We know the drill: the Devil equals temptation, lust, affairs, addiction, abuse, debt, control issues, material entrapment; contracts with the self or with others, all of which are unfulfilling. In readings, it’s tempting to see the Devil’s enchantment as external, and we its little victims. But before I get into a lengthy diatribe on the moral aberrations of this most flagrant of cards, I’m intervening to say this: that the Devil also presents an opportunity to look closely at our conscious or unconscious choices. Unravel the god of excess, and we find unexpected gifts; a key to life-changing action. By understanding how we arrived at a Devil situation, we are better equipped to deal with him.
First, the doorways: these are the four minor arcana cards which lead toward the Devil’s Coming (I know this sounds rather hellfire, but interpret as you will). These are the Fives, which form part of the Devil’s number XV: the Five of Pentacles, Five of Cups, Five of Wands and Five of Swords. These are the tests and, given how we respond to them, they may be just the ticket to the Devil’s waiting room: trapped by ego (Wands), poverty (Pentacles), humiliation and shame (Swords) or loss (Cups). After all, the Devil plays on insecurities. In short, these Fives symbolize vulnerabilities that may lead us to give away our power.
Next, I wonder what leads us so completely into the lair, to go from a Five to a XV. Given he’s the shadow side of VI, the Lovers (the reduction of XV), I consider that the Devil may be the result of a decision delayed, a giving away of power. Poised between Temperance and the chaos of Tower, he surely represents the consequence of not fully owning ourselves or our decisions: that unsteady ground of over-compromise. If we do not act when prompted by the Lovers, a situation festers and is pushed down into the subconscious realm of fear, shame, and unrealised truths. This is the Devil’s domain, the base, material depths; yet it is also where our instinctual creative power resides, suppressed and hidden, waiting for early release.
Here’s one example of a Five and XV journey. Some years back I worked with the tarotist and author Kay Stopforth (Quantum Tarot, Universe Cards). Each month we’d get together to read, using her Hero’s Journey spread. The central card position represented our greatest current challenge. For more than two years of our six-year tarot meet-up, the Devil came up as my central card. And the Five of Wands, my very own doorway to the devil realm, would also appear so often it became a joke between us (Oh, not again, Liz… at which point I’d help myself to another tea cake). At some level, I saw my situation at work as simply an ongoing test, and given time I would work out the winning formula. My ego said my manager would change her personality if I kept trying to appease her. (This wasn’t about finances. The work was better paid than others at an equivalent level in other companies.) Only when I left the company I had been working for and the all-consuming boss did the Devil entirely disappear from the spread. Looking back, I ignored my early Lover’s card so long it flipped into its shadow.
This helped me reflect upon how the Devil can be a great teacher, a lesson we encounter over and again and which persists until we get the message; we’re never too aware, evolved nor clever not to need him. In a reading for yourself, he offers a great opportunity for focus, to see where most of your energy is going and how you’re being consumed – whether this is through giving away time, creativity, love, money. This idea of consumption brings to mind the fifteenth-century Visconti Sforza Tarot and a card that shows three figures being eaten by the Devil. It’s a grotesque image, dominated by a central human face who appears bewildered rather than agonised by his predicament. He’s half-eaten, yet unaware of what is going on. If we find ourselves in a Devil situation, it is not down to stupidity or bad motivation. The Devil creeps up on us. He’s not riding a horse and holding a banner that screams, ‘Hand over your soul!’ At first, he may make you feel good with a surface enticement. He may come to you as the Magician, disguised. The Hebrew letter associated with the Devil is Ayin. Its symbol is the eye, meaning ‘clear vision’. And that’s exactly what is needed – to recognize a potential devil situation before it consumes our energy, before we have agreed to our own enslavement.
In Game of Thrones Tarot, artist Craig Coss and I chose the psychopath Ramsay Bolton as the Devil, one of the most obvious pairings for us in the deck. Ramsay entices the Ironborn prince Theon Greyjoy by offering him freedom, but then betrays him, leading him right back to the dungeons of the Dreadfort, the seat of House Bolton. He has him castrated by henchmen, tortures him and forges a perverse intimacy based on psychological as well as physical abuse. Naming him Reek, Ramsay takes away Theon’s identity to the extent that when sister Yara attempts to rescue him with a fleet of Ironborn soldiers, he refuses because he believes her intervention is a trick; at this point in the story, he has been captive too long to reclaim himself. He cannot choose freedom, to take the Fool’s leap of faith. (In my forthcoming workshops in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney this May, I’ll be talking more about the thinking behind Game of Thrones tarot and the intersection of tarot the the mythic narratives of the series).
