The Buddha taught that there where three poisons, essentially equivalent to how the seeds were sown in Jesus’s parable of the sower. As explained in ‘plain English’ by Lama Surya Das, the first poison was Ignorance of the Truth (Jesus’s seeds that fell in sealed soil). The second poison was Attachment (Jesus’s seeds that fell in soil that was populated with rocks). The third poison was Aversion (Jesus’s seeds that fell in soil with that also possessed the seeds of weeds.) The Fool, by virtue of their Dark Night experience (poor in spirit, mourning and being meek) have resolved the Ignorance poison... they are no longer ignorant of truth (that wealth, power, love and fame are all illusions).
Now the Fool has to deal with the second poison, Attachment. The Devil card represents those things to which we are attached. In his book, Awakening the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das wrote, “Who, or what are you most attached to? Is it a person? Is it some object? Is it an attitude or behaviour pattern? Are you attached to some repetitive or even compulsive habit or way of doing things? Are you attached to money? Are you attached to status? How about ambition? Often our attachments take over our lives. It’s as if we are possessed by our possessions. We want success so much that we give up real lives; we want beautiful things so much that we only see the imperfections in what we have; we become so attached to others that we try to control or own them; we become so attached to something or somebody that we become totally dependent and forget who we are.” (Pg 68-9)
It comes as no surprise that the fourth Beatitude is linked with the Devil card. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. You’ll notice Jesus didn’t say ‘blessed are those who are a little peckish’. What he is saying is that the sort of desire and drivenness that has you wanting to return to accumulating wealth, power, love, and fame has to be translated to wanting to live righteously. Given that the Fool has progressed through their Dark Night, and that they have had their vessel filled by Temperance, then they will possess the knowledge for how to live righteously.
From the Cathar perspective, living righteously equated to adopting the Seven Works of Mercy. Originally there were only six: feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, attend to the sick and visit those in prison. With the advent of the plague (where between 60-75% of the European population died) the Pope added bury the dead, since so many people needed burying and most people were afraid to touch the dead. Jesus called the people who did these things the ‘righteous’, so it can be deemed that doing these things is righteousness. Effectively, this sees the shift in awareness turning from meeting personal needs to seeing and meeting the needs of others. Jesus does give a very important context to this, that was distorted by Christianity. He taught that the fundamental law was to love your God, and the second was much like it - love your neighbour (the works of mercy) as you love yourself! The church taught, even up until recently, that the love of ‘self’ was wrong.
Any time the Devil appears he represents the challenge between ego will and divine will. In the Garden of Eden, Eve is put into the position of choosing between obeying God or being tempted by the Devil. After his forty-day fast, Jesus is having to choose between obeying his Father’s will or the temptations of the Devil. Now the Fool is also presented with having to choose between pursuing divine will or the temptations of the Devil. These are the things of the illusionary world advertised by the Magician and programmed into the maturing Fool, symbolised by the Emperor, Pope, Lovers and Chariot cards. This was the Cathar rationale of there being two worlds, that of the good God and that of the evil God. It was Jesus explaining that you can’t choose both God and mammon.
The end of the thirteenth century saw the meteoric rise in the Christian construct of the devil. Even his role as the adversary of God and goodness sees the idea of hellfire and damnation gain momentum. Dante’s Inferno fuels these ideas, and by the fourteenth century Satan possesses Pan-like features with horns and half-man, and half-goat features. For half of the first Christian millennium when depicted in art, the Devil had a halo just like Jesus. Several hundred years later and he is given a pitchfork by which he can torment people in hell. His being worshipped is ascribed to anyone who challenges the teachings or is at variance with the church. The Templars were accused of worshipping Baphomet, the Cathar were said to venerate the Devil, and women were easily marked as witches and worshippers of Satan. The gospel of love had been replaced by a gospel of fear. But from the Cathar perspective, Satan was Isaiah’s “fallen star” who’d created this world and was its God.
The unique features included in the image of the Devil symbolise the various appetites that will stop the Fool becoming a Fool for Christ. The ears on the man and woman are typical of the standard attire worn by the sots, the itinerant medieval actors who played professional fools in plays called sorties.This is a reminder that these two symbolise the Fool. That they have antlers is an important addition. Antlers historically were associated with primordial nature and animal instincts. The thing about antlers was, they could be cut back or broken but would grow back again. This is symbolic of the Fool trying to get control of their appetites, only to constantly lose control.
It was for this reason that the Cathar perfecti (their priests) held a monthly gathering called the apareilementum. It involved a “public and solemn confession”. An extract from an extant manuscript of the Cathar ritual reads, “Whereas we are taught by God’s Holy Word as well as by the Holy Apostles and the preaching of our spiritual brothers to reject all fleshly desire and all uncleanliness and to do the will of God by doing good [the Works of Mercy], we unworthy servants that we are, not only not do the will of God as we should, but more often give way to desires of the flesh and the cares of the world, to such and extent that we wound our spirits.”
This is what they were depicting in their theology that was interpreted as the Devil card. The issue here isn’t about the desire to pursue the will of God, it’s about sustainability. The Cathar embedded one more significant symbol into their theology that was to appear in the Devil card - the Devil holding a flaming sword in his left hand. This is the symbol describing how the Fool can becomes a Fool for Christ without wavering.
The flaming sword and the House of God card are inseparable and reveal how its possible for the Fool to finally leave the journey through the Dark Night of the Soul and qualify to enter the journey into the Treasury of Light, which leads to the kingdom of Heaven.
(The image of the Devil card included in this article is from the Tarot de Marseille [Edition Millenium] © 2011 FJP Paris
The photo is one taken by me. It’s a permanent display on the bookcase in my lounge at home.