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ATS Newsletters

by author


The Boiardo 15th c Poem
Tarot history in brief

quotations from various people

Functions of Readings
What is Tarot?


Med. on XVIIII

Emily E. Auger

Tarot and Other Meditation Decks

L. Atkinson

Orphalese Software review

S. Arwen

Memory & Instinct

Kathy Berkowitz

Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 1)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 2)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 3)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 4)

Nina L. Braden

Tarot in Literature

David Brice

Birth of Tarot

Colin Browne

Square & Compasses Tarot

Lee A. Bursten

Journeys in Tarot Creation
Vachetta review


Review: The Lo Scarabeo Story

Ross G. Caldwell

Tarot History

Bonnie Cehovet

Tarology - Poetics of Tarot
Review: Secret of Tarot
The Mystereum Tarot

N. Chishty-Mujahid

Concerning Ghisi’s Laberinto

Craig Conley

A House of Tarot Cards

A.B. Crowther

Rachel Pollack interview

Jean-Michel David

On Paneurythmy and Tarot
Tarot's expression of the numinous
Yarker, Tarot & Arcane Schools
Waite-Smith Sun card
The Fool as Wandering Jew
Tarot as Christian Art
Education through Tarot
Tarot: the vatical & the sacral
Fortuna, Ass & Monkey
Steiner and Tarot
1701 Dodal restored!
Enc. Tarot vol I-IV: review
Christ, World & Sin
Caveat Emptor:
       Visual Tarot

Tarot & AlefBeit
Review: Jean Payen Tarot
Tarot and Freemasonry
I-Ching and Pip Cards
Whither directing your course?
Tarot & the Tree of Life
Ovid, Egypt and Tarot
When the Devil isn't the Devil
Four elements and the suits
Court Cards & MBTI
Certification & Codes
Jean Dodal Marseille
Conference FAQs
Golden Dawn
Kabalah & Tarot
Golden Tarot review
Annual spread
Iraqi Museum
Two Brief TdM reviews
Meditations on the Tarot

Enrique Enriquez

The Joy of Wordplay
J-C. Flornoy interview
Embodied Tarot
Indirect Suggestions
Whispering to the Eye

Mark Filipas

History of Egyptian Decks
Lexicon Theory

Jean-Claude Flornoy

in memorium
from Oral Tradition

Roxanne Flornoy

Children and Tarot
from Oral Tradition

Mary Greer

Killing the Thoth Deck
On the Tarot of the Four Worlds
Egypt, Tarot and Mystery School Initiations

William Haigwood

The Sixties: Counterculture Tarot

Alissa Hall

Parlour Tricks

Kris Hadar

The Tarot

Claas Hoffmann

Crowley-Harris 'Thoth' deck

Michael J. Hurst

Tarot Symbolism review

K. Frank Jensen

Century with the Waite-Smith

Shane Kendal

A Poetry of Tarot

Ken J. Killeen

The Metaphysical Bible

Barbara Klaser

Language of Tarot

E. Koretaka

Cardinal Virtues

Dovid Krafchow

Kabbalistic Tarot

Lisa Larson

Perceptions of Spirituality

Suzan E. Lemont

Therapeutic Tarot Work

Eric K. Lerner

Diloggun and Tarot

N. Levine

Tarot of Prague review

C. Liknaitzky

Journey in Ceramics

Joep van Loon

Tarot Wheel

Karen Mahony


S.J. Mangan

Fool, Alef & Orion

Robert Mealing

Petrarch’s Triumphs
Jean Noblet Tarot
Hunting the "true" Marseille Tarot
Cary Sheet

Fern Mercier

Playing the Fool

C. de Mellet

Inquiries into Tarot

Sophie Nusslé

Fantastic Menagerie

Robert V. O'Neill

Tarot Symbolism
Tower Iconology

Michael Owen

Xultun Tarot

Dan Pelletier

Magic Manga Tarot
the Blank Spot

Robert M. Place

The Fool's Journey

Debra Rosenthal

Looking at the Jacques Vieville

Mjr Tom Schick

Tarot Lovers Calendar

Inna Semetsky

Counseling Reading for Spouses
Learning the language of images
Re-Symbolization of Self
Tarot (dis)contents

Diana Sobolewska

'Bateleur's tale'

Russell Sturgess

Jesus's New Testament

N. Swift

Sufism & Tarot

Arthur E. Waite

Symbols of Tarot

When the Devil is not the Devil

by Jean-Michel David

Some weeks back I was looking through the shelves and display of Oracle, a local shop in Sassafras in the Dandenong Ranges just outside of Mebourne – a great shop to visit, by the way – and my eye was drawn to a rather unusual statue that reminded me so much of the way the devil can be depicted on many early cards.

