Anyone who watches the news on a daily basis–which the whole team at The Sanatan Chronicle does–will realise that there is always an enemy to fight. In the heyday of the Cold War, it was the ideology of capitalism versus communism. During my teens, there was the War on Terror. And today, we have the COVID-19 pandemic. As long as we have an enemy, no matter how well-defined or elusive, the media has a field day and something to report on.
If it bleeds, it leads. That was one of the first things I learned when I studied journalism in university. So if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t get to lead. And what could possibly make us bleed more than having an enemy–especially one that could potentially kill us or has attempted to kill us.
Even before the advent of mass news media, some of the ancient religions preached of the battle between good and evil, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
Who is this diabolical devil, this archenemy and this rival of God? Is it real or is it a figment of our collective imagination and hallucination? The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t… till you realise that the devil you don’t know is a living, breathing entity that resides inside you.
This is our Shadow Self. This is the aspect of our psyche that never gets to see the light… till it is brought into the Light, integrated and made whole again. Once this Shadow sees the Light, it ceases to exist. Once we actually stop to understand who or what we’re fighting against, we realise there is nothing to fear.
In the traditional Rider-Waite Smith tarot deck, the Devil card is full of rich symbolism that we never stop to analyse as we’re too shocked and taken aback by the totality of the image itself. I was reading up on the card today and I didn’t find much beyond the cliche. But once I started to break it down into its disparate symbols, I discovered more than what I expected to find. The devil is, indeed, in the details.
That’s the thing with The Devil–once you see it for what it is, it will cease to shock you.
The devil has the legs of a goat. In the zodiac, the goat is linked to the constellation of Capricorn, which is ruled by Planet Saturn. Saturn is known to be a tough taskmaster that rewards hard work with what it is due. If you’ve ever attempted something new–something you’ve never done before in your life–the likelihood that you’ll be good at it, let alone great when you first start out is highly unlikely.
The goat grows sure-footed over time, with each footstep. He doesn’t get there by happenstance, by luck, or by chance. He has taken the time to study his environment, the seasons, the terrains and he has acclimatised to it with each footstep. He may have been wobbly and wonky when he first started out, but with time, patience and effort; he achieved a certain mastery he would not have if he had relied on his instincts alone.
Following on from that, I feel the deeper meaning behind the symbolism here is that there is nothing wrong with starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. This is the prime minister who started his career as a tea seller. This is the bus boy who ended up owning a hotel.
This is the culmination and achievement of one’s own hard work and labour. It will always be a part of you and no one will ever be able to take it away from you because you took the time and effort to develop it within your being.
If we’re afraid of having to work hard–which let’s face it, many people are–then of course you would fear the Devil!
The devil has the wings of a bat. Why? Rather peculiar, don’t you think?
Well, the bat is indeed a peculiar animal because it is the only mammal that can fly. In Singapore, where I’m from, fruit bats are important pollinators for edible plants like durians, papaya and petai. Insectivorous bats are also key predators of insects and help keep their population in check. A much-needed boon in a tropical climate like ours. In agricultural economies, they are especially helpful to farmers, as they control populations of agricultural pests and reduce the need for pesticides.
As nocturnal animals, we hardly see them in the day; but they are very active at night. Around dusk, it is not uncommon to begin hearing them babble and catch them flying around. Some bats lead solitary lives, while others live in colonies of more than a million.
The Chinese word for bat is ‘fu,’ pronounced the same as the word for good fortune. Chinese artists have long used five bats to represent the five blessings: health, long life, prosperity, virtue and a natural death.
In storytelling traditions, the bat is sometimes viewed as a liminal being–one that cannot easily be placed into a single category of existence.
We tend to fear what we don’t understand, but if we understood the benefits and the good fortune that bats bring to our lives, we would appreciate them more and fear them less.
From the bull to the ram to the stag, horns have always symbolised the masculine force of nature. These days, we think of nature as a highly feminine force, but it was not so in ages of the past. There are many different meanings that could be attached to this masculine force: stability, aggression, virility and so on and so forth.
