Friday, October 26, 2018

The Devil: a Halloween watch

The Devil card in Tarot

Who or what is “The Devil” in Tarot? What does it represent? Does this so-called entity actually exist?  Some say is it a metaphor for man’s own struggle with manmade evil and evil-doers. Is it a far-fetched imagined fantasy? Or is this a way for someone to blame somebody else for one’s own wrong-doing; a scapegoat?

Visconti Tarot Devil
It’s obvious the concept of The Devil for the Tarot card began with biblical connotations. In the Old Testament, the Hebrews, who were in captivity in Babylon (after 538 B.C.), wrote about a disobedient and rebellious angel of the Lord, sometimes referred to as Lucifer, or as Satan, as later called by Christians. (The fallen angel, Lucifer, Isaiah 14:12-15) The early Hebrews viewed Satan differently than the later Christians. In the Old testament, Satan was usually referred to as Belial, or Beelzebub (the lord of the flies) and was more known as the “accuser” or “adversary.” (See Zech. 3:1-2; 1Chron. 21:1; Num. 22:28-30.) In the Hebrew Bible, a supernatural messenger was viewed as God’s obedient servant who assumed the role of adversary in the story of Job. (See Job 1-2) The underlying message was that God permitted him to test Job’s faith in God by creating misfortune; as in those times it was thought that God created both good and evil. He attempted to make Job disobey, to lose faith, and disavow God. Job was a wealthy landowner with many children and large herds of livestock and he was living an upright good life. Job is a long complicated poem, which describes his tribulation as he experienced boils and evil plagues, illness and family disasters, and loss of friends. The test was to take away Job’s wealth and children and all his livestock to see if he still believed in God after all these devastating catastrophes.

Later, in the Christian view, the story of evil (the Devil) was amplified by a belief in the dualism of good versus evil, which began in Persia with the notion of a diabolical ruler, “Ahriman,” an evil spirit with the powers of good and evil, who was accompanied by gangs of evil demons. The Devil in the New Testament appeared to be a similar evil spirit. Elaine Pagels, in her book, The Origin of Satan, says that in the earlier Biblical stories, it was God’s chosen people—the Hebrews —versus their enemies in Egypt. And they were always fighting the Canaanites and Amorites in “us versus them” conflicts.  She claims that the figure of Satan and other evil beings became a way for the Hebrews and later, the Christians, to “demonize their religious and cultural opponents.” Even the monsters of Canaanite mythology became their enemies: The Leviathan, the Serpent and the Dragon.

“…people dehumanize enemies especially in war times.”
Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan, Knoff

Later, in the New Testament, Satan was portrayed as a supernatural evil being, the prince of demons, emanating from “the dark side,” so to speak, who became the enemy of God and a force for human evil-doing. Christians later identified Satan as the villain of the Old Testament, in the form of the talking Serpent who tempted Eve.  He told Eve to eat from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” (which God had forbidden) and promised her she would become one of the gods if she did. Afterwards, she knew the Serpent had beguiled her, and she admitted that, in her disobedience, she had to face the temptation of doing evil and failed. (Genesis 3:13) Some think that, for the Biblical writers, Eve was a convenient scapegoat.

 “He made Eve feel guilty…if she had known who she was and that she was already living in the Kingdom of Heaven, she wouldn’t have fallen for that temptation. The Serpent implied she was not good enough.” Walter Starke, The Gospel of Relativity, HarperCollins

In many Tarot decks, The Devil is pictured as half-man, half-goat with bat wings, similar to the pagan image of Pan seen in early Greek sculptures. This brings up the image of the scapegoat – and blaming others, “passing the buck “— “the Devil made me do it!”

PAN  Early Greek Sculpture

“…men of the Middle Ages…held the belief that statues of ancient gods were inhabited by dangerous demons who occasionally manifested themselves in hideous forms; whoever adored them, worshipped Satan. Emile Male, Religious Art from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth Century, Noonday Press

During the Middle Ages, it was thought that those who strayed from the Christian teachings could fall prey to the beliefs in black magic, Devil worship and demonology, which perverted and undermined Christian theology and morals. This even applied to corruption by the clergy, some of whom fell into fraud and underhanded financial dealings by inducing people to confess their sins and “buy their way to heaven” with payment of “Indulgences” during the 1500’s. This brought about the Christian Reformation in the 16th century, beginning with Martin Luther, who was trying to expose and put an end to such devious practices.  It was a belief in the 14th century that God threw the Devil and demons out of heaven and created hell. Then in the 16th and 17th centuries, certain religious practices got out of hand and the church accused many people (mostly women) of practicing witchcraft and making deals with the devil – which, unfortunately for them, cost them their lives. So-called witchcraft may have just reflected the peasant’s pagan beliefs about nature. So-called witches were burned at the stake in Europe, and then famously in America in the Salem Witch Trials.