A consideration of the Devil takes work. Yet the truth, as they say, sets us free – and that freedom, that final decision that takes away the Ten-of-Wands weight, is ours to take: without our agreement, without our energy, he’s gone. In client readings, I often interpret the Devil then turn him face down. The whole energy in the reading shifts; it’s lighter, more fluid, and suddenly there is space for what’s to come.
This article first appeared in The Magician, the official publication of the Tarot Guild of Australia, 2020.
After various travels at the weekend, I’ve received rather a lot of guidance. No, not from a guru deep in meditation, you might ask. Way more pedestrian: the repetitive advice from male and female announcers: ‘At the top of the escalator, please step forward/‘Use the litter bins provided/In the airport/Walk, don’t run/‘This is a smoke-free zone.’ There’s no way to interpret those as messages from the Universe, though I did try.
So there it is: we must be managed via public service announcements (PSAs, if you will). Without these ghost voices telling us what to do, we’d be falling off escalators, gaily throwing around empty sandwich packets and offering round a packet of B & H in the departure lounge. While some PSAs are surely for safety and insurance purposes (ie we’re not responsible if we told you not to do it) the warning against an infraction of the rules guilt-nibbles the soul like a digestive biscuit crumbling in hot tea. (I just deleted ‘just’ in that last sentence or I’d be contradicting my last post, The J Word.)
Here’s my train favourite: ‘Anyone without a valid ticket will be prosecuted.’ I’m seeing myself in handcuffs being dragged out of the toilet to a waiting police van. (Flashback to sitting on the train loo, forgetting to lock the door, which opens before a queue of people when another passenger tries to get in. No announcement saying, ‘Don’t forget to lock the toilet door,’ which would have been way more use than listing what’s on offer at the buffet car.) Of course I have a valid ticket. I always do. But that PSA, repeated a dozen times on the Mackem Express to London (translation: Sunderland, in the north east of England) trips me into a negative spiral. I could secretly have committed a crime. I might have an invalid ticket and be ejected at Hartlepool. And I don’t know anyone in Hartlepool, etc etc. It’s laughable, I know, but that ridiculous self-doubt is not only mine – on visiting a friend, I saw this note taped to the stove: ‘The gas is off. You don’t have to check again.’
Moments before that pernicious PSA on the London train I’d been thinking about the upcoming meeting with one of my publishers to talk about Nature’s Hidden Oracles, my next book. It’s about how to divine with natural findings such as leaves, stones, feathers and flowers when you’re out on walks. I reflected that on the beach, in the park, or your garden, there’s no interruption to the flow of ideas, of daydreams. No audio-interject telling you to walk on the path or step carefully over the stream or beware of the mud. The natural sounds of nature help us quietly connect with our intuition, or own knowing (and that’s one reason why being in nature can lower blood pressure and ease anxiety). Nature offers us a private and unique connection to the earth and with our sense of self. We’re appreciating what we see through our own filter and giving it meaning – from the pattern of rippled sand at low tide to the whisper of the leaves in wind. This is the real ghost voice, speaking; not the disembodied vocal loop played in commercial buildings and on public transport.
Freedom from this kind of sonic pollution gives us space to open up to new possibilities and to simply be with ourselves. When that’s not possible on planes and trains, let’s have some positive messaging instead: ‘Have a lovely trip.’ ‘Travel broadens the mind’ (I don’t mind clichés). Music, even. Or, ideally, silence, which as we know is golden (I’m on fire with the clichés, here) – unless you’ve forgotten to lock the toilet door on a train. In which case, give me that swift reminder, any day.
Nature’s Hidden Oracles is published in May 2020 by Godsfield Press, £10.
Image: From a trip to the isle of Arran, Scotland, December 2019. The west of the island near the standing stones of Machrie Moor.
