The Empress of Light, Aphrodite Pandemos

Of the first seven major arcana, two represent the dual aspects of Venus; and one other represents the eternal question of what to do about her? Waite described the Empress as “the woman clothed with the sun, as Gloria Mundi and the veil of the Sanctum Sanctorum.” The High Priestess is pictured in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum, and is the representative of the mysteries in the darkness behind it. So to visit the realm of the High Priestess, Waite seems to say, you go through the Empress. This opposition of light and dark qualities directly relates to the neoplatonic view of the two natures of Venus. There is, according to Wikipedia, an “earthly Aphrodite Pandemos, representing carnal love and beauty, and the heavenly Aphrodite Urania representing a higher and more spiritual love.” Waite’s Empress is very Roman, as we shall see; but then, what else would we expect from a man writing at the height of the British Empire? The RWS Empress is inextricably tied to the material world.

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The Devil Had a Makeover

Eliphas Lévi’s writings in 19th century France markedly changed the meaning of The Devil in Tarot. Lévi identified this major arcanum with Baphomet, the Sabbatic Goat-demon. Prior to Lévi, the Devil had hooves, but also had a human-like head. The now goat-headed demon was seen as the animalistic/bestial side of us. He could now be defeated by rationality. The new Devil was internalized: the sinner driving themself to sin out of their own stupidity or beastliness. Lévi was a particularly strong influence on A.E. Waite. In RWS and derivative decks, the Devil as Baphomet forms the basis of our view of this card as more about sexuality and biologically based urges (such as addiction) than about pure evil.Yet when we read this card as a type of “personal slavery” today, we must ask: is evil only a personal problem? The world is more evil today. If we recognize that in our society it is usually the case that more evil is done to common people than any amount that they do to others, then perhaps a better read, one that may help more querents in a better manner may be something along the lines of: “evil has been done to you. Evil has been done to many others and you are not alone. You can either give in or find help in healing yourself. And perhaps one day, you and I and the others will fight the Devil, together.”

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