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The Magical Tarot – The Devil

September 15, 2013

Into Temptation

by Madeline Montalban

In the Tarot Trumps No. 15 is called the Devil for want of a better name. The Devil was said to have many aspects (or faces) and he also had another name, Temptation. This is a better one with which to define No. 15 in the Tarot, for many of the evils that befall us are often the results of temptation in one way or another.

Ancient occultists, in fact, used the words temptation and devil synonymously. They depicted their devils as having ugly faces because the results of temptation were so ugly. In ancient Tarot packs there were all kinds of depictions of No. 15. Our illustration shows one in which Typhon is shown with the Four Magical Nails of Anti-Temptation hemming him in.


Typhon was, according to Hesiod, a giant of enormous strength, with one hundred snake-heads darting fire, and with a variety of voices. He was the “father” of devastating hurricanes, and of those emotional hurricanes which devastate humanity.

He contended with Zeus for the throne of the lower world, lost the battle, was hurled to the ground by lightning and thrown into Tartarus. Later, this same Typhon was identified with the God called Set among the Egyptians. Set was held also to be lord of the sirocco, of blight, of the eclipse of the sun, and moon, and of the barren sea, as well as being the author of all evil and the murderer of his brother, Osiris.

Wherever this figure of the Devil turns up, the story is pretty much the same, and running through it is the theme of the great tempter. Typhon, Set, or the familiar Devil we know, has no power over those who can resist temptation, whatever form it takes. If nothing at all tempts you, the Devil has no power over you.

However, the ancients were not foolish enough to believe that even the wisest of us were safe from the tempter’s power, for they held that man had within himself the very weaknesses that must, eventually, lead to his destruction. A person in the grip of an overwhelming temptation can never be reasoned with. He must be taught to reason with himself. But how?

At this point somebody invented the Magical Nails, one for every season of the year; the ones on the left of the illustration being for spring and summer, and on the right for autumn and winter.

Whether people bought their magical nails from the priests, or fashioned them by hand themselves, will never be known, for no records on the subject actually exist, but on the coming of age of men and women alike the possession of the Four Nails was held to be important. This is how they were used.

If a person felt himself assailed by a temptation of any kind, he took the appropriate nail of the season and hammered it into a piece of wood. This piece of wood he hammered daily, one tap at a time . . . until the head of the nail was embedded flush with the wood.

This took time, and during that time, the theory went, the temptation would lose its power and malignancy. If the tempted one had managed to resist until the nail (tap by tap, and day by day) went flush into the wood, then he would never yield to it.

Now this is good psychology, as is most magic.

Temptation’s power is ephemeral, which means that it passes away. As soon as the tempted person felt he had to give in to an impulse or deed he knew to be wrong, out came the iron nail and piece of hard wood.

The first tap that held the nail was said to hold “temptation at bay”; in other words, it nailed it.

That gave the persons concerned the valuable feeling that they were doing something to resist. Next day, another tap . . . the will to resist continuing . . . and so on until the nail went in flush. By which time the temptation should have lost its power, and common sense have regained control.

But what happened if the sufferer gave in to temptation after beginning the nail-hammering? If he broke down before the daily tap had driven the nail through?

Then, said the sages, he had had it, and would be delivered over to Typhon for consequent punishment, not only on earth (where he would reap the harvest of his misdeeds) but also in after-life. This was because, having begun to hammer the nail, and knowing that he should resist, he failed.

Occultists in the past were very particular on the subject of whether or not you knew you were yielding to temptation at the time.

If you had started to hammer your nail, you did know. If, afterwards, you gave in, instead of “nailing Typhon”, he had nailed you!

In one form or another this magical nail idea crops up all over the world, in folklore, in mythology and in ancient superstitions.

Wherever it appears, the nail has to be made of iron (long held to be a metal which keeps evil at bay).

It is also a special kind of nail, with symbols either painted on it, or filed into the metal itself.

Magical nails were always made on a Tuesday (which corresponds to the day of Mars, whose metal is iron) and they were kept in red cloth when not in use.

This hammering of nails into wood was also perpetuated in architecture. Many a church has a carving of a magical nail, as have castles and old buildings. The immense nails that were hammered into doors carried this idea further. They kept “evil in” (in the case of prisons and dungeons), and “out” in the case of house doors.

Many obelisks are no more than magical nails, with the old symbols cunningly inter-mixed with whatever else is cut upon them; so were the sacred pins once used to fasten ritual garments.

In fact, it is from this old tradition, now almost completely forgotten in meaning, but persisting in superstition, that came the rhyme: See a pin, pick it up, and all the day will bring you luck.

A pin, after all, is nothing but a miniature nail, and once, to find a magical nail in the road, meant that for the rest of your life Typhon would have no power over you. Somebody had “nailed” him on your behalf.
[Prediction, November 1963]

From → tarot

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