After watching all of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I managed to get the idea of the Seven Deadly Sins stuck in my head, bouncing around aimlessly. Eventually, as everything does, that turned into me thinking about the Seven Deadly Sins as represented in the Tarot! I did some internet research and first found a detailed and very useful spread about the role of the Seven Deadly Sins in your life here.
However, many of us don’t have the time or the emotional strength of will to go through such a detailed analysis of our own flaws. As such, I spent a bit of time thinking about a much simpler spread involving the Seven Deadly Sins. In fact, it hardly gets any simpler than what I’ve come up with!
The spread detailed below – which I have titled “The Simple Deadly Sins Spread,” is a seven-card one: one for each deadly sin. Each position in the spread represents the influence of its associated sin over any given situation, person, or life. Taken together, this spread gives a picture of the interplay of the Seven Deadly Sins in a situation specified by the question you ask.
Because this spread is so simple – consisting of only seven cards – and covers a very broad topic, a very in-depth analysis of each card is necessary, and a very well-phrased and specific question is as well. When considering this spread, you must spend a lot of time on each card, trying to apply it in every way possible to the situation. Let your mind guide you, as always.
When considering each position, there are three factors coming together to think about: the meaning of the card itself, the possible ways it relates to the Deadly Sin in question, and how both of those apply to the specific situation addressed in the question.
The question for this type of spread should generally follow a formula similar to: “How do the Seven Deadly Sins influence ______?” The “______” is the hardest and most important part of this question, as it defines the third factor listed above. In that spot, insert a situation, person, object, event, or anything that you would like to break down and analyze in terms of the Seven Deadly Sins, such as “my life,” “my love life with ____,” “my education,” “my personality,” “how other people see me,” and other things. The question in this spread is more important than in many other spreads.
In addition to the three factors listed above, when considering the meaning of each card, keep in mind the following questions:
–Where: What sphere of life – “House” in many esoteric arts – does the Sin express itself in? The home? Friends? Family? The workplace? The card itself might hold the answer to this question – for example, the Empress could hint that this Sin expresses itself when you are near nature – or the question might if you are focusing intentionally on a particular area of your life.
–When: Under what circumstances does that Sin display itself most prominently? When do you most often fall under its influence?
–How: How the Sin expresses itself in your life. For example, Greed may be expressed in a person by theft, by ruthless business actions, or simply be desire for something you do not need. Gluttony can express itself through a literal over-fondness of food, or through shopping binges. Is the Sin overtly or covertly displayed? Is it something you keep under control or not? Additionally, each card can, depending on the question, sometimes give you hints as to how to deal with the Sin and get it under control.
–Why: Why does the Sin manifest itself as it does? Why does it appear where and when it does? What past factors of your life has contributed to the Sin’s appearance? Are any other particular people involved in the expression of this Sin?
It may sound simple, but reading such detailed nuances into one individual card is difficult. This spread is not detailed and focused on interpreting the delicate interplays between multiple cards, but its simplicity forces the reader to examine the full message of each individual card on its own merit. However, some interplay between the positions is possible, particularly if several positions are held by cards linked by number, element, or theme.
In the spread chart below, all I’ve given are the positions of each Sin as they, in my own perception of them, relate to the body – Pride is the head, Envy the heart, Greed one hand and Wrath the other, Gluttony the stomach, Lust the genitals, and Sloth the legs (the spread also forms the shape of a cross) – as well as some (but by no means even close to all) Major Arcana cards that generally indicate that the Sin plays a large role in your life (Strengthens) and cards that generally indicate that the Sin is mostly under control in your life (Weakens). More cards that strengthen or weaken the severity of a Sin’s impact on your life will come up as they appear in spreads, without a doubt, and the connections will sometimes be very obvious. Reversed cards in this spread often mean that the Sins influence is very subtle and hard to feel or see, may be disguised as a virtue, or its influence might be weaker than the card would normally suggest.
Lastly, some numbers of Minor Arcana can play a specific role in the spread, as well. Aces mean the Sin is newly manifested and powerful, while Twos often indicate that the Sin is even more powerful. Threes can indicate that this particular Sin acts as a “gateway” to other Sins, while Fours often represent a temporary shelter from their influence, a strong defense against them, or else some sort of understanding with that Sin or moderation. Fives represent the circumstances around you causing you to Sin. Sixes and to a greater extent Nines, for example, often represent a near-total conquest of the influences of that Sin in a given situation, sometimes indicating that it does not play a major role. Sevens represent an excessive amount of that Sin, or a particular weakness to or proclivity towards that Sin. Eights sometimes represent trying to overcome the Sin, but failing to through overcompensation. Of course, in each of these cases, the numbers only might imply the above; sometimes the animus mundi and your subconscious are using that card to tell you something completely different. Just keep the above in mind!
