In the Thoth Tarot, four cards relate to Capricorn: the 2 of Disks, the 3 of Disks, the 4 of Disks, and The Devil. Knowing that Aleister Crowley referred to himself as ‘the Beast’, can we see anything of him in the 15th Trump?
The 2, 3, and 4 of Disks are of course located in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sephiroth. But if we look at the astrology of these cards, there’s an interesting alternative connection there: Capricorn in Jupiter, Mars, and the Sun. These planetary energies rule the 4th, 5th, and 6th Sephiroth – Chesed, Geburah, and Tiphareth – which form the Ethical Triangle on the Tree of Life. This is where individuality is developed, and our sense of morality.
It’s interesting that this triangle is called both the Ethical Triangle and the Moral Triangle, because while they both relate to the concept of right and wrong behaviour, the context is different. Ethics refers to society and Morality refers to our own personal system of right and wrong. Can this Triangle be both? Probably not for Crowley.
The Devil resides on the path between Tiphareth and Hod. It leads on from the Ethical Triangle into the intellectual sphere of Mercury. So we have a sense of right and wrong that governs our thoughts and behaviour, and we are moving into the more physical plane with it. We’re thinking things through, asking questions, and making our own decisions.
I think it’s fair to assume that Crowley would be thinking about personal morality in his Devil, not societal ethics. He grew up in a strict conservative Christian household, and rejected his parents’ religion and their approach to life. As a child, he acted out — today we wouldn’t be so shocked (in fact we might expect a reaction against it), but his mother dubbed him ‘the beast’. To her, he must have seemed like something from the other side – and Crowley liked the name, kept it, and would go on in later years to incorporate his interpretation of ‘the beast’ and other Biblical names like ‘Babalon’ into Thelema. At the time, it may have been a way to reclaim his identity as his own.
Crowley’s understanding of the Devil developed outwith the Christian theology that he had left behind. The Devil was not an evil force that existed to cause humanity’s downfall via physical temptation, but actually a kind of freedom to embrace our human nature; it represents perceiving and understanding that our options are not always morally good ones, but that the choice is ours. The only punishment comes from intentionally misunderstanding and allowing ourselves to make choices that lead us away from our Divine Will. As with Divine Will, it’s not a free-for-all, get-out-of-jail-free card.
The Hebrew letter on The Devil card is Ayin, meaning eye, the Third Eye that is on the goat’s forehead in The Devil card. That is the intuition we need to make the right choices. But:
There is a second aspect of the ayin’s design, which is that the ayin is actually two eyes united at the optical chiasma—the nerve center that receives and interprets visual impulses—at the back of the head. Two eyes attached to a central link can be clearly seen in the letter’s form.
If you look at the Thoth Devil, you can see a representation of two eyes ‘attached by a central link’, and what looks like nerve connections on a pink background. What do these two eyes see, though? Perhaps one sees morality and one sees ethics, and our mind seeks to balance the two so that we honour ourselves while trying to fit in with everyone else. Perhaps it relates somehow to The Moon, whose letter is Qoph, meaning ‘back of the head’ – where the nerves of our eyes meet in the description above of Ayin. That would bring the subconscious into our moral decisions – definitely leaning away from society and toward our own Will.
Crowley’s Tarot Devil is, after all, very similar to the Rider Waite Smith. But it specifies why. Why should we not go dancing all night? There’s no judgement because we’re relying on ourselves for moral decisions. But consider if and how that might affect you in a larger sense – would it create obstacles for you when working toward your life goals, maybe because you’re exhausted during the day, or don’t have much money left to buy tools for your work?
Crowley’s Devil also adds an awareness of our physical selves and asks us to acknowledge, allow, and celebrate pleasure. We’re human! That’s part of the good stuff. It’s not debauch, or ‘sin’, which, for Crowley, was only ‘knowingly and wilfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices’. Ayin, the eye, is your call to distinguish between what is right and wrong, for yourself, according to the plan for your life. It’s joyful.
You can be like the people in the eye on the left side of the Devil card, who are relaxed and easy and waiting to float upward into their life, or you can be like the people in the eye on the right side, who are fighting each other and being held down by a devilish-looking figure. The message is: don’t fight what you want. Your desires are just there because you’re human. But your subconscious (and only yours) knows what will be best for you. So listen, and see.