When I concluded the 5-month long run of my online class Cards and Magic, I was prompted with the question: ‘what is the Devil to you?’
This is the gist of what I said: the Devil is my capacity to be aware of whatever messes with my peace of mind. I’m the Devil, as all perceptions are based on reflection. I’m the peacemaker too.
Why did I say that? Let me explain, as my thought may inspire others who practice combining cards and magic by means of looking at life and cards closely.
The nature of reality
Reality is not what we think it is, especially not when we make divisions. The belief in the Devil presupposes the notion that there’s a God, and that God is good. Many are attracted to the Devil because the Devil is subversive, goes against systems, is shameless, and allows himself to be mischievous. But the Devil described along these lines is no Devil. This is just an image of a Devil that discloses the wish to embody hot coolness, or an image that makes a statement regarding how to resist cultural rules and conventions.
As far as I’m concerned, the Devil is everything that binds me to attachment, be it attachment to fear, desire, addiction, on the one hand, or goodness, compassion, and ethical morals, on the other hand. In other words, what we’re dealing with here is a hierarchy and division between good and bad, with the good and the bad taking up a privileged position, all according with how the cultural pendulum swings, with either the good being dominant at one time, or the bad ditto.
On my part, it’s been long since I’ve given up seeing division where there is none, for which reason I go like this: ‘the Devil is my capacity to not only be aware of whatever messes with my mind, but also deal with it.’ This baffles people, as for most the Devil is not a capacity, a faculty of the mind, but rather, an entity to be vanquished or made pacts with.
At the level of dealing with it, that is to say, dealing with what messes with my mind, if I need inspiration, I invoke some masters: either I go with the Buddhists, the nondualist and non-essentialist kind in particular, or Jesus, and say the following: ‘hello legion – manifested as limitation, frustration, resentment, hatred, righteousness, and so on – I see you’ve come to mess with my peace of mind and create drama. But not today. Today we don’t negotiate. Why don’t you, demons of attachment and illusion, just get behind me, or, accept my kiss.’
Now, what are we to make of such an attitude in the context of cards and magic?
I’m sure you’re all familiar with countless images of medieval conjurations of demons, spirits, and the like. Where do you suppose all these images come from? They come from the practice of visualizing a very concrete expectation.
If you expect to see demons – and they have specific faces in various historical grimoires – then you see demons. All you’ve got to do is cast a nice circle, chant some vibrations, and you’re set. Now, although some may say that it’s hard to get ‘visuals’ of the conjured entities, even though we have plenty of images that describe their form, images that are also recognizable to us all depending on what cultural pantheon and pandemonium we’re familiar with, the reality is that not getting any visuals is in fact close to the impossible. Why? Because what we operate with is language. Even the nonsensical, yet magical word abracadabra will conjure an image in our heads, because the very nature of language is to do so, namely conjure an image of any concept we think of, no matter how abstract or how concrete this concept is. You may not get to ‘see’ Lucifer in its Romantic incarnation à la the famous statue in St. Paul’s cathedral in Liège, but I bet that whatever image you will get in your head would not be far off from this iconic representation. Why? Simply because you will have heard already that Lucifer comes in the form of a sensual man, full of sublime beauty and light, looking nothing like the other arch demon, Belzebub, who tends to take the form of an ugly fly on your wall.
The point is that since language informs all our images, there’s no such thing as getting visuals of demons according to what we call ‘the experience of personal gnosis.’ An image is a shared memory, not a unique thing that ‘shows up’ for us in ‘original’ form. The more an image circulates in public, the more recognizable and memorable it gets. In other words, it becomes iconic. Just as the world of commercials, or pop culture, and high culture, has its own catalogue of iconic images, so with the world of the occult forces. There’s nothing new under the sun.
By the same token, if your invocations go for the ‘higher’ realms, then also here you will get to encounter exactly what you expect. If it’s angels, you see angels; if it’s fairies, you see fairies.
In the context of polytheism, we’re dealing with the same business of aligning our visualizations with our exact expectations. If we expect to commune with Odin or Jupiter, then we will commune with Odin or Jupiter, not a representation of a fox or a coyote. Likewise, for all my ‘personal’ experiences with conjuring the Devil at the crossroads, it’s a fun observation to make that he always shows up as ‘the man in black,’ an image shared by many cultures across. So, whoa, I’m not alone… the Devil in me wants to assure me. Now I’m not only truly happy, but also duly and properly initiated… I tell myself, ready to re-fashion a new identity for myself.
The magic of nothing
Now, what I find more interesting in my own practice of magic is how the work of detaching from the very thing that binds me – my own demon – brings me to an encounter with nothing itself. Because you see, if I’m free, especially free of expectation, or even better, if I have total peace of mind, then logically speaking what I get to have an encounter with is exactly nothing.
Just as in the example above with seeing demons because that’s what I expect to see, so here: I see exactly nothing, if that’s what I expect. Now, granted, seeing nothing is not nearly as sexy as seeing something, but seeing nothing has special status, as it is linked with the highest form of detachment that is important in magic.