For those unfamiliar with what each Deadly Sin is (colored by my own interpretations; feel free to use your own understanding of the Sins for your own readings, or use a more in-depth online resource such as this):
Pride: Arrogance, particularly excessive self-confidence that undermines one’s ability to see clearly. The belief that you are better than others. The root of all other sins. The card in this position can also be used as a “summation” of all of the other cards.
Envy: Coveting, or wanting, what is not yours. Jealousy. Being unhappy with what you have because you believe that was those around you have is better; never being content with what you have because everyone else has something better.
Greed: Desiring large amounts of material possessions.
Wrath: Uncontrollable rage, fury, or hatred. Causing violence or harming oneself.
Gluttony: Overconsumption of anything – from food to resources – to the point of impoverishing others while wasting it on yourself.
Lust: Intense desire for anything, particularly sex or any sort of pleasure of the flesh. Wanton hedonism, desire for pleasure in general.
Sloth: Laziness, indolence, apathy, a wasting of potential due to an unwillingness to apply oneself.
Keep in mind that many of the Tarot cards are associated in one way or another with a Deadly Sin (most obviously Lust (XI) and the Seven of Cups (Debauch) with Lust and the Eight of Cups (Indolence) with Sloth), beyond what is listed below. When a card representing a Sin shows up in that Sin’s slot, pay attention to it! Also remember that in moderation, the Seven Deadly Sins can be a good thing, and help to define everyone’s personality.
I realize that the above has all been very general and not specific, but this spread is meant to be very broad. To help give people an idea of how to use this spread, here are two sample spreads, one very general and one a little bit more specific(though both spreads have abbreviated interpretations, for time’s sake and privacy’s sake):
Question: What role do the Seven Deadly Sins play in my life?
The spread (notice that Greed and Wrath both point inwards when not reversed; they point outwards when they are):
Pride: Death (XIII)
So, my Pride expresses itself as Death. In my own life, I see this as coming out in my youthful belief that I can supersede the inexorable laws of the universe, change and the cycles of time; in other words, the youthful belief in invincibility. My pride is my irrational belief that I can somehow make things not change and remain as they are. I am very opposed to drastic change, whether it occurs quickly or slowly, even though it is inevitable. I am currently going through a transitional phase in my life – undergraduate studies as a university – and despite my wishes, my life is changing rapidly as old friends are lost and new ones gained. I find it difficult to let go of the past and embrace the cycles of loss and gain that Death represents, and I try very hard to prevent it from happening in the belief that I can conquer change.
Envy: Prince of Swords
The Prince of Swords is the distant intellectual. In my mind’s eye, this is who I want to be; in many ways, the goal I strive for. Deep down, I’ve always longed to be mysterious and hard to understand (sounds silly, I know), as well as a paragon of intellect. Because I want to be the distant intellectual, I also do envy those who are distant intellectuals themselves; famous scholars and academics who have changed their fields of study. That is who I want to be, and at times I am, despite my efforts, jealous of those who are successfully on their way towards doing this. This has at times become apparent at awards ceremonies at university; no matter how hard I try, someone always does better, and I am not happy for them; I am envious of their success.
Greed: Sorrow (Three of Swords)
This is an interesting card to have in the Greed position. I certainly don’t desire things that make me sad. However, I am fully aware of my social class standing; I am from a rather wealthy family (though we would never admit it). I have a lot of material things already, and as such, whenever Greed does set upon me in any desire for a physical thin (such as, say, a new deck of Tarot cards), I feel intensely guilty for wanting that thing because I already have so much. I can get rather upset over this; perhaps more so over this than my giving in to any other sin. I want to be able to want things without feeling terrible about it; the world does not live up to my expectations (a Three of Swords idea), and so I feel terrible about my own position as a member of a class who has things other’s don’t, and I feel angry and depressed about any feelings of desire for material possessions I might have.