Ever noticed how ‘just’ precedes just about everything that’s supposedly easy? ‘’Just write the book!’ (I leave the writers among you to smirk at that one.) Or, ‘Just… run a marathon. In bare feet’. (I blame Nike’s ‘Just do it’ advertising campaign, intended to galvanise us into some sporting hell). Or the favourite, ‘Just get on with it (rebuilding your house, learning Mandarin, finding enlightenment). In all, I reckon ‘just’ is the opening gambit of the self-help devil.
Then there’s ‘just’ in restaurants and shops. I call this one Just Feel Bad.
At lunch today my Dad orders his usual half a bitter (that’s beer, if you’re in the US). ‘Just a half?’ the server enquires, with a niggling look.
‘No,’ breezes my Dad. ‘I’ll have five pints to myself, if it makes you feel better. Then I’ll get in my car.’
In the real world, rather than my fantasy dialogue, he replies, ‘Yes. Just a half, please.’
Marketing subtext: You could have ordered the whole bar! Or a bottle of Bollinger! But all you want is a boring half of bitter.
Congratulations – you’ve confirmed your status as Scrooge of Drinks.
Today, ‘just’ has become interchangeable with ‘only’’, and implies lack: an alleged need unfulfilled which can only (I’m on a roll here!) be redressed by buying more. And more. (Since studying and writing about Switchwords, I’ve become more aware of language and its impact; see my book, Switchwords: Use One Word to Get What You Want.)
And yet, the word’s original meaning is ‘exactly’ (later, it came to mean ‘recently’, as in ‘I just bought another tarot deck and hid it under the bed so my husband/cat won’t know about it’). Which brings me to tarot and the Justice card, because tarot, like only/just, swims in the background of my everyday experience. As ‘just’ first denoted precision, exactness, morality and adherence to the law, the word gives the card its meaning. Strength and Temperance, the other surviving virtue cards of the major arcana* are similarly direct. You get what you see – a judge in session, a woman holding a lion’s jaws, an angel pouring water between two cups.
How to interpret Justice
In readings, I’ve found the card can be literal – a legal process, a lawyer, being judged. Yet, if this doesn’t apply, there is another way to go. I like to consider Justice as the sister of Temperance, as both cards may be interpreted in terms of balance and retribution. As justice wields the sword, she oversees the mind: a call to get practical, to put your affairs in order and make careful and right decisions. Temperance, with her cups, strives for emotional balance. These sister cards have in common the theme of precision. Not a drop of water is spilled from Temperance’s cups. Justice’s sword is perfectly upright, the scales of balance exactly level, which gives a visual right angle and a handy metaphor: the right angle, or outcome.
Rewind to the restaurant: my Dad asks for half a bitter. ‘Exactly a half,’ the server confirms. A completely different scenario, as the server confirms they have the order exactly right. Or, as I’d like to say, just so.
*The tarot’s ‘lost’ virtue cards, Prudence, Charity, Faith and Hope, became submerged into the Hermit, Temperance, High Priestess and Star respectively – see Tarot of the Heart, my majors-only deck that includes the lost virtue cards.
When writing The Ultimate Guide to Tarot, I included in each major arcana profile a subheading, ‘Reflections’ – a list of minor arcana cards that echo the meaning of the major: Death’s reflection in the Ten of Swords. The Devil in the Eight of Swords (you get the picture). Then I began looking for patterns (I’m hard-wired to do this after thirty-plus years as a tarot reader. Of course, ahem, I started reading when I was five ten okay, 21).
When exploring alignments, I got to investigate some alternative relationships between cards. For example, the link between the Devil and the Eight of Swords may be obvious (restriction), but going deeper, I felt the Fives tell us much more; Fives can explain why you end up in a Devil situation. So, here’s my list:
I The Magician: The Aces
III The Empress: The Queens
IV The Emperor: The Kings
VI The Lovers: The Twos
VII The Chariot: The Knights
VIII Strength: The Eights
X The Wheel of Fortune: The Nines
XI Justice and XX Judgement: The Threes
XII The Hanged Man: The Fours
XIII Death: The Tens
XIV Temperance: The Sevens
XV The Devil: The Fives
XIX The Sun: The Pages
XXI The World: The Sixes
The High Priestess, Hierophant, Hermit, Tower, Star, and Moon are not aligned with minor groups. (The Fool, as outside the major arcana sequence, is not included.) Given the minors often reveal the detail of day-to-day concerns, perhaps my inability to align minors to these six cards isn’t surprising; after all, the High Priestess, Hierophant and Hermit operate beyond the visible in realms unseen. The Tower, Star, and Moon evoke the liminal, too – the blackness of the Tower’s landscape and the twilight worlds of the Star and Moon reveal the consequence of undercurrents in our lives, rather than what is manifest in the light of day.