In working with clarity, seeing nothing is a necessary condition for seeing things as they are. Since magic operates with this plane of awareness, as magic is simply the realization that things are as they are, it needs no qualifying images of what I deem is the case.
Let me put this across:
The idea of nothing, or rather, nothing itself, is quite special, because when you free yourself of your attachments, invariably you create a lot more space in yourself and around yourself. You are all this space already, but if you allow for this space to be populated by all sorts of inventions irrelevant to space itself, then you can just imagine the tightness and the tension; the pressure. It’s bound to depress the hell out of you.
Now imagine yourself being free even of your intention to do magic, only so that you can successfully say, ‘I did it. It worked. I’m pleased with myself.’ If you’re free of all attachments, you’re spacious. You are able to see right through your cry of success and the fact that in reality, the notion of success means absolutely nothing. It’s just a word spoken in the air. It has quite a conventional form that we all agree upon, as we all seem to know just what success looks like. In contrast to words of convention, magic and power don’t care about your fictions. So it’s better to look elsewhere for modes of expressing your magic and power than through the prism of the self, a self whose construction follow the shifting rules for how a desired identity can take shape.
Furthermore, the meaning of the space that’s freed from attachment is aligned with what else you can then do when you’re free, which is to pay attention to what in actuality is the case, not to what you fantasize about is the case. When you are free, you can just look.
As far as working with the cards is concerned, the magic is in approaching the cards from this detached position. This is what ensures that you will not doubt yourself. You will read like the Devil when you’re able to see things as they are. When you’re able to see things they are, you discover that this state of things is not subject to your judgments and opinions. The highest magic is in this discovery, as it leads you to perform beyond any expectation.
Many think magic is all about their intention. They couldn’t be more wrong. Your own intention is only a small part of what else is there. What I teach is how to grow roots in your own vastness, how to just look and not get involved in situations irrelevant to what in reality is the case.
I started Cards and Magic with a strong call for detachment, and then I pointed to why detachment is the condition for all successful magic. This amounted to saying that successful magic equals being in power and walking in power – and here I wasn’t talking about symbolic power, an extension of the ‘successful magical self’ – however peaceful or neurotic at that notion of the self may be.
I ended the class on the same note on detachment, though in the last lecture I was even more insistent on the efficiency of expecting nothing. The idea was to practice recognizing the legions that come to us to mess with our peace of mind and then act in accordance. This acting in accordance hinges on practicing the art of looking. As many fret about ‘card meanings,’ what I say is this: look at a concrete concept, embodiment, function, and value when you look at the cards, but then try to also say this: ‘this means nothing and that means nothing.’
Laugh a lot as you go about deconstructing power relations in the cards. But find as well in this deconstruction a lot of force. If there’s any transformative power in your work with the cards, then it is in realizing that everything is just a question of changing your metaphors, your language, your going from the Hanged Man situation to the Emperor – that is to say, if power is what you’re seeking.
Meaning does not arise from thinking about images informed by a set of semantic markers à la ‘the Hanged Man means a new perspective.’ Some book may decide that that is the case, but why take this image as representative of what happens in individual contexts? It’s better to exclaim instead: ‘oh, the Hanged Man again, this situation can’t be helped and having no agency depresses the hell out of me.’ This exclamation is the result of looking at what is happening in this card, rather than the result of making sure that the cartomantic ‘tradition’ stays locked in the randomness of some irrelevant thought.
Look at your cards and laugh.
Hello Devil, how are you today?
While acknowledging the Devil of illusion, my strategy of annihilating it is to say this: ‘Devil, you’re nothing but language. If I conjure you as a demon with this face, it’s because I have language to rely on, to provide me with just the right visual nuance for your form and doing. I have language to rely on for my constructions of how I let my fear drive the narrative of my rising hair. Devil, you and I are nothing but custodians of images. Those of our mind and other. But you know what? Let’s sit together and enjoy the silence. If we must, we can read some cards. We can visualize worlds and stories that come to our rescue. We can heal and thunder through power. We can use the most exquisite sacred things from the Tibetan Tantric monks, landed in our home by way of miracles. Let the antique Thangka function as a cloth to spread our cards on. Let the dorje mark the spot. Let the prayer and the bell resound. And let us smile when we teach, create, and enchant. Expect nothing from me, as I’m free of expectation myself. Thank you, and Hallelujah.’
One of the students in the Cards and Magic class, Annie Kaye, had this to say that made me think of the Devils I know and love:
“I feel like we came together in a truly magical way. I imagine years from now I will say, ‘Yeah, I was in the first Cards and Magic course’ and it will be like saying, ‘Yeah, I was at Woodstock.’ Camelia, you created a Woodstock. Rock on. Thank you so much ♥ ♥ ♥.”
Expect nothing, and all will be given. Smile and enjoy your peace of mind. Whoever needs to guide you on your path will show up when you are ready, whether as God, the Buddha, or the Devil.
All images here are mine, featuring items in my private collection of sacred Tibetan art. The thangkas, the prayer book, and the dorje are all ca. 1800. The Buddha head dates to 1650.
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