Goya: from The Disasters of War
We can see several prominent influences for the image of The Devil in Tarot in European art and literature: some drawn from early Greek images of the pagan nature god, Pan, with goat horns, tail and hooves. Dante Algieri (1265-1321) portrayed the devil in the Divine Comedy and popularized the concept that the Devil governs hell. John Milton (1608-1674) gave a description of the Devil in Paradise Lost, and William Blake’s (1757-1827) illustrations of those works gave us an artist’s image of the Devil. Most Tarot decks have used the image of “Baphomet,” a horned hybrid man/animal with a goat’s face and hooves and large hovering bat wings. Goya (1746-1828) in “The Disasters of War” series of etchings, depicted a devil-like figure with horns, bat wings and sharp talons, plotting something written in a book. Over the centuries, the Devil has become the symbol for all sorts of debased acts: violence, addiction, sexual promiscuity, abuse, slavery, manipulation and control over others.  So-called “black magicians” were hoping to invoke supernatural powers from this beastly monster to bring wealth, charm, lovers, etc. into their realm, usually ending with disastrous results. (Read about Hitler and his Thule group in Germany who practiced the black arts before WWII in The Spear of Destiny by Trevor Ravenscroft, Putnam) 
William Blake Satan

“Man has come to be man’s worst enemy. It is a clash between man and God, in which man’s Luciferian genius has produced in the H-Bomb the power to destroy more effectively than any ancient god could.” “C.G. Jung Speaking,” Bollingen Series

In the New Testament, there are many stories of Jesus’ casting out demons, healing the sick, and possessed people, exorcising demons, and castigating evil-doers, salvaging prostitutes, and throwing out the “money changers.” Simply put, Jesus’ practice began in the desert where he was tempted by the Devil to first turn a stone into bread. No! Ok, then bow down to me (the Devil) to gain unlimited power. No! Well then, throw yourself down from the temple because angels would hold you up and you will come to no harm. No! All of which, Jesus rejected.  He saw the nothingness of the devil: “Get thee behind me Satan.” At the end of the New Testament, Satan was thrown into the “lake of fire and brimstone and tormented forever” (Rev. 20:1-10). Elaine Pagels says that Mark’s gospel characterizes Jesus’ ministry as encompassing a continual struggle between God’s spirit and the fictitious demons who exemplified Satan’s supposed kingdom. In the purge of Roman beliefs in the old gods, the early Christians were persecuted by Rome where they were beaten, stoned, and Paul was executed.

Christians saw themselves…as combatants in a cosmic struggle, God’s warriors against Satan.  
Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan, Knoff

Today, after two world wars and other wars in which millions of people were killed and subjected to all sorts of horrors, it’s obvious that humans themselves are the perpetrators of evil deeds and murder.  So, where’s the good in all this? What are we to make of The Devil card when we receive it in a Tarot card reading? It’s a sign that we need to come to grips with dualistic thinking and deeply assess what we think about good and evil, right and wrong.  Ask, What is the truth here? What are your morals?  Plato emphasized the Good as a cosmological model; as the only reality, eternal and changeless, and indicated that evil is a temporary misinterpretation, a destructive counterfeit of the Good. The Devil and demons are not real. They are constructs of the human mind:
“created artificially by human communities infatuated with the thrill of fear.”
Meditations on the Tarot, Anonymous, Putnam

Don’t fall into the trap of preoccupation with evil and the monkey-business goings on of evil-doers. Don’t give evil any power. Yes, become aware of what evil-doing and evil-thinking looks like, but it’s time to begin doing something positive to overcome it and take action benefitting everyone by your good works.

“…to occupy oneself [with evil] amounts to contact with evil and a corresponding reduction of living and inspiring contact with Good…Love is the vital element of profound knowledge.” Meditations on the Tarot

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Temperance Then and Now

Temperance: a cardinal virtue
What do you think about when you receive the Temperance card in a Tarot reading? Usually, it is interpreted as a cardinal virtue that signifies those who use self-control and restraint. Such people advocate non-violence and seek equilibrium, moderation, and balance in peaceful relationships with others. Temperance characterizes persons who demonstrate moral excellence and sensible behavior in their affairs. They are good at blending the disparate actions of others together in an atmosphere of cooperation.

