Answers to Your Questions about Tarot: The Devil, and Presenting the Darker Cards
I am so excited to share this question and answer with you. It’s a follow-up to an earlier video on Tarot and Christianity. Here’s the letter from Michele in its entirety. I had to share it because of her awesome “Airplane” reference.
Hi! Your video on Christianity and the Tarot was really enlightening. Here are two related questions.
I know of a tarot reader who lost a friend because that person thought that tarot was a "tool of the devil". It's a tough sell to explain that it's not when that card is actually in the deck. Personally, I've come to appreciate the card's symbolism. It's even had positive meanings in some spreads like "look out for your own best interests". How do you explain the Devil card to someone?
In a newer deck some of the cards that can seem frightening were renamed. To give two examples: The Tower became Life Experience and Death became Release. Again, I can embrace the symbolic meaning of the cards. Yet, I don't always enjoy the images either. When I see The Tower for instance, my first reaction is, "Surely this can't be good." How do you feel about renaming the cards? (And I'll stop calling you Shirley!)
P.S. Thank you so much for your Video posts. I've really learned so much and gained new perspective on the Tarot because of them. They're much appreciated!
Michele, thanks so much for your support, and for some great questions.
When I explain the Devil to someone, I remind them that tarot comes out of Roman Catholic Italy, and includes many symbols familiar to Christians, including a “devil” image.
We need to remember that within Christianity, there are many denominations, each with significant doctrinal differences. Not all Christian denominations are fundamentalists, or biblical literalists. Not all Christian denominations believe in Satan, or “the Devil,” as an actual entity.
Many Christians see the biblical references to Satan as symbolic and allegorical. What does the symbol of Satan represent? Perhaps Satan represents the things we attach ourselves to that don’t serve us. Satan represents temptation, materialism and unhealthy behavior.
Now, let’s look at the Devil card in the Major Arcana of tarot. What does it represent? To many people, it represents unhealthy attachments, temptation and materialism! So we can see that, coming out of a culture of Christianity, the Devil is an appropriate symbol to describe our need to really look within and acknowledge and release our unhealthy attachments.
Now, when I am speaking with folks who acknowledge the Devil as a spiritual and corporeal entity, I can present the Devil card in a way that really speaks to them. I like to show them the Waite image, and show how the human captives are free to walk away at any time, but choose not to.
I ask them to consider the ways in which they are not “walking away from the Devil.”
Many of my Christian clients are able to understand and change their unhealthy behavior by using this process.
I also explain the Devil as the gatekeeper on the path to spiritual enlightenment. As card 15, the Devil is the first card of the last seven. I see these last seven cards as describing our path to enlightenment. We must confront the Devil on our way to that enlightenment.
I think whether we see the Devil as literal or symbolic, most of us can understand the process of confronting the Devil. I will sometimes talk about Jesus’ temptation in the desert in this context. With what does the Devil tempt you? How do you grow from that understanding? How do you heal from this temptation?
There are many ways tarot can lend itself to the practice of Christian devotion.
I appreciate your concept that the Devil can have positive interpretations. I’ve seen the Devil come up to indicate the difficult things we chose to do to help the people we love; caring for the sick and dying, for instance.
Now, all of that being said, there are still people who will find tarot inappropriate, and who will insist that the cards are evil. And some of those people believe the Earth is 5000 years old and Jesus rode on dinosaurs. There will always be superstitious people in the world, and there will always bigots. It is not our job to change every mind and every heart. Losing a friend who proves themselves to be ignorant and closed-minded isn’t really a tragedy.
Now, for the second question. The deck you are referencing is Doreen Virtue’s Angel Tarot. One of my problems with this deck is the way Hay House marketed it, suggesting that Doreen was with first to adjust some of the Major Arcana names to make them less disturbing.
Long before Doreen Virtue’s Angel Tarot were Connolly Tarot and Celtic Dragon Tarot, just to name a couple. Both of these decks, and many others, rename some of the Majors for the same reason. How do I feel about this practice? Personally, I don’t love it, but I appreciate that it makes tarot accessible to some folks who otherwise might not embrace it.
I think if you choose to use such a deck your understanding of the cards will be improved if you learn their traditional names and interpretations, as well as the slant given by the particular deck. I don’t think that such a deck will perform and better or worse than any other deck, if you like it, it is the perfect deck for you.
I also think that, if you are reading for the public, you recognize that some decks may make people more comfortable than others. As a rule, a deck which has softened the impact of card names will do the same with images, making the deck a bit more public-friendly, if you care about that sort of thing.
Now, finally, to your very valid point about how we react to the cards, regardless of our intellectual understanding of them. “Surely this can’t be good.”
Yes, we have all been there. What if this natural reaction is part of the healing nature of tarot?
Consider this scenario. In a reading, you see something that you react to in a negative way. As you process the reading, you come to accept that some things may go differently than you had hoped.
You make some plans and preparations in case your understanding of the cards’ message is accurate, and you figuratively buckle your seat belt.
When the Tower comes in real life, you’re ready. You are able to navigate it easily, because you have already had a chance to react to it, in advance.
In retrospect, that the situation was predicted is often a comfort. What is foreseen resonates as something that is meant to be, or something that may serve a greater purpose.
Sometimes, too, the dark cards are comforting. When they appear to show us that the Universe registers our pain, we feel validated. Sometimes looking at a picture of how much something sucks helps us to get a handle on it.
The question is, would the renamed cards and gentler images have the same effect in these two circumstances? Maybe yes, Maybe no.
I think tarot reflects life, and life has a lot of horrible stuff in it, as well as a lot of beauty. I think, as a society, our desire to pretend the horrible stuff doesn’t exist hasn’t helped us, but that’s just my opinion.
The most important thing is that each person has to use the deck(s) that works for them. It's good that there are so many different decks from which to choose.
Thanks for a great question! Enjoy the video. If you have a quesiton about tarot, send me an email!
Video of Christiana Answers Questions about the Devil, Christianity, and the Darker Cards