Wow, wouldn’t want to mess with this character! In most Tarot decks this card is called The Devil. Smoldering fire and bondage appear to be his trademark. This creature has the horns of a goat, wings of a bat, arms and hands of a man, and the legs and feet of an eagle. The 5-pointed star crowning his head is upside down and his eyes are flaming red. Just at a glance this Key reminds us of Key 6 The Lovers. There we had Archangel Raphael in a very supportive role with a man and a woman. Here, things don’t look so good for the couple! But what is really going on?
The mystery is given away by his small white beard. He also wears the symbol of Mercury on his navel. What does this tell us? He is none other than the Life Force, the One Force as it operates apart from human knowledge and human direction. What does this mean? Here we have the condition that manifests as bondage is actually an illusion, a wrong construction put upon the Principle of Limitation, making that Principle take on the appearance of the Devil.
We must remember that religions and Hollywood have made great profits and gained large followings from this image of the Devil. “Sinning” and “going to the Devil/Hell” and “nasty, fear-based stuff” have great marketability as far as they are concerned. But we occultists know what’s really going on. Previously in the Keys we spoke of sinning as “missing the mark.” We gave the example of an archer, who, as a small boy was given a bow and arrow. After much practice, and missing the mark on most occasions (everyone stayed out of range while these practice sessions were going on!), he finally got the hang of it. Eventually he was able to hit the mark every time, and then, even with his eyes closed. We all start out not knowing very much, but with study and practice we, too, will be Masters.
Let’s begin our exploration of this card with the Hebrew letter associated with this Key. Ayin, the letter O, means “eye” and “fountain.” It signifies also the external , superficial appearances of things. The All-Seeing Eye has been a symbol of Deity in all parts of the world for ages past. This tells us that this Key is connected to certain aspects of the One Power that theologians call God. Add to this the ideas related to “fountain,” and you will see that this Key has to do with occult doctrines concerning God as the fountain of manifestation, or source of creation.
The eye is the organ of sight, and as such, it is a most important sense tool. Therefore, in symbology it is used to represent all sensation. This is similar to the lion, king of beasts, being taken as the representative of all subhuman modes of life expression. The sense of sight , important as it is, is also a source of manifold illusions and deceptions. Vision is limited by the circle of the horizon and through the eye we see appearances only. Therefore, the eye represents the limitations of the visible, and the bondage of ignorance resulting from the acceptance of these limitations and appearances as being all that there is. The eye deceives us only if we let it.
The term Devil is derived from the Greek diabolos, meaning a “slanderer.” In the New Testament the Devil is called the “father of lies.” This Deceiver represents the fundamental error from which all other falsehoods derive, including the error of supposing that a reality called “matter” is opposed to another reality termed “Spirit.” Or, the error that the only reality is matter, and that all man designates by the word Spirit is actually no more than an intellectual abstraction.
In Sanskrit matter is called Maya, which means “illusion.” In the Western mind we tend to accept the world of appearances as the only reality. To the philosophers of the East the phenomenal world is unreal, ever-shifting appearances. The Ageless Wisdom reconciles these two points of view by saying that the term reality applies to both worlds. The outer world may be Maya, or illusion, in one sense of that term. But because what we call “matter” is actually the appearance of what we term Spirit, as the latter makes itself manifest in the field of name and form, we do not see how it is possible to separate the reality of the appearance from the reality of the One Identity that is making the appearance. According to the Ageless Wisdom, the error consists precisely in attempting to establish such a separation between appearance and what we may call the “Appearer.” The seeming two are really one, and they are not in opposition to each other.
Ayin’s meaning as a “fountain” implies it is a spring of flowing water and nourishes the growth of plants and makes places fertile. An oasis from on high appears to be an eye in the face of the desert. From a 16th century magical manuscript, Eliphas Levi quotes that among the powers and privileges of an adept, those connected with the letter Ayin are: “To force nature to make him free at his pleasure.” In the Gospel of St. Matthew 4:1 (literal Greek translation): “Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.” This is an important clue to the whole mystery of Key 15. Note the Spirit did the leading for the specific purpose of testing Jesus by the temptation.
So what does all this mean? Appearances that deceive us are necessary to the manifestation of the Life Power. In addition, that to attain our full stature as human beings, so that we are in a position “to force nature to make us free at our pleasure,” we must be subjected to tests and trials of our faith, and these trials are imposed on us by appearances. The whole book of Job concerns this, as do the four Gospels. The “mystery of evil” is no mystery to those who have met and passed the trials of faith. And, it is at that point that the experience of consciousness of evil disappears.
So how can there still be all the economic, political and social evils of the present day? How can this fine theory erase all that? Well, the way of life that leads to realization of man’s true place in the scheme of things does more than banish consciousness of evil. It brings with it power to transmute all semblances of evil into manifestations of positive good. The magical manuscript previously quoted continues:”The wise man rules the elements, stills tempests, cures the diseased by his touch, and raises the dead… The initiates know, and as for others, whether they deride, doubt, or believe, whether they threaten or fear – what matters it to science or to us?”
Until we experience the higher order of knowing, we may have difficulty with the various appearances of evil. Logic forces us to attribute the manifestation of the visible universe to a power which is essentially good. A power that is wholly wise. Thus it follows that even if appearances are deceiving, appearance itself is necessary for the perfect manifestation of the Life Power.
