Note: what follows is rough notes from a project between me and Neuchowski.
Ave Satanis. The Devil is a much misunderstood card, much like Death. Crowley’s deck goes out of its way to try and distance itself from the traditional depiction of Lucifer from the Christian cosmology and instead reverts to an older, pagan Horned God, while still holding on to some of the darkness inherent in the card.
One thing you could never really accuse The Devil of the Tarot of is ‘high-mindedness’. The Devil is concerned with Earthly matters. In other decks The Devil may have human slaves chained to him like bleak parodies of The Lovers. In some decks there isn’t even a personification, The Devil being depicted as a huge chest of gold that humans are trying and failing to carry.
In the Thoth, The Devil is a three-eyed goat, mantled with magnificent horns which are crowned with a wreath of flowers, another nod to the pagan Horned Gods. If The Devil is often used to depict ugly lust, Crowley’s Devil subverts this depiction by instead having the Devil represent fertility. The goat stands before what can only be seen as a giant phallus, the tip of which reaches into opaque clouds. White humanoid figures dance (or writhe…) within the testes, all seeming to try and leap upwards, unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, dark, murky webs surround the card.
In this card Crowley is possibly making a rather incendiary statement, at least for the Victorian era in which this would have been initially produced: the idea that sex, lust and the continuation of life are interlinked and mutual. Fear of sex and all things venereal was a definite trope within British Victorian society, and the necessity for sexual coupling in the establishment of a family was an uncomfortable topic. People wanted a good marriage, a family and a respectable image, however in order to procure this they’d have to engage in some sweaty, breathy, grunting wet beastial fucking.
Crowley is mocking the prissiness of his era, reminding everyone that his time’s fear of sex, cum and blood was a modern superstition, one laid upon them by a Judeo-Christian perspective, and one not respected or even considered in an Older time, when there was at least some degree of honesty about the human experience. This is why Crowley utilises pre-Christian imagery for this card, to remind us that the moral trembling of his era was by no means Right or Logical.
Steven King was asked about the character Randal Flagg, who appears in many of his books as a sort of recurring Anti-Christ figure, and whether the reader is supposed to consider Flagg a Satanic character. King, in an answer which surprised many, considering his Born-Again status, replied that he didn’t believe so, as “The Devil probably has a sense of humour.”
Notice the goat’s smirk. Crowley’s Devil mocks the social mores of his generation, the empty puritanism which serves only to increase misery, and the kind of Faith that causes people to disregard this precious little time on Earth in favour of some promised ‘afterlife’. You’re taking things too seriously, and The Devil thinks it’s hilarious. Fuck, cum and be merry, because what the hell else are you going to do?