Looking at how the groupings fall has helped me consider, more broadly, some of the minor arcana cards’ meanings. I’m skipping the explanations of some alignments here, as they’re obvious: how the Aces fall under the Magician (initiation, beginnings, pure essence – the alchemic territory of the Magician); and the Queens and Kings, overseen by the Empress and Emperor, with each Court card an aspect of the major archetype. Then, Tarotistas, come the others, below, along with my connections (aided by my trusty tea and cake):
VI The Lovers: The Twos – turning points
The Twos represent the choice aspect of the Lovers: the need for a mature decision. Rather than leap off the cliff in a spontaneous surfeit of joy, Fool-style, it’s time to consider long-term options. The figures on the RWS Twos are largely static, suggesting the process of consideration over time – which may be procrastination (Swords) planning (Wands), flipping alternatives (Pentacles) or the long gaze into the eyes of the beloved (Cups). And of course, the Two of Cups evokes the literal love meaning of the Lovers in readings, and the Lovers in its composition, with the lion (symbol of passion and protection) replacing Archangel Raphael as the guiding force appearing above the couple.
VII The Chariot: The Knights – forging ahead
As the Kings and Queens are four aspects of the Emperor and Empress, with the Knights we see four faces of the charioteer (pragmatist, idealist, egotist, dreamer). The purpose of the journey might be revealed by the Knights – financial stability and work (Knight of Pentacles); a love quest (Knight of Cups); to battle (Knight of Swords) or for adventure (Knight of Wands). The Knight of Wands is the unfailing symbol of moving house, in many readings – just as the charioteer departs the city, onward.
VIII Strength: The Eights – grace under pressure
If we see Strength as focus, as directed energy, the Eights align naturally with this card of grace under pressure: the working perfection of the Eight of Pentacles; the self-directed anxiety of entrapment with the Eight of Swords; the ever-expanding networks of the Eight of Wands; and, for the Eight of Cups’ departing figure, the realisation that something is missing. The irregular placement of the three cups upon the neat row of five depicts an uncomfortable gap, compositionally, which draws our focus. Fulfilment is elsewhere, and so the quest to find it must begin. Each scenario on the cards calls for strength – the strength to walk away (Cups), the strength to think our way out of the Eight of Sword’s limiting mindset, the strength to strive for and achieve goals (Pentacles), and the strength to avoid overwhelm as the Eight of Wands speeds the pace of life.
X The Wheel of Fortune: The Nines – intense times
By card nine in three minor arcana suits, we may just have convinced ourselves we’re in control. Nines are cards of accumulation and, therefore, intensity. Before the revelation of the Tens, we reach peak performance, able to manifest the ideal reality with the Nine of Cups or enjoy the material security of the Nine of Pentacles. The Nine of Wands could be framed as ultimate defence, as we protect our past achievements (and wounds); while the Nine of Swords takes us into the shadow self with its hyper-anxiety – the conflictual suit of Swords internalised in extremis. As anxiety can arise from having no control over external situations, the Nine of Swords is a harbinger of the Wheel of Fortune. The Wheel tells us what the Nine of Swords knew all along: control is an illusion, and there are greater forces at work over which we have little influence.
XI Justice and XX Judgement: The Threes – assessments
It’s the public nature of some of these Threes that lead me to Justice. Three women dancing in a garden (Cups); a craftsman holding court in a church, standing on a bench; and a journeyman atop a hill, standing tall with three wands, glimpsing the potential of the territory ahead. Looking at these cards, it’s as if we’re almost part of the picture, at the edge of the party, or talk, or just a footstep or two behind the traveller. As I reader, I feel cast into the role of observer – or Judge. There’s an element of assessment going on within the cards (what’s the traveller thinking, as he scopes out the landscape? What’s the verdict on the craftsman’s ideas, after he steps down from the bench?) Even the Three of Cups’ women might be celebrating the outcome of a trial, whether legal or personal.
