The Devil Is in the Details

The Devil Is in the Details

This is a tarot drawing that stumped me for a while. It features cards that look unabashedly unforgiving, and had The Devil as a confusing ending. Concentrating on that card, though, pulled the reading together: sometimes it helps to work backwards.

The draw:

  • 1: Situation – Five of Cups
  • 2: Conflict – The Star
  • 3: Advice – The Devil
  • 0: Not – Wheel of Fortune

for some info on The Cards

The Five of Cups in conflict with The Star was difficult. On the surface, it seems straightforward, but looking under even the first layer brings contradiction. A state of disappointment against a state of hope. But why? The placement suggests that it is hope that is opposing the state of disappointment, not that disappointment is confounding hope. Why is hope the conflict card here?

We have to look at the other cards. The Devil, being the advice card, suggests that attachment is the answer. This alone is confusing to me; coming from a study of Eastern philosophy I’ve often been under the belief that attachment can be the cause of suffering (paraphrase of the Second Noble Truth… thanks, Buddha!). So then, why is this the answer, and furthermore what is the question?

Let’s look at the Not card for clarification. The Wheel of Fortune suggests that this situation is not out of control, i.e. it is controllable. With that in mind, and with The Devil as the solution, let’s go back to the issue at hand. It is about the line between disappointment and hope. Could this be about expectations then? And with those cards being in the order they are, it could be that the message is about tempering expectations. Don’t get your hopes too high. Hope is of course not a bad thing, but we should also continue to pay attention to the trouble without relying too much on hope alone. And there’s the answer.

Attachment, here as The Devil, can be the solution to trouble. Stay connected to the problem and stay mindful of the work that has to be done without relying on external factors. Immerse yourself in the fundamental details of your problem and you can find and work out the trouble spots. Don’t just wish for the best: deal with your issues. You can and will have control, if you choose to allow yourself. Or, in other words, the devil is in the details.

Note also that these cards tended to be Majors. I take this read as a more general life advice than anything. Imagine that The Star was the Nine of Cups, or that The Devil was the Eight of Swords. Instead, with the Majors, I believe that this spread is saying that relying on hope in troubling situations can be a repeating tendency, and it needs to generally be worked on.

All of this is a perfect illustration of the need in tarot to go beyond keyword readings and to synthesize combinations into new meanings. So-called “bad” cards, like The Devil, need not be actually bad. None of these cards exist in a vacuum. They are all dependent on each other and their places in a spread. The Devil as conflict would be a much different card here than as advice. Let yourself read the cards as they are and where they are and stay open to the way that they work together.

The cards used in this post are from the Slow Holler tarot deck.