Admittedly, it was also distinct, but here were so many features that get discussed clearly presented: faces in different places; wing-like protrusions; clawed-like feet; and ‘growth’ emanating from his head. If one is familiar with some of the variety of especially woodcut representations, the iconographic similarities really stand out. What seemed to me totally incongruous, however, was its small description at the bottom, reading “Inca god of Knowledge” (followed by its price). I just could not reconcile the style, details nor gesture to Inca representations, though admit that my knowledge of Inca depictions is very limited indeed!

The first detail that appears at odds with what I would expect from an Inca representation (unless it is a contemporary figure) is that one would not expect to see cobras. Snakes, perhaps, but specifically cobras call to mind depictions ranging from Egypt through to India and Cambodia, not meso-America. The high hair parting in the centre also called to me to be more likely of Persian through to northern Indian provinance.

The rest, important though it is, I simply could not localise. Clawed feet could be anywhere and anytime from Babylonian to European, and the belly face and those on the knees were as likely, as far as I knew, to arise in a post-Renaissance northern European context.

Frankly, I am still unsure as to its provenance, and having posted the image on Aeclectic’s TarotForum to see if anyone knows of its provenance, it remains a mystery – though one that seems to hint towards my original suspicion, that of an Indian or near Indian origin.

In part as a consequence of the discussion that emerged, that indefitaguable quester Robert Mealing presented images from northern India that bear not only even closer resemblance to depictions of the Devil, but also ‘explains’ by simple juxtaposition the ‘belly’ face, wings, and even held torch or rod.

Here we have Vishnu sitting atop Garuda, with the face of Garuda easily ‘confused’ with a face upon the belly of Vishnu, and the clawed feet of the former easily taken to be the feet of a single combined god – a god taken, from earlier Christian perspective, as inevitably a false god, and hence deemed the Devil.

Stephen John Mangan (kwaw), in that same thread on Aeclectic, also presents an image of Vishnu ‘hooded’ by the seven headed cobra. It should be noted that a seven headed cobra appears to be a relatively common early mediaeval depiction in regions surrounding especially the Cambodian area.

What the first image of that statue does not show is that the seven cobra heads join together as serpentine body on the figure’s back. Between these varied depictions from the Indian region and the far east, I am really lead to wonder how much of a possible or likely influence they may have had in the depiction of the Devil as it came to be standardised over time into the familiar depiction taken from the Marseille pattern.

Of course, there are those two minions from standard iconographic tarot depictions that are also to be accounted for. And here, we turn to the dancing eastern forms, in which he is often accompanied by two drummers or dancers as smaller representations. The following comes from a photo taken by Guenther Eichhorn (presented on his site), and is probably the best image I have yet seen of that type:

Here, in addition to the central figure who is also known to at times be represented as we have already seen, are the platform, taking on an unexpected characteristic as a lotus flower, as well as the two ‘minions’. I suppose that, stretching it only a little, one can even describe them as enslaved or enchained to the song of the dance.

These reflections should not, at least as far as I am concerned, take away at all from the invariably dominant western influences on the depiction of the Devil. Rather, it opens possibilities for such eastern influences should occasion be found for similar depictions to have been seen by those of the period and brought back to Europe – even if only in stories told by travellers to those far eastern lands. From a late Mediaeval and Renaissance Christian European perspective, what else could a god-form surrounded by a seven headed snake, riding a clawed winged creature with a humanoïd head, calling to mind at the very least the Apocalypse of St John, be other than the Devil?!

In 2002, I wrote elsewhere that in each of the Marseille type decks (and many who follow suit), there is a sense of Homer’s description of Haphaestus in his 18th book of the Iliad, whereby the lame god is assisted by maidservants underground at his anvil. These are all possible sources of influence on the development and standardisation of the card, and quite distinct from typically French and northern Italian depictions of the Devil on Romanesque and Lumiere ‘Gothic’ churches and Cathedrals.

These more eastern images, however, have a power and appeal that certainly account for much that this short Newsletter can only open for further explorations… and look forward to reading others’ views on the various byways of such a non-devilish influence on what remains also a spiritually important and charged force altogether distinct and different to that of Haphaestus or to Vishnu.

But that’s all for now… so waive bye-bye, you little devil

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When the Devil is not the Devil

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