Wrath: Peace (Two of Swords)
Even though this card is a 2, which normally might indicate that this Sin is powerful within me, the card itself has the opposite meaning. Peace represents control of emotions, putting aside differences, and striving to improve the world around us; quite different from Wrath. In this case, this card indicates that I don’t express my rage outwardly; I get angry a lot, but no one can ever tell, and my anger is primarily directed towards the world as a whole, not any given individual. I successfully block my anger and Wrath in the hopes of making myself and everyone else happier, and so this Sin, while it exists within me, is mostly under control.
Gluttony: Queen of Cups
These two cards go together reasonably well. I consume dreams, fantasies, and imagination; realms of the Queen of Cups. Not of other people, of course, but of myself; in my attempts to distance myself from what I view in many ways as a corrupted, spoiled world, I spend a lot of my time in the realm of my mind, writing and creating things so that I don’t have to think about it. This has the effect of me consuming my time and depriving others of it; I have friends who sometimes complain that I am not social enough and I lock myself in my room too much and don’t go out and do fun stuff (though I don’t think most of the aforementioned stuff is fun). I consume my own time and keep it to myself, not letting others spend it with me, sometimes. I consume myself by locking myself in my mind.
Lust: Debauch (Seven of Cups)
Well, this is awkward. Enough said. Moving on…
Sloth: Swiftness Reversed (Eight of Wands Reversed)
The Eight of Wands is a card that has a meaning that is the opposite of Sloth; energy and speed. However, it is reversed, so its meaning is not on the surface. I am very, very efficient when I want to be; I can pull out ten page papers in a few hours if I have my mind set to it. I can write 10,000 words in a novel in four hours. I can write entire children’s books, complete with full-color illustrations, in about ten hours total. I can run very quickly, and I can do a lot in one day if I set my mind to it. That seems to the be opposite of Sloth. However, it is also very difficult for me to get myself to be productive (take writing this post, for instance; a couple hours of work, but about a week of procrastination), which is where the reversed comes in. I am usually good about getting things done well ahead of time, but it still takes me a lot of will to overcome my urge to not get that stuff done. I can and will overcome my Sloth, but not after a lot of laziness first.
Very general readings like the above are very difficult, and I have only included the most important of my interpretations above. It is also not always easy drawing links between the cards and the Sins; it can seem downright impossible at times. However, if you think hard enough about it, eventually it will come to you.
Question: What role do the Seven Deadly Sins play in my current formal educational experience?
Pride: Queen of Swords
The Queen of Swords is, in some ways, herself prideful. She is an individualist who does not like to rely on others, but who also sees herself as able to negotiate with others and help them. This is an apt description of my approach to academics; I almost never accept help from others (the sole exception being my thesis advisors, really), and prefer to do things on my own; not because it will be good for my mind, but because I believe that I don’t need help. I don’t like to admit that I need help, and I firmly believe that I am always good enough to do anything put before me; even when I can’t. At the same time, this pride I take in my academic abilities can sometimes cause me to sound condescending, especially because I like to help people in their own struggles with schoolwork; I like to give, but not receive, help. My Pride makes it this way.
Envy: The Emperor (IV)
The Emperor is a symbol of order and justice. I am, despite first appearance, an organized individual. However, the Emperor is also a symbol of power and authority, and it is of that I am envious. In my studies, I am jealous of those who are closer to the power and authority of the university academic (not overall social) system: professors. I am envious at times of graduate students who hold closer relationships with those professors I hold a working relationship with, and I want to have that sort of relationship with those academics responsible for establishing authority and order among both academia and the student body in the classrooms. I am envious of TA’s who get to establish order in the classroom, and I want to be able to do the same myself.
Greed: Victory (Six of Wands)
Sixes generally indicate conquering, in some way, your Sin, or at least finding a way to balance it out. In this case, Victory is an even stronger indicator that, in the academic world, I have achieved Victory over this Sin, and have mastered it. I do not believe this is necessarily the case; I certainly do have Greed in my studies, at least in that I always want to know more. I’m that student who reads the extra articles (but doesn’t do the extra work!) just to find out what they say. Other than that, though, my Greed does not play a major role in my academic environment; it is for the most part under control. I don’t even pursue academics like I do in the hope of material gain! Greed is not a problem for me academically.