Visconti Temperance Card
Most art for the Temperance Tarot card features a female deity, or angel, who is depicted pouring liquid from one container to another. On some cards, she has one foot in water and the other foot on land, which suggests mixing or blending something, (the “alchemy” of mixing certain elements together). Some interpretations assume a Christian influence is evident in the Temperance card such as the Biblical story of the Marriage at Cana: water was mixed with wine and produced more wine, and was called Jesus’ wedding feast miracle (See John2: 6-9). This was a metaphor in which the water represented Jesus’ humanity, while the wine represented Christ’s divinity. Temperance in the 15th century Visconti Tarot deck, shows a woman with stars (magic) on her dress holding two vases and pouring a liquid between them.

In the quagmire of politics today, it seems that what we need most from our leaders and government officials, is to exercise temperance in the activities of governance, especially the acts of law that affect the public. This wishful thinking is nothing new. Practicing temperate behavior through moderation in action, laws, thoughts and feelings, was advocated long ago by Plato in his view of the core virtues of an ideal city in “The Republic.” He emphasized the four cardinal virtues, which were Courage (Strength), Wisdom (Prudence), Temperance, and Justice.  Later, these were adapted by the Church. Temperance implies refraining from excesses and having the ability to master oneself by maintaining modesty and humility, in contrast to arrogance and unmitigated anger. Instead, one should promote moderate moral conduct for the good of the people, rather than indulging in self-serving behavior.

Early concepts of temperance in literature and art
Perhaps the earliest inspiration for the woman or guardian angel in the Temperance card was Hebe, the Grecian goddess of youth. The late Brian Williams, artist and Tarot historian, has illustrated Hebe, who is rendered on early Greek vases carrying two ewers of nectar and ambrosia to serve to the gods and goddesses of Olympus; symbolic of a divine draught. She fills their goblets with the gift of eternal youth (See “The Manchiate Tarot,” Brian Williams, Destiny Books, 1999). The Grecian Horae, divinities of rain, flowering and fruits, were guardians of the order of nature, “mellowing the behavior of men,” Hesiod says. This reminds me of the peace demonstrators of the 60’s placing flowers in the gun barrels of National Guardsmen and Police during the riots about ending the Viet Nam War.

John Stuart Mill writes about “Socratic Viri” of Justice, Strength, and Temperance. Temperance meaning — “…veracity, perseverance, readiness to encounter pain and especially labor; [with] regard for the public good; estimation of persons, according to their merits…” (John Stuart Mill, Autobiography)

Leaders who advocated temperance
During the Renaissance, several prominent artists portrayed the real-life Roman General, Scipio Africanis (235 BC-183 BC) as one who set the example of a leader who showed temperance and self-restraint in putting the good of the public ahead of his own importance. Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) depicted him in a painting where he was returning a captured young woman rather than accepting her as a prize of war. Scipio was renowned for his moral excellence as a benevolent conqueror. The Romans wanted to appoint him “dictator for life,” but he refused their offer. As their leader, he abstained from cruelty and advocated clemency. In a painting by Tiepolo, (1696-1770) he is shown freeing Massiva, the boy Prince of the Numidian Kingdom. The moderation of Scipio was also the motif in literature as both Cicero and Dante mention him in their writings.  He has also been the main character in several Italian operas.

“On the other pole attentive, where I saw four stars ne’er seen before…” (The four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance) Dante, “The Divine Comedy”

The Greek writer Xenophon, defined temperance as moderation in all things and abstinence from all things harmful. But a different view of temperance was sullied by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, and similar groups in the early 1900’s, where they succeeded in bringing about a ban on the sale of liquor during Prohibition, (1920-1932). This led to corruption in bootlegging and rum running, moonshine, gangsters and thousands of Speakeasies. Plenty of booze was made and sold in secret and crime was rampant. Despite the regulations, it was deemed a failed experiment that reeked of bans and censorship on a lot of other so-called illicit activity, including abortions and gambling.

Temperance for yourself:
When you get the Temperance card in a reading it is time for a reality check. How well you have stood up to the daily challenges of relating to others with peaceful intentions and kindness? Are you working on moderating your behavior; seeking the middle ground? Ask yourself: Am I being fair and honest in listening and paying attention to other’s needs? Or, have I been the drama queen/king in demanding too much, dominating too much? Where is any humility in what I am doing or in what I am saying? Have I acted upon important issues with moderation and moral equilibrium? Do I seek balance and cooperation in negotiations in the community; with friends, relatives and neighbors?

Temperance card reversed:
We see the opposite of Temperance in intemperate, impulsive behavior of a person who indulges in rampant excesses. This can be someone who relishes creating imbalance, discord and chaos. Be wary of leaders and others who profess tyrannical rule and flaunt bombastic belligerence and disrespect of persons; always chastising other people. Watch becoming a bully yourself by being arrogant and self-serving with no regard for the opinions of others.