Karma and The Devil

Greetings Frater,

I have two questions that have been occupying my thoughts a lot lately.

The first is in regards to karma. What does hermetic philosophy say about it? Are there events or conditions that we are fatalistically doomed to live through or can they be overcome without conflicting with divine law and planning?

The second concern I have is about the Tarot contemplation ritual. Although it has not yet come up in the shuffle there is one card that gives me an acute sense of trepidation. The 15th Card of the Major Arcana, The Devil. In its symbols I see meanings that represent the opposite of all that I desire to achieve. The inverted pentagram, as I understand it, represents the spirit having been overthrown and subverted by the lower elements. The human slaves chained to the devil's pedestal, to me, would represent the ways that human beings can become enslaved by the lower natures, such as the often burdensome and unreasonable demands placed on us by a materialistic world, also the unrelenting wants of the nephesh. To put it plainly, I don't see how any benefit could come from the contemplation of this card.

I would be grateful for any incite you could share.


Ave Frater!

First question:

Well…. I’m not sure that I entirely understand the concept of Karma in its own egrigore, let alone someone else’s – here in the West, many assume it is a bank account of good deeds and bad deeds and that we reap what we sew and have good karma and bad karma and it makes us into fish in our next life and such, but I’m pretty sure this is an oversimplification if not just way of the mark of it …looking at Wikipedia here it says:
In Indian beliefs, the karmic effects of all deeds are viewed as actively shaping past, present, and future experiences. The results or 'fruits' of actions are called karma-phala. It seems like karma-phala is the thing people usually mean when they say “karma” where “karma” itself would translate directly into Hebrew as “Assiah” or action (as in Olam Assiah, the world of action: Malkuth) which is the noun form of Oseh, the verb “to make” or “to do” or “to act” – deeds. The consequences of actions, then, can be seen perhaps in our Emerald Tablet: The things which are below are a reflection of the things which are above – particularly in the context of the Kybalion’s 6th Hermetic Principal: The Law of Cause and Effect.

That being said, there are certain Wisdoms brought down for us by men like the Buddha and the Christ – that you don’t have to go round and round in circles – that you don’t have to take on the burdens of the karma of your ancestors. But what does it take to get out of it? Well, one says “take up your cross and follow me” (speaking allegorically, one would hope) and the other says to transcend the wheel of suffering you must transcend your own desire. Good advice, I think, and perhaps it was the same advice – albeit custom wrapped for the Hebrews and the Hindus, respectively.

Gurdjieff talks about it too, basically we’re all programmed, and we’re all on autopilot – the fatalistic karma-circus of the natural man (my words, not his) – and that it takes a great deal of work to come into freedom and real control, to be at cause over your life rather than at the effect of it. Many paths and many disciplines there are for fine-tuning, awakening, or “mastering” the elements, or parts of the self, in order to truly be free. The Golden Dawn is a good one.

Second question:

The Devil is not Satan. At least, not in the context of true Golden Dawn Book T Tarot symbolism. It’s more like Pan and the zodiacal sign of Capricorn.

Consider: it is the path which connects Tipharet with Hod. Hod is Reason, Tipharet is the realization of Kether within the Heart and Soul of Man. What separates the human mind, then, when it is imprisoned in an isolated microcosm of rational analysis? Better yet – what separates the brain from the sun? the eye… the sun is the one place we cannot look – the eye, which in the tarot is called “lord of the gates of matter”: Ayin, meaning “Eye”, the Hebrew Letter of Capricorn, and the Devil Card.

The key word of Capricorn is “to utilize” – the man and woman in the devil card are not bound to the chain, they have picked up and are holding the chain, even as when a soul says “I will become human, and be born, and open my eyes”. To transcend that card, one need only to put down the chain and let go of it. How does one do this? Simple: Close your eyes. Jesus said the blind man is without sin – without the eye, things do not appear to be far away, or behind obstacles, or out of reach – one does not covet. Covet being the word for afflicted Desire, which was Buddha’s answer to your question about Karma, so these two questions are tied together.

Yet, we have chosen to be human, for now – and the 6-rayed star points upward as well as downward. To be free of the material inclination is holy, and good, and “desirable”, if you will. Yet we must open our eyes and pick up that chain in order to live and work and “survive” in the world, and reproduce, and whatever else we do under the sun. The nephesch is the one with eyes, the mental-astral world is the one with form and “things” in it, and that which is temporal. In advanced Golden Dawn workings, we say the Immortal Self has “sight in the feet” – sight in Malkuth, not eyes up at the top of the soul, where the “head” of our truer “Self” would be.

Further, there is a right-side-up pentagram above the devil’s head – the downward-tending force of Capricorn, lead, and night-house Saturn do tend downward, but they are created and guided by Yeshuah: the pentagram. This, of course, is when the devil card is in its balanced state, in harmony with the rest of the Tree of Life. Afflicted, the devil card can be as hairy as, say, afflicted Magician, or afflicted High Priestess. But in harmony with the others, Capricorn is one of the 12 stars in the Crown of the Shekinah, in the vision of John, and in Ritual S1.

Hope that helps,

Your Brother in Light,
Frater BT


  1. I think the Devil card also illustrates the unregenerated state that humanity is in before attaining Initiation, being knowingly or unknowingly enslaved to materiality and the desires of the mortal self. Once we are aware of this or realize this state we can then begin the Great Work of freeing ourselves from our karmic indebtedness (our past actions) and finally attain Illumination.

    Obviously there is more to the card than this as Frater BT pointed out but this is what seems most apparent to me, great post!


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