Let’s explore the Key further to see how this is expressed. The zodiacal sign Capricorn is attributed to Key 15. Capricorn is ruled by Saturn, the planet of limitation and restriction. In Capricorn Mars is exalted, or has its highest field of expression. Thus we see in Key 15 a symbolic presentation of a power which both binds and liberates. In its binding aspect it creates a form. All forms have definite limitations. And, all release of energy, as we discussed in Key 13, requires the dissolution of form.
In Capricorn, then, these opposite aspects of Reality are brought together. In essence, form necessitates limitation and in our experience limitation is bondage. Yet the very limitations that bug us may become the spurs to action that release us. This is clearly indicated by the first column of Keys in the Tarot Tableau. The exercise of Concentration (Key 1 The Magician) puts into operation the law of suggestion (Key 8 Strength), which results in a renewal of consciousness that releases us from bondage (Key 15 The Deceiver).
Mirth is the function of consciousness attributed by the Qabalists to the letter Ayin. Laughter is caused by perception of the incongruous. I can totally relate to this when I’m in a Yoga class and the Yoga teacher is demonstrating the “peak poise” that we are about to do. A burst of quiet laughter from the attendees is not unheard of at this point. We’re going to do that?! It is but a step from this to the truth that joy results from the perception of the incongruity between the appearance of limitation and the truth that man is the immediate agent of the One Identity. Laughter purifies subconsciousness and dissolves mental complexes and conflicts. Experimental verification of this truth brings an experience of the most intense bliss.
The number 15 of this Key is the number of IH, Jah, the divine name especially ascribed to Wisdom. By addition of the digits, 15 reduces to 6, the number of the Lovers Key. Also, 15 is the sum of the numbers from 0 to 5. Thus Key 5 The Teacher , which is regarded as a summation of a series beginning with 0, refers to Key 15. A review of these Keys will help you to see the connections.
Let’s look at the colors and symbols. The background of Key 15 is black, color of darkness, ignorance, limitation and also what is hidden, or occult. Here it is suggested that ignorance is the underlying cause of bondage. The goat’s horns on his head refer to Capricorn. His wings are bat’s wings, signifying the powers of darkness. His face is that of a goat, but he has the ears of a donkey, to suggest the obstinacy and stubbornness of materialism. His body is thickset and an earthen color, to represent the earthy quality of the sign Capricorn. The symbol for Capricorn is in the lower right hand corner of the Key.
Between this figure’s horns, like a crown, is a white, inverted Pentagram. This is a key to the whole meaning of the figure. For the Pentagram is the symbol of man, and an inverted Pentagram suggests the reversal of true understanding of man’s place in the cosmos, which is that man has the power to control everything below him in the scale of creation. The mistaken estimate of man’s powers and possibilities is all that keeps anyone in bondage.
The Deceiver’s uplifted right hand has all of its fingers open, the opposite of the Teacher Key 5. The Deceiver suggests by this that all you see is all there is. On the palm of his right hand is the symbol for the planet Saturn, signifying limitation, restriction and ignorance. In his left hand is a torch , burning wastefully, giving little light. The torch is a phallic symbol, representing the transmission of life from generation to generation. It represents Mars exalted in Capricorn, and in a sense, this is the fiery torch of revolution, based on materialistic interpretations of experience, the torch of terrorism and anarchy.
Over his navel is the symbol for Mercury. This refers to the activity at work in the subtle processes of digestion and assimilation. These processes, under the influence of Mercury (Key 1 The Magician) in the sign Virgo (Virgo rules the upper intestines), are brought under control in the work of practical occultism. That work is a combination of mental processes, indicated by the yellow upper half of the Mercury symbol and of bodily responses or reactions, represented by the red cross forming the lower half of the same symbol. We discussed this on Key 9 The Hermit.
His claws are those of an eagle, the bird corresponding to the sign Scorpio. This indicates the materialization and misuse of the reproductive power, and its debasement in the service of sensuality.
He sits on a half-cube pedestal. Since a cube represents that which was, and is and shall be, a half-cube symbolizes half-knowledge of that reality and thus only the visible, sensory side of existence. To this half-cube are chained two figures representing the conscious mind and the sub-conscious mind. Their horns, hoofs and tails show that their reasoning comes from surface appearances, and thus their human consciousness becomes bestialized. The female figure has a tail with a bunch of grapes, as though her fall from grace was caused by tasting forbidden fruit. Since a person is known by his fruits, hers are of an animal nature. They are chained to the cube, but may free themselves at any time. Their bondage is imaginary.
The monstrous figure in Key 15 is a symbol of man’s ignorance of the true nature of reality, and more especially of man’s ignorance concerning his own place in the scheme of things. That ignorance is the real Deceiver, and because it may be overcome, those who set their feet upon the ancient Way of Liberation learn how to banish the Deceiver and his works.
There are seven stages of spiritual unfoldment. This Key represents the first stage – that of conscious bondage. The Deceiver represents the false conception that man is bound by material conditions, the false notion that he is a slave to necessity, a sport of chance. In truth, the forces which appear to be our adversaries are always ready to serve us. The Deceiver is sensation divorced by ignorance from understanding. We need to understand our essential freedom and take account of the hidden side of existence.