The Devil Is In The Details

Warning: If you’re bored or baffled by esoteric number theory and the numerological approach to the tarot, skip this piece. It’s one of my enduring passions, but then I’m a mystically-inclined former engineer.

On one of the tarot forums we have been discussing the image of the arch-demon on the Waite-Smith Devil card. One of the first things I brought up was that I’ve found it instructive to compare Waite’s Devil to his Hierophant and Magician. The Hierophant and the Devil are both making signs of benediction with their right hands, although the second one is regarded as an infernal gesture and a mockery of the first. The Hierophant is holding a three-tiered scepter or staff of office in his left hand, which always suggests “body-mind-spirit” to me (although I think it has a more ecclesiastical meaning), while the Devil holds the downward-pointing torch. It mimics the lowered left hand of the Magician, and is suggestive of Lucifer the Light-bringer, whom early Christians reviled as a pagan god and therefore unholy. It’s interesting that putting the Magician (1) together with the Hierophant (5) without adding their numbers yields 15 (the Devil), and the Devil embodies a numerological expression of the Lovers (1+5=6). Alejandro Jodorowsky considers the right-hand “root” number of a binomial to share commonality with its single-digit version, preceded by the Magician as its escort. So the Devil shows the Hierophant (5) being led by the “psychopomp” Mercury, in the person of the Magician (1), into the Stygian depths of the Devil (15). I’m reminded of Virgil in Dante’s Inferno. It is also worth noting that the Lovers card is associated with Gemini in the Golden Dawn system of correspondences, one of the signs ruled by Mercury. A visual comparison of the Lovers to the Devil and the Hierophant shows numerous design similarities.

Devil in the Details.JPG

Once I laid the four cards adjacent to one another, I began to recognize other creative combinations and did a little numerological number-crunching that shows just how central the Devil and the Lovers are to the structure of the Major Arcana series. For example:

The Devil’s number, 15, reduces by addition of digits to the Lovers (1+5=6)
The numbers of the Magician and the Hierophant add to the Lovers (1+5=6)
The numbers of the Devil and the Lovers add to the World (15+6=21)
The numbers of the Magician, the Hierophant and the Devil also add to the World (1+5+15=21)
The number of the World reduces to the Empress by addition of digits (2+1=3) and also to the Hanged Man by “casting out nines” (21-9=12)
The number of the Hanged Man reduces to the Empress by addition of digits (1+2=3), and also by “casting out nines” (12-9=3)
The Hanged Man and the Empress add to the Devil (12+3=15)
The World and the Empress added together reduce to the Lovers (21+3=24, 2+4=6), which is also a reduction of the Devil
The World and the Hanged Man added together reduce to the Lovers (21+12=33, 3+3=6) and also to the Devil by “casting out nines” (33-9=24, 24-9=15)

Carrying this even further, I find that:

The number of Temperance, 14, reduces to the Hierophant (1+4=5)
Temperance and the Magician add to the Devil (14+1=15)
Temperance and the Hierophant add to the Sun (14+5=19)
The Hierophant and the Sun add and then reduce to the Lovers (5+19=24, 2+4=6), and also to the Devil by “casting out nines” (24-9=15)
The Sun reduces to the Wheel of Fortune (1+9=10), which further reduces to the Magician (1+0=1)
Temperance and the Wheel of Fortune add and reduce to the Lovers (14+10=24, 2+4=6), and also to the Devil by “casting out nines” (24-9=15)
The Wheel of Fortune and the Magician add to Justice (10+1=11), which further reduces to the High Priestess (1+1=2)
The Wheel of Fortune and Justice add to the World (10+11=21)
The Sun and the High Priestess also add to the World (19+2=21)
Justice and the High Priestess add to Death (11+2=13)
The High Priestess and Death add to the Devil (2+13=15)
Temperance and the Devil add and reduce to Justice, poetic or otherwise (14+15=29, 2+9=11)

Admittedly, I cherry-picked the pairs that seemed to best suit my purpose of showing the Devil and the Lovers (and incidentally the World) as common denominators in many of the relationships between the cards of the Minor Arcana. There are a number of other combinations that add to the Devil that I haven’t mentioned or illustrated here since they didn’t seem as immediately relevant: Lovers (6) + Hermit (9); Chariot (7) + Strength (8); Hierophant (5) + Wheel of Fortune (10); Emperor (4) + Justice (11). But all of them are worth pondering. There are also a few combinations that reduce to the Devil by “casting out nines” (in short, any that add to 24, 33, 42, 51 and so forth), but not through summing of the digits (which in those cases produces “6”, a different horse of a similar color, as we have seen).

There is an interesting correlation between the Devil, the High Priestess and the World. In the Golden Dawn system, the High Priestess is governed by the Moon, and the World is assigned to Saturn, both of which have to do with cyclical patterns and structures and the concept of Time. In fact, in astrology the travel of the secondary-progressed (“day-for-a-year”) Moon through the zodiac is closely tied to the 28-year cycle of Saturn; each takes around 28 years of life to pass through all of the signs. In that sense, it could be said that the lunar wisdom of the High Priestess is closely related to the saturnine mode of  the Devil, which is connected to Saturn (the “Taskmaster” and “Great Teacher”) through that planet’s rulership of Capricorn, the sign given to the Devil. Furthermore, the numbers of the High Priestess and the World add and reduce to the Hierophant, the “root” number of the Devil (2+21=23, 2+3=5), while the High Priestess, the Magician and the World add and reduce to the Lovers (2+1+21=24, 2+4=6) and, by “casting out nines,” the Devil (24-9=15).

Wheels within wheels, it seems. Aleister Crowley aptly described the Devil as the wellspring of our urge to create on the physical plane (although I think what he really had in mind was procreation, which exercises his other major interest, sex). Reflecting the dynamic interplay between the Lovers, the Devil and the World (15 = 1+5=6, 15+6=21), the aphorism for the Lovers-Devil-World triplet might be “The Lovers who truly understand and appreciate the Devil will be masters of their World.” (Many writers have noted that the couple in the Waite-Smith Devil card are only loosely chained by the neck and could escape any time they want, if only they knew it.) The Devil is where they came from (at least numerologically) and the World is where they are going with their “father” (again, numerologically), and hopefully it’s not “to Hell in a hand-basket.” We could also say to the Lovers: “Honor thy fathers – the Magician, the Hierophant and the Devil – and thy mothers – the High Priestess and the Empress – and respect thy masters – the Emperor (authority) and the Hermit (wisdom).”

However, the “masters” have a closer numerological relationship to Death than to the Devil and the Lovers. The dynamic goes Emperor-Hermit-Death, numerically expressed as 4, 9 and 13, and the permutations are 4+9=13; 1+3=4; 13-9=4; 13 +9=22, 2+2=4. One set brings transformative wisdom to governance while the other strips it away. But that’s another story.

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