The Threes also resonate with Judgement as, looking at these cards in sequence, they represent the highs and lows of the phase we’re reflecting on before moving toward the completion of The World. As Threes, they often represent physical events (the number Three is dynamic, symbolising tangible results). Threes also carry an emotional charge – the good times (Cups), the trips (Wands), the achievements (Pentacles) – and the sorrows (the Three of Swords, naturally). And it’s these experiences we need to revisit and assess; to decide which memories and lessons to take forward, and which to leave behind.
An alternative alignment for Three is The Empress.
XII The Hanged Man: The Fours – states and retreat
As the number of stability, Four evokes the stillness of card XII. The Four of Cups’ dejected figure might be the Hanged Man before his spiritual initiation; without trust in the flow of life, he is unable to move forward. The Four of Swords and Four of Pentacles are equally static, occurring as statues – the knight in his church, the merchant in the town square. The Four of Pentacles denotes the Hanged Man’s absolute security, while the Four of Swords signifies rest; there is nothing to change other than one’s perspective. The spirited Wands’ joyful couple are to put down roots in their ideal location, bringing their element of Fire down to earth, and it’s this Four of Wands that most expresses the bliss of the Hanged Man’s suspension, symbolised by his halo and beatific smile.
XIII Death: The Tens – all the endings
After the completion of the cycles experienced in the Tens, Death, or change, must come. What has amassed in the Nines now manifests: endings (Ten of Swords), fulfilment (Cups), consolidation and unification (Pentacles) or impossible burdens (Wands). If positive (Pentacles and Cups), the lesson may be to appreciate what we have and to continue to feed relationships and creative projects with our energy. If negative (Wands and Swords), Death releases us from self-enquiry. There’s clarity and truth; the bones don’t lie.
XIV Temperance: The Sevens – a struggle for balance
Take a measured approach, says Temperance, and you can make it work. Sound advice for the Sevens, of course, to not give in before the finish line – even if your competitor is stealing from you (Seven of Swords) or you’re tired of fire-fighting (Wands). Rise to the challenge, be ingenious and so what Temperance does – pay attention to every detail and don’t waste a drop of your energy on what isn’t important. And don’t rest for too long (Pentacles). Oh, the fantastical delusions of the Seven of Cups: don’t give in to those, either. Just do the work (note to self). So, in this sense, Temperance, as archangel Michael, is the guiding light when the work of the Seven threatens to derail our hopes. Anything is (still) possible.
XV The Devil: The Fives – potential pitfalls
If ever there were a gateway drug to the Devil, it would come packaged as a Five. Sorrow and bereavement (Cups), tests (Wands), humiliation (Swords) or isolation and poverty (Pentacles). How we manage the Fives leads to the darkness of devil-ment or the choice offered by the Lovers. We either lose ourselves, or choose for ourselves. The Fives, in this way, denote challenges that if left untended can lead us into temptation.
XIX The Sun: The Pages – divine children
Looking at the RWS card as a container of Pages, we might consider that the Page of Wands is the gardener (gardening as the work of the soul). The Page of Pentacles built the wall (the material world); the Page of Swords defends it, while the Page of Cups brings the Sun’s joy. As the RWS and Marseilles Sun cards depict children, this fits the Page profile – a child or youth. In Jungian terms, the child of the Sun can be regarded as the archetype of the Divine Child; Jung says this archetype means ‘the completion of a long path’. As card XIX in the major arcana sequence, the positioning of the Sun comes towards the end of the hero’s journey that the major arcana cycle may be said to represent.
XXI The World: The Sixes – microcosms of completion
Six is the number of harmony. To me, the tarot sixes are all microcosms of completion. They illustrate some kind of transaction – for example: the Six of Pentacles depicts a donation; the Six of Wands, a victory procession; the Six of Cups,
a gift, and the Six of Swords, paying the ferryman for safe passage. The aspect of completion is reflected in the cards’ meanings – in the Six of Cups, getting complete with your past when a person from the past returns; in the Six of Pentacles, we see an act of generosity (when we’re successful in life, we give back). With the Six of Wands, the goal is achieved, and there’s also a visual affinity in the Six of Wand’s laurel wreath and the mandorla wreath on the World. With the Six of Swords, a conflict is over.
