As I spin out the idea of the Major Arcana as 3 circles of healing, I’ve come to view the first cards in the circle as representing the potential of the circle, as the healing achieved. Yes, the Magician as the skillful juggler of the male elements of fire and air as well as the female elements of water and earth represents the integration of masculine and feminine. Truly, Strength represents a new kind of power that flows from beyond the dissolved individual ego. Of course, the Devil …. [soundtrack: nasty record scratch sound] Actually, there is no “of course” with the Devil, but in the most recent Journey into the Tarot, I have come to know this figure as a healing force.
Many find the figure of The Devil the scariest card in the deck, even more fearsome than Death. The image of a part human, part beast was constructed in early European Christianity to represent Satan, the fallen angel, and particularly the evils of the flesh and the physical: sloth and sex and greed. The characteristics of pagan Gods – for example, the Greek’s half-goat Pan and the Celtic horned God of the hunt Cernunnos – were appropriated for this figure. In early Tarots, he sprouts wings and breasts; both gender and species are confused, which is presented as an intolerable. He is the Lord of Confusion, the Tempter of the Flesh, the Base One.
But below this image and its history, there is even more going on. The Devil casts a dark shadow, seen most clearly in the Western tradition, that comes from parsing things into categories of good and evil and splitting spirit from earth. This false dichotomy is a wound that for centuries has influenced how we see and organize our world. The Devil’s shadow represented by the black background of the card is far greater than the Devil figure on the card itself.
The psychologist Carl Jung is known for developing the idea of the Shadow. Jungian John Elder defines the Shadow:
“The Shadow describes the part of the psyche that an individual would rather not acknowledge. It contains the denied parts of the self. Since the self contains these aspects, they surface in one way or another. Bringing Shadow material into consciousness drains its dark power, and can even recover valuable resources from it. The greatest power, however, comes from having accepted your shadow parts and integrated them as components of your Self.” (From https://www.reconnections.net/shadow2.htm)
As part of my training in spiritual direction, I attended a presentation by Brother Don Bisson on Jungian insights for spiritual development and he said that the only way to keep growing is through integrating the shadow. He acknowledged that there is evil, but suggested that 90% of what is in the realm of shadow is fuel for growth and healing.
This is not to say that this is easy work. In the dark lurks that which we most fear. But we are not without protection. In recent readings with the Gaian Tarot when its version of the Devil, Bindweed, has appeared, people have seen the birds above the cowering blue figure as being protective. Prompted by this insight, I look at the tails of the female and male figures in the Rider-Waite-Smith card (above) as offering potential protection: the woman’s tail shows fruit growing even in a barren place and the male’s tail is a torch with which could light his way out of the dark. They can’t see their tails, but they are still there.
Nor is this work that is only for the individual. All the Major Arcana cards represent wisdom and challenges for the collective and The Devil with his own history of misappropriation of deities from other cultures calls for some deep group and ancestral work. This card becomes a call to heal the rift between spirit and earth as well as between people that takes forms such as racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all forms of oppression.
As we answer that call, the positive potential, the deep healing achievement of The Devil takes hold. The Devil is a healer!
[Note: The Devil from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot ® US Games Systems, Used with permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Bindweed from the Gaian Tarot used with permission.]