen; I understand and appreciate your thoughtful responses! Clearly, you and I are coming at the Devil from very different angles - not that we must agree, simply that like other voices in this survey there's a fundamental divide between our interpretations that won't be bridged. But that doesn't mean we can't understand each other! In case I forgot to say it earlier, you can find my response to these same questions at the end of this survey - you're not obligated, but of course I'd enjoy to hear your feedback if you felt inclined to do so. So that's to say, I don't consider the Devil an obstacle to ascension primarily because I don't believe there's anywhere to which I can ascend: this is it. Like Popeye, I am what I am and that's all that I am.

What spoke to me most about your responses was the way that you illustrated the popular conception that earthly delights are tied into defilement and bondage. Not frequently, but often enough I hear from clients who ask me if they'll be indebted to the Devil in exchange for seeking answers through him. I typically respond that there's nothing to worry about since I don't believe that the Devil exists as literal deity, but this conversation brings to mind the sentiment that I heard in your answer: good things in life always come with strings attached. Is this necessarily so? I suppose there's choice-and-consequence in all affairs, but me being who I am, I'm reluctant to say that all satisfaction happens on a strict transactional basis. Quid pro quo?

Another great Tarot voice that I'm happy to share is Ms. Jenna Matlin who's an all-around smarty pants and has written lots of things that I enjoyed. Recently, I enjoyed her three-part love-letter to Tarot professionals (part 1, 2, and 3), but there's lots of other good stuff on her blog and you should check it out. What does Ms. Matlin bring to our discussion?

How do you interpret the Devil?
The Devil card in tarot is one of the most complex and interesting cards in the deck. The Devil shows up for many different situations and has a depth that few other cards match in complexity, as well as conflicting interpretations. When the Devil appears in relationship questions He can usually mean either an affair, or in a relationship wherein there is a heavy sexual-obsessive component to the relationship. Conversely, the Devil can also just mean a very hot and steamy relationship where sexual boundaries are being explored and pushed.
The Devil can also mean an addiction or depicting someone who is an addict. The Devil can also mean for me the 'devil on your shoulder,' basically your inner critic, pointing out the things you are doing wrong or talking you into doing things that do not jive with what you have been told you should do, or believe is true about yourself.  
Finally, the Devil can also appear when the message is to undertake 'devil's play' and push your own boundaries, take risks, reorganize what you believe right or wrong or decorum or living a full life may mean for you. The Devil is one of the most fascinating cards in the deck and I do not think He gets nearly enough airtime for all the things He can signify and mean. 
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot? Why is it your favorite? 
I really like the Devil in Baba Studio's Romantic Victorian Tarot. It is a lovely woman with bat wings holding a snake and roses, at her feet lies a pile of gold and she has a welcoming smile. I like this depiction because I believe that the Devil looks like us, and is very much an aspect of who we are as people. The Devil is temptation, the old Christian archetype of will versus desire but I think we need to push out of that dynamic. The Devil to me is about negotiating and finding a balance. Seeking pleasure, being okay with pleasure and living a life that is undeniably human with its vast urges; to seek making a relationship with those aspects of it without having to go to war with ourselves for it.
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The Devil as featured in the Victorian Romance Tarot 
If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
Every Pharmaceutical company convincing people they need their drugs on TV. But, then, that might be unfair to the Devil. 
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
Who says that I'm not? ;) 
What a tightly bundled bunch of feedback from Ms. Matlin! Something that really stood out to me as a Satanist is her insistence that the Devil represents accepting and enjoying life - all of life - no matter how much it doesn't live up to Puritan ideals of morality. Like Ms. Matlin's description of the Devil, life is multi-faceted and difficult to pin down in any one way. And me being a Satanist, I naturally read into her words what Anton LaVey said about Satanism: it must ever remain “a custard that can't be nailed to the wall." The world is a complicated place, and it's not anybody's job to make it straight, but it's each of our jobs to live within it the best that any of us can.

And now that those voices have spoken, I present my own:

How do you interpret the Devil?
I read the Devil as an external agent of chaos, destruction, and disorder that is forever outside anybody's control. The Devil cannot be controlled or directed, only experienced. And while the Devil may cause you to experience confusion and anxiety or even bring wanton violence and cruel invasion against everything you hold dear and have built for yourself through the application of your iron will, the Devil also destroys what's weak. Oliver Goldsmith famous said, "Be not affronted at a joke. If one throw salt at thee, thou wilt receive no harm, unless thou art raw." I don't consider the Devil to be a joker - there's nothing funny about the withering force of its fell hand - but in the spirit of Oliver Goldsmith, the Devil prunes the weak. The strong will survive unscathed, and the vacuum occupied by the weak will be replaced by something new and youthful. All things whose time have passed will perish, and new life will emerge to replace the forcefully retired. I'd call my Devil the Grim Reaper, but it is not merely death - it is the lack of certainty and the absence of sure outcomes. Anything may happen - hold tightly to what you love and cherish, but don't be surprised when you lose hold of it. Nobody and nothing are immune to change.
Do you have a favorite depiction of the Devil in Tarot?
My favorite depiction of the Devil was illustrated by Salvador Dali in his Tarot Universal. In this illustration, a dark, androgynous figure holds a chained butterfly. Presumably expecting to be carried into flight by a captured fantasy, the figure steps into the void completely ignorant of the hands which push it into the abyss. This is the chaos of which I speak: the person featured in this illustration is not the Devil, but is instead somebody disrupted by the Devil. Instead of flying into fantasy with illusory wings, the figure falls into the abyss. "The best laid schemes of mice and men," and what not. Because I read the Devil as the polar opposite of the Chariot, the Devil embodies a complete loss of control and inability to steer affairs in any direction at all due to factors totally outside your control. The Devil is a pusher - what'll you find after you pick yourself up from the fall? 
satanic tarot card spread
The Devil as featured in the Tarot Universal by Salvador Dali
If the Devil were somebody in the news, who would it be?
Yes... I would have to ask this during an election year, wouldn't I? This is a surprisingly difficult question! Because I read the Devil as somebody or something that is subjected to chaos and disarray and has a complete inability to achieve deliberate ends, the nearest approximation of the Devil that I see in the news is Hillary Clinton. Now, let me make a few qualifications: I do not believe that Hillary Clinton is the Devil, nor do I believe she's possessed by the Devil. Instead, it's more accurate to say that I think she's bedeviled, or struggling with disorder. You might have thought that I'd say Donald Trump is the Devil, but he doesn't seem bothered by the volatile twists and turns of the campaign at all - truth told, he seems to thrive on it. 
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, struggles to dominate the media cycle; is frequently on the defensive against the most incredible lies you can imagine; is often doing damage control against Donald Trump; and generally failing to steer her presidential chariot anywhere she wants it to go. Perhaps this will change after the debates, but for now Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign are the epitome of the Devil card: confused, disordered, attacked, disarrayed, and scattered as a result of outside interference.
If you were the Devil, what would you do?
If I were the Devil as described, I'd probably be a lost, impoverished, and damaged person. Well, to be honest, I'd probably be a lot like I was when I was struggling with un-diagnosed and un-managed mental health issues, and that was a pretty sad part of my life. But as deeply depressing as that period was, it was a pivotal time in my life that put a lot of wheels in motion which, taken as a whole, brought me to where I am today. I'm not saying that I enjoyed that period of my life, or that I think there's any value in suffering, but I am saying that without those deeply negative and unpleasant experiences, I wouldn't have as strong a sense of direction and appreciation for urgency that I do today. So I suppose all of that is to say, If I were bedeviled, I'd work very hard to find a way out of it. 
But, I guess this raises the question: if my Devil of the Tarot is only a representation of chaotic force being applied to an affair, then from whence comes this devilish influence? Since I read the Devil as the complimentary opposite of the Magician, then the answer lies there: the Magician is he or she whose work is called the Devil by those subjected to the Magician's influence. Clearly, it's better to be the one who works the magic than the one worked upon by the magic. Here's to all the magicians doing the devil's work!

September 05, 2016

Ask Me Anything: Is Tarot mainstream?

In my digital travels, I met a person who posed the following questions:
Is tarot mainstream? Does tarot need to be mainstream? Is there work to be done to make tarot mainstream? The second is about tarot and education. Should anyone who wants to know about tarot have access to knowledge? Should anyone teaching tarot accept anyone as a student? Is tarot truly for everyone?
Is Tarot mainstream?
  • Tarot is thoroughly mainstream. It has saturated public awareness and while it's still not - and may never be - considered a respectable profession, it's not the social pariah that it once was. I mean, how much "scare" factor does Tarot really have if you can buy a Tarot deck at almost any chain bookstore?
Does Tarot need to be mainstream?
  • Tarot doesn't "need" anything. It's thriving, and is being actively shaped by mainstreamed readers, marginalized readers, and everybody in between. Tarot has become so syncretic and open to interpretation that it's now totally plastic. Well, the popular forms remain dominant, but there's no 
Should anyone who wants to know about tarot have access to knowledge?
  • Don't equate Tarot with Christianity. There's no need to proselytize for the Tarot God. Those who wish to claim power for themselves and apply lesser magic to their own ends will find their way to fortune-telling one way or another. 
Should anyone teaching tarot accept anyone as a student?
  • Again, don't equate Tarot with Christianity: there's absolutely no sacred duty to raise up the next generation of readers or to "keep a divine flame lit." The fact is, some students are total assholes, and some people who presume themselves to be teachers are utter crap.
Is tarot truly for everyone?
  • Again, don't mistake Tarot with Christianity. There's zero mandate for everyone to learn Tarot. Who's it for? It's for anyone who's strong enough to learn it. If you're not strong enough to apply yourself to the goal of becoming an accomplished fortune-teller, then Tarot isn't for you.