The sheer physical power and reproductive potency of horned animals, which were important in the economy of ancient hunting and agricultural societies, made them ideal symbols of strength and fertility. The association of horns with fertility was further solidified in popular memory by their phallic shape. The use of horns as plows and the symbolic view of plowing as the impregnation of Mother Earth to receive its bounty led to the belief that horns were charged with sexual power.
In the case of the stag, the horns grow, fall off and regenerate themselves; much like the seasons of the sun. The deeper meaning being that the masculine force, much like the feminine force, is cyclical in nature and needs time to rest and recuperate before it returns once more.
A lot of people’s minds start wandering to that 50 Shades of Grey stuff, but that’s a fairly recent phenomenon that was probably not in the mind of the creators of the RWS deck. While the chain can be seen as a symbol of oppression–I can’t help but wonder what kind of oppression. If you look at the image, neither the man nor the woman appear to be struggling and seem quite content there.
Well, maybe they do like that 50 Shades of Grey stuff, but maybe all it speaks to is us fulfilling our contractual obligations to one another. Say you got married to the love of your life. But love alone is not enough to build a marriage. You still need to take out the trash, pay the bills, cook dinner and even maybe build a business together.
These are all obligations that we make which bind us to one another. When you decide to marry someone, you have signed a legal document that binds you, your finances and your lives together. Even to buy a home, you have to take out a loan, and you have to meet the repayment as part of your contractual obligation.
Perhaps all that those chains symbolise is that you made this commitment freely and of your own volition and now you have to meet all the obligations that come along with it.
We all have an obligation to stay true to our word and without that, there would be no trust.
The Fire and The Grape
I feel that deep desire is experienced by both men and women. But the way it expresses itself can vary greatly depending on where on the spectrum you are. The element of fire is brash, bold, lively and outspoken; whereas the grape internalises and incubates what is growing within itself. The grape and the torch reveal to us how desire manifests itself in different ways.
For any two people to come together, there must be that initial impulse, that initial desire. Without that, nothing in the universe could actually happen. If we don’t feel deeply compelled to do something, a lot of times, we simply won’t.
The fire and the grape represent that desire and that impulse to create a tie between two people, two institutions and two businesses in a way that is mutually beneficial and which allows for desires to be manifested in a way that is binding.
The Wu Xing are the five phases, or five elements in the Taoist tradition. They are differentiated from the formative ancient Japanese or Greek elements, due to their emphasis on cyclic transformations and change.
The five phases are: Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 tǔ), Metal (金 jīn), Water (水 shuǐ), and Wood (木 mù). It speaks of the cyclical nature of all humans and its relationship to the natural environment imploring us to work with the natural laws that permeate the universe as opposed to against it.
The God Pan
Pan—or Faunus in Roman mythology—is the goat-footed god of the Greeks. He looks after shepherds and the woods and is a wondrous musician who invented the instrument named after him—panpipes. He was a nature deity who with time became vilified as an ‘uncivilised’ god in a ‘civilised’ world. During ancient times, however, Pan was worshiped in natural settings such as grottos and caves along with the local nymph who was prominent in the area.
Banias Nature Reserve, found in the Upper Golan, is an ancient site that developed around a spring once associated with the Greek god Pan. It had been inhabited for 2,000 years, until its destruction in 1967. The spring is the source of the Banias River, one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River. Archaeologists uncovered a shrine dedicated to Pan and related deities and the remains of an ancient city founded sometime after the conquest by Alexander the Great.
It was said that when Pan played his syrinx, he could drive people mad with its music. The sound of the syrinx made people lower their inhibitions. When they were overcome with lust, they often lost control. Instead of blaming Pan as the ancient storytellers did, we could perhaps take responsibility for what happens when we lower our own inhibitions.
In all honesty, the Devil card looks identical to Pan. Perhaps it is a reminder that we’re still very much tied to nature no matter how civilised we may think we are.
We may be a product of our civilisation–or should I say culture–but we are still children of nature.
I honestly think that the Devil is an entity that only ever exists in the human imagination. It isn’t out to get us but to remind us who we are both children of both culture as well as nature. We can no more overcome our Nature than we can our Nurture. It is best we learn to live with both as peacefully as we can.
In either case, neither culture nor nature can deny the beasts it creates… and neither should you.