When Psyche was abandoned by her lover Eros, she tried throwing herself in the river, but the river kept spitting her back out. “Don’t you pollute our lovely waters with your bloated corpse, little girl.” Wild with grief and emitting the kind of despair that registers on seismographs two continents away, she was heard by the god Pan, who approached her. Pan could hear her because pain like that, pain that makes you willing to destroy yourself bodily just to allow the pain to have somewhere to go, that is his domain. That is deep forest, no-light-getting-through territory. And while Pan is not the most welcoming of creatures, someone coming onto his land in his natural state–that he understands. That he has compassion for.
And so Pan and Psyche sat down to have a little chat.
The Devil card. Just drawing it in a reading makes my skin crawl. As a woman with a problem with anxiety — the kind that spirals upwards endlessly, that leaves me on the floor somehow out of time and place, but not out of body, no, suddenly the body is cramped and small and needs to torn open to increase its capacity because it cannot hold all of this whirl, we will not survive past this moment, we cannot possibly survive past this moment — I know the Devil card.
Does it help to intellectualize the card at all? To think about its origins and its evolution and its imagery? If the Devil is Pan, like it was for those presto-chango early Christians trying to convert pagans, it can’t possibly help. Because Pan lives pre-intellectualism, or maybe post-, or maybe just anti-. He lives where your rational brain cannot possibly help you. He lives where you are an animal and you are scared. And you cannot process the information that this state does not stretch out into eternity, that you are not trapped here forever. But maybe using those moments to strike up a conversation with Pan, to allow him to approach your half-dead body on the bank of a stream that won’t let you take the easy way out, maybe that is what helps.
The two little figures on the foreground of the Devil card, the figures trapped in hell and chained to their punishment for eternity, they are the same man and woman who appear on the card The Lovers.
When I was 13, I was obsessed with the Afghan Whigs album, Gentlemen. And who knows what my little virginal, unkissed soul was getting out of these songs about where love turns to hate, where “I am leaving you” becomes “But I am going to destroy you on my way out the door.” But I understood them, as if a glimmer of my older self was already there listening. And so there I was, imprinting sexually on Greg Dulli in all his Plutonic glory, starting a long line of relationships with what I thought were Gods of the Underworld, only for them to be revealed in the daylight as minor demons: those just serving the darkness in chains, never the Dark Lord himself.
I think that sometimes works of art, though, appear in advance of your need. So that you’ll have it there, handy, to break your fall. “Here kid, take it, this will be useful to you, sooner than you think.” And after so many break-ups, I had these songs in my head. “And slave I only use/ as the word to describe/ the special way I feel for you.”
What used to be a sin was trying to exert your will onto the world. Rather than surrendering that will to God. Being willful was devilish. Now, though, we see the Devil card as a sign that you’ve assigned your will over to someone else: an abusive lover, a substance, money, the outside world telling you what it is you want or need to be successful or happy.
In most of the artwork, the chains around the Lovers aren’t even that tight. Just put them down and walk out. Yet most of us choose to stay, because the process of leaving is so daunting. At least here, in the darkness, you can sit down, there’s company, things are familiar to you. It’s the process of climbing back up one wants to avoid. It’s a treacherous climb, you could really break an ankle–I mean, really–and who even knows what’s waiting for you up there.
Our concepts of sin have changed, although I miss some of the old ones. Sloth. Which never meant obesity and unemployment, lazing around and choosing to stay in bed. It meant the refusal to use ones gifts and natural capacities. The woman who wants to write, and has a lovely way with words, who never develops her writing because she has to think about security and a respectable career and it’s just a pipe dream anyway, there’s no way anything would ever come of it: that’s sloth. And that should still be considered a sin. A sin of ingratitude to the god of Mercury, and a sin to the world that is not served by your timidity.
And now that some time has passed since the last time I stood at the window of a very high building and felt like I had to, I can see the despair is a sin, too.
So what did Pan have to say to Psyche, the girl who was dumped by the god of love himself? Pray to the god of love. Turn all of those thoughts you are using to convince yourself you’re better off dead and worship he who caused the wound. Because there’s no avoidance, no shortcut to recovery. You were laid low by a force greater than yourself. So acknowledge it. Kneel to it. Praise love’s powers of destruction and powers of healing. Bowing before the force that undoes you, not the man, not the booze, not the money, but the force itself: that is a heroic gesture.
With Pan, the only way out is through.
Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of Bookslut.com and Spoliamag.com. She reads tarot cards specifically for writers and artists, meant to unearth creativity and remove blocks. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional info is here.
Jen May is a Scorpio and artist living in Brooklyn, NY with 3 cats. She keeps a tumblr updated regularly with horoscope images and everything else.