Smith, Waite, Levi, and the Devil

copyright Robert M. Place 2005

72dpi Three Devils

In the previous issues, we were discussing the various cards in the Waite-Smith Tarot in which Waite’s description did not match Smith’s art. As we have seen, these discrepancies were not confined to the minor suits. In the last issue we saw that Waite’s description of the Chariot trump differs from Smith’s art as well. We learned that this happened because while Smith based the design on the drawing of the famous 19th century French occultist Eliphas Levi (1810-1875), which he published in his Transcendental Magic, Waite was basing his description on statements made by Levi in earlier chapters of the book, statements that spoke of details not included in the drawing at least not in an obvious way. We find similar discrepancies when we investigate another card that Smith based on Levi’s art, the Devil.

In the mid 19th century when science was discrediting occult philosophy as superstition, Levi embraced the occult. Instead of superstition he found that it contained a sophisticated mystical philosophy and he became the most influential proponent of this occult philosophy in his time. Levi created a magical synthesis where Kabala, Hermeticism, alchemy, Pythagorean number symbolism, astrology, ceremonial magic, and especially Tarot were the key ingredients. The purpose of his magical system was to channel psychic energy toward the goal of self-mastery and eventually enlightenment. For a more complete discussion of Levi see the section on Levi in my book, The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination.

In 1854 Levi published his first book, The Doctrine of High Magic. The following year he completed a second volume entitled The Ritual of High Magic. They were later combined together as two volumes in one book and, in 1896, Waite translated the two volumes into English, and his translation was published by Rider (the publisher that published the Waite Smith Tarot) under the title Transcendental Magic. In Transcendental Magic, There are 22 chapters in each volume, which correspond to the 22 trumps in the Tarot’s fifth suit. Levi named the trumps keys. Chapters 1 – 20 correspond to the trumps or keys bearing the same numbers as in the Tarot of Marseilles order. Chapter 21 corresponds to the Fool, which Levi believed belonged in this penultimate position, and 22 to the World.

In his synthesis, Levi associated each of the 22 Tarot keys, presented in his order, with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. He started with the first letter, aleph, assigned to the Magician; proceeding to shin, the next to last letter, assigned to the Fool; and then the last, letter, tau, assigned to the World. In the Kabala, each letter was also assigned a correlation with a planet, a constellation, or an element, and Levi assigned these, as well, to the Tarot keys connected with each letter. Levi’s Kabalistic correspondences were based on the writing of the Christian Kabalist Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680). As Kircher was trying to dissociate the Kabala from its Jewish origin his correspondences differ from the associations based on the Jewish Kabalistic text the Sepher Yetzirah that was later used by the Golden Dawn, the occult society to which Waite and Smith belonged. To complicate this further, the Golden Dawn placed the Fool at the beginning of the series and assigned the first Hebrew letter, aleph, to the Fool, the second letter, beth, to the Magician and proceeded in this order until they reached the World, which was the only key that was associated with the same letter in both systems. The Golden Dawn also switched the positions of Justice and Strength, so that in their system Strength would correlate with teth and Leo and Justice to lamed and Libra.

In Levi’s system, therefore, the Devil, key 15, is associated with the letter Samekh and the planet Mercury, but in the Golden Dawn’s system, The Devil is the letter ayin and the constellation Capricorn, a fitting association for the goat-headed figure.

Now let’s look at the Waite-Smith Devil, and compare it to a drawing by Levi called The Sabbatic Goat. Although it was published as a front piece in the second volume of Transcendental Magic, its description can be found in chapter 15, which clearly links it with the Devil Trump. Both can be seen above. Let’s also compare both of these to the Tarot of Marseilles Devil, also seen above.

It is easy to see that Smith’s drawing for the Devil in the Wait-Smith Tarot is a synthesis of the Marseilles Devil with elements derived from Levi’s figure and Waite even mentions Levi’s interpretation of the figure in his commentary in The Pictorial Key to the Tarot.

Like the Marseilles card, Smith’s Devil has a male and female minion chained to his altar, has bat wings instead of Levi’s bird wings, and is holding a torch in his left hand. But like Levi’s Figure, the Devil has a goat’s head with horns instead of the Marseilles antlers and a pentagram on his head, although Smith has inverted it, possibly because of the influence of Levi’s discussion of the inverted pentagram as a symbol of the Goat of Mendes. Like Levi, it also has one arm raised with a hand gesture and one arm down, and is sitting on its altar.

It seems that Smith has dropped the female breasts that appear in both of the others and the male genitals that Levi has transformed into Mercury’s caduceus, no doubt, to confirm his Devil’s connection to Mercury’s planet. Waite has consistently said that the trumps in the Tarot do not relate to the Hebrew letters and he included details in the layout of his deck that would contradict both Levi’s and the Golden Dawn’s associations. But he does appear to have approved with the Golden Dawn’s celestial and elemental associations, which can clearly be seen on at least two-thirds of the trumps. Or, are these celestial associations Smith’s doing.

There is evidence for this in the fact that although Smith dropped the symbol of Mercury and kept the goat head linking her figure to Capricorn, Waite wrote in his description of the picture in The Pictorial Key that, “At the pit of the Stomach there is a sign of Mercury.” It seems that he was actually describing the caduceus in Levi’s picture here and not the image on Smith’s card. Also he seems not to be concerned that he is connecting the figure with Mercury instead of Capricorn. Later in the same paragraph he makes a connection between the two minions on the card and the figures of Adam and Eve on the Lovers card, which he mistakenly calls the “fifth card” when it is actually the sixth.   This may attest to the fact that the book and deck were created quickly without much time to edit. But then, I took a year to write The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination and had it edited by two expert editors and it still went to print with mistakes.

About robertmplace

I am an illustrator and author best know for creating the Alchemical Tarot and the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery and writing The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination.
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