Wrath: Science (Six of Swords)
Another Six, and in my other arm! This seems to indicate that my Wrath is under control, and is represented by Science. This is a very good indication of the state of my wrath, I think; my studies in sociology certainly make me angry at the world quite a lot, but I have successfully directed that Wrath towards the pursuit of a better world, devoting it towards developing a better understanding of social Science to eventually help make the world a better place and lessen my Wrath.
Gluttony: Truce (Four of Swords)
Truce is a Four, which is associated with some sort of understanding with the Sin, or temporary shelter. Reinforcing this meaning is Truce’s own association with a temporary solution to a problem. This would indicate that for now, my desire to consume to my own detriment is temporarily at bay, but might return. I actually see this as a very temporally-influenced card; I think it’s telling me that my thirst for knowledge has been temporarily removed by winter vacation, during which I am spending little time on my studies. But how, you may ask, does this hunger for knowledge work to my detriment? I overwork myself. I am working on my undergraduate thesis at the moment, and I read way too many sources and am trying to include far too much in it. My desire to learn everything possible about the topic often leaves me stressed and depressed when I can’t do it all. For now, though, this Gluttony is not a problem. Check in again in January.
Lust: The Hermit (IX)
Lust is the desire of pleasurable things. In this case, because its most obvious association, sex, is not relevant at all to the question, this will have to represent how my academics relate to me doing “fun” things, such as spending time with friends, writing, relaxing, and the like. The answer? I don’t spend much time doing that! Why? Because of my overworking myself with my thesis and classes at university, I lock myself in my room and don’t let myself do these things a lot of the time. I isolate myself from doing things for enjoyment, cloistering myself with my work and not allowing myself to relax. In this case, the card indicates that I am not giving into my Lust at all, which, in the end, is actually hurting me.
Sloth: The Priestess (II)
The Priestess is a figure of passivity, being the ultimate symbol of esoteric femininity. This indicates that I am, to some extent, passive in my studies. The Priestess is also a card of mysteries and hidden meanings. My thesis is a historical one, and so I am using primary sources from centuries ago, whose meanings and true messages are often obscured. In this case, my Sloth could very well be my reading some sources only for the surface meanings (due to me overworking myself; see above) and not bothering to dive into the deeper meanings of the authors’ words. I could, if I had the energy and will to, but I choose not to.
There are many kinds of practitioners of the occult and esoteric. Every single person will give you a different explanation for what they do, and every single person is right, in their own way. The occult and esoteric traditions are not rigidly defined as are many fields of more “traditional” academia, such as, for example, my own fields of history and sociology, not to mention sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology. In each of these academic fields, certain ethical, scientific, and methodological guidelines exist and are enforced by institutional boards. Despite what many “scientific skeptics” will tell you, many esoteric and occult practices do in fact have ethical, scientific, and methodological guidelines, though they differ in form and function from more traditional science. Additionally, there are no centralized authorities enforcing these guidelines, allowing for greater diversity among occult and esoteric practitioners.
This means that there is a wide spectrum of opinions about what constitutes esoteric and occult practices, and how they “should” be practiced. Just like all other practitioners of this type, I have my own opinions on the matter. Commonly, though, the fields of alchemy, astrology, tarot, geomancy, ritual and ceremonial magick, any form of divination, and numerology are considered “esoteric” or “occult” practices. I would like to take this time to point out that both of these words mean “hidden;” these practices are generally, by the way they are practiced, shielded from public knowledge and passed down between knowledgeable people.
Being surrounded by academia all of the time, many people – including some of my closest friends – have repeatedly mocked any form of occult or esoteric practices (especially Tarot, which seems to be a trigger for rants on the stupidity of superstition) as “unscientific” and “false,” claiming that they “don’t work.” I usually end conversations on the matter about there.
Whether or not it works all depends on how you perceive the practice. Many of the most devoted occultists and esotericists will say that what they do is a science in and of itself; indeed, many of these practices, most obviously alchemy, were the precursors to modern science. Many aspects of alchemy are merely chemistry in disguise, using different symbols and with different goals. Astrology is incredibly complex (my studies in the subject progress agonizingly slowly due to this) and feels like a science. Almost every single esoteric and occult practice has a great deal of practice, lore, background, and established methodologies behind it, in many cases rivaling the content in many academic disciplines. Its practitioners, however, are free to decide to abide by this background or branch out on their own, leading to, in many instances I think, a growth in these practices greater than many academic disciplines.
I am not one of those practitioners who considers himself a scientist. I never refer to what I do as an “occult science;” rather, I call them “esoteