Tarocchino Arlecchino: The Devil

Here comes Harlequin, tip-toeing along in his snake-shoes! He prances deftly through spitting flames, looking back over his winged shoulder for watchers in the sky. With his horns, tail, and pitchfork, he makes a perfect charming antagonist for a morality play.

The Devil is the most perfect trump for devious Arlecchino. I gave him his part in Clown Town Tarot, in Marseille-style with enchained imps. For these, I used a similar design to my serpent-themed Harlequin doll… this was all back in 2019. I really loved drawing this new outfit, and I think it will be my next doll project.

The Bolognese pattern and the ideas of Etteilla fit Arlecchino even better than the Marseille. Below, you can see my two favorite depictions, the Bolognese tarocchino and the Grand jeu de l’oracle des dames (a.k.a. Etteilla III). Both of these put the Devil in a dynamic pose, forgoing the imagery of imprisonment for movement and drama!

In the Etteilla tradition, the Devil is about FORCE. Upright, we have strength and power, a spiritual force that can possess and sweep one along. Reversed, the card becomes the opposite, becoming faint and weak.

One item to note in the Upright word list is the appearance of “genius.” I believe this is meant, not as an intelligent person, but rather in the sense of the “genius of a place,” a powerful attendant spirit. On his Etteilla’s Trumps blog, Michael S. Howard suggested a connection to the Greek daemon (c.f. Roman genius), a guiding spirit who bridged the worlds of human and divine. This is reflected in Julia Orsini’s claim that those apocryphal Egyptians had no concept of a Devil, but used the word in a complimentary way for man of great knowledge who through his studies gained the divine gift of passing between worlds.

Arlecchino himself is such a being. He lives on through the centuries, dancing through popular imagination. He inhabits liminal spaces, at once playing the role of servant and master, transforming himself at will. He pulls the audience into the world of the scene, and anyone wearing his costume can for a time become him. Above all he is ambiguous, neither good nor evil, tied to the art of theater as well as to antique demons. So even though he is really leaning in to the dress-up in this card, here he has his truest home.

Keywords (translated from Julia Orsini)

Upright: major force, strength, human strength, extraordinary power, physical strength, virtues, violent impetus, momentum of genius, ravage, violence, constraint, vehemence, firmness, force of spirit, manual or physical labor

Reversed: minor force, lightness, weakness, smallness, tenderness, weakening, dizziness, faint, despondency, depression, languor, collapse, sin, trespass, sacrilege

This completes the sequence of what I am referring to as the “adversaries.” Here they all are together!

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