The Mystical Tarot – The Devil

Some tarot decks really don’t get the attention they deserve. I absolutely love the Mystical Tarot, published by Lo Scarabeo in 2017, created by Giuliano Costa and think it warrants study and use. It’s a rich, detailed and absorbing deck with so many layers to peel back. I spent a bit of time with it this afternoon, looking at how the artist has interpreted the cards. They are absolutely crammed with symbolism and whilst being recognisably in the spirit of the Waite Smith deck, they have a unique quality which is at once artistically satisfying and magically potent.
A tarot card with a picture of the devil
The Devil – Mystical Tarot

 

The Devil was first out of the pack today. There are no titles on these cards and that led me to wonder about the name we give to card 15. Is this The Devil, the antichrist? Or is this one of infinite demons in hell tasked with tormenting souls? We might even discover that it is something else entirely, something of our own creation. Either way, the artist takes inspiration from medieval depictions of the devil, with multiple faces which serve to amplify the horror and underline the wages of sin.
This is an unpleasant and surreal card with a sickly quality to it. It nods to some of Dali’s landscapes, his use of colour and treatment of faces. I even spotted Dali’s own moustaches hiding in the eyebrows of the creature on the Devil’s sword. It’s not an off the wall idea that Dali might be referenced here as he created his own tarot deck and he and his contemporaries used the symbolism of the tarot to inform their own work. There’s a distinct flavour of the industrial hell of William Blake here as well, with smoking chimneys, factories and mills in the background. The creature’s ears are steaming too as though its very body is a place where horrors are created.
Down in the lower half of the card we see the Devil’s two acolytes. They are naked and exposed. Their lack of clothing means we have no clue as to their status in terms of class or wealth. Death, and indeed the wiles of the Devil, is the great leveler and we see that in card 13 with Death reaping the souls of the great and the humble alike. The figures in the Devil card are surrounded by symbols of their own infatuation. The oyster shell, the strawberry, the snake all indicate temptations of the flesh. There is a sense though that the people here are no longer really interested in those things, but have found that by chasing them they are now ensnared. They are like the alcoholic who finds no pleasure in drink, only a momentary distraction from the pain he is trying to numb. The woman on the right is consumed by serving her obsessions, but the male figure on the left looks as though he has just seen the reality of his situation. He has found himself in hell. By chasing his desires he discovers he is trapped by them with apparently no way out.
But the Devil has no physical grasp on this pair. His hands are occupied by taking the stance of the figure we see in card 1, the Magician, only reversed. His gaze is fixed on the viewer of the card, intense and hypnotic rather than confrontational. He draws us in through the vices which it is so easy for us to slip into, but, interestingly, he is shackled just as the figures are. There is no freedom here for the Devil. It is hard to know what this figure gains from the acolytes at his feet.
Modern ways of divination tend towards some sanitisation of this card. ‘Gentler’ decks rename the card ‘Temptation’, as though our greatest worry here is eating too many Kit-Kats one afternoon. I would say that the energy here though is of being utterly consumed by something to a point that you find yourself in a world light years away from where you wanted or intended to be. The Devil looks out at you from this card and asks a question. What is it that consumes you to the point of horror and madness? What little white rabbit have you chased so far down the hole that it has landed you on the plains of hell? You don’t have to stay there. The Devil doesn’t have you by the wrists. Your hands are free to unshackle yourself at any point.