These Sixes also depict groups outdoors – even the Two of Cups has a third person, centre-left – and the actions takes place outside. In this sense, the Sixes illustrate public displays of completion that XXI World, in its expansiveness, represents.
It’s taken me many moons to process the mid-to-final episodes of Game of Thrones. Back in early May, I was teaching tarot in Australia when that cinematic masterpiece, ‘The Long Night’ aired; we’d rented a beachside studio in Perth, brought along a projector and, perched at the one table, angled its lens toward a thankfully white wall. Lights out, jet lagged and edgy with anticipation, we plummeted into Winterfell battle-fear. Samwell Tarley, fingers shaking; Melisandre igniting the blades of the Dothraki horde; Arya’s death-blow to the Night King. And afterwards, I thought I’d just continue to write about it. Then came the block: having seen the remainder of the series by the end of the trip, I could no longer review on an episode by episode basis. And there was a lot to process. Compare ‘The Long Night’ to the series finale, and it’s if we’re seeing a different Thrones: one, telling multiple hero’s journeys; and another, which wraps up a complex narrative by misaligning character and action. My Game of Thrones Tarot partner in crime, the artist Craig Coss, expressed this misalignment as being ‘archetypal untrue to character’.
There are many archetypal truths in ‘The Long Night’. Arya kills the Night King – true to her role as assassin, true to her quest for justice for her family (she’s defending Bran, after all). In cards, then, we have Death (Arya Stark), The Night King (Judgement) and Bran (the Hermit). These three express key stages of the soul’s journey toward spiritual ascension – the search for truth (Hermit) the death of the ego (Death) and the healing of the past (Judgement). In the crypts of Winterfell we have, amongst others Tyrion, Sansa and Varys, the diplomats literally in the dark. This resonates with me as a motif for the whole episode – the story comes from the place of the soul enacted through the body, which cannot be other than true. The intellect is buried, quiet in the crypts, while the soul fights for survival in combat. There’s even a consistency with Melisandre, that paragon of moral ambiguity – when Beric Dondarrion (finally) dies protecting Arya Stark, Melisandre tells Arya, ‘The Lord brought him back for a purpose. And now that purpose has been served.’ She acknowledges her own time to go when after the battle she removes her red necklace, saying, ‘My work is done’ as she ages and falls to dust. While Melisandre has her own card in our deck (The Priestess) I like to see Beric as the Ten of Wands – being brought back to life time and again without understanding why – until he dies saving Arya, who can in turn vanquish the Night King and save the living. As with the tarot meaning of the Ten, he has no perspective on his purpose, weighed down as he is by the burden of service.
When we look at the last episodes of Game of Thrones, I struggle to square the circle. We’re given hints that Varys may be having Dany poisoned and, given Dany’s family history of madness, this would be an acceptable plot development – the poisoning induces madness, likening Dany to her ancestor Mad King Aerys – leaving a clear path for Jon to take the throne. But this doesn’t materialise. We’re expected to believe that power alone has corrupted the queen who once wanted to break the wheel of slavery, turning her into a virtual tyrant who destroys the innocents of King’s Landing. And naturally I felt cheated of a Dany/Cersei showdown: too easy for her to die under the rubble with Jaime; and then, there’s the Brienne situation. Virgin queens are legendary. Why did the writers deem it necessary for Brienne to sleep with Jaime, then be cast as weeping widow-to-be, waving him off into the night, now a ‘whole’ woman? What did work for me, however, was the destruction of the iron throne and Bran becoming King: the wheelchair replacing the throne, hopefully heralding an era of enlightenment.
When I look at the numerology of the cards that represent the characters in the crypt, I get the gender of the next ruler. In the crypts are Varys (V the Hierophant) Sansa (XVII the Star) and Tyrion ( the Fool). Add 5 + 17 + 0 = 22. Reduce (2 + 2) to give four, the number of the tarot Emperor. Now to the numbers of cards representing key characters involved in the final confrontation with the Night King – Theon, Arya, Bran and the Night King himself – and we get the Hanged Man, Death, the Hermit and Judgement (9 + 12 + 13+ 20 = 54). Add 5 + 4 = 9 which returns us to Bran, IX the Hermit, the quintessence, and the final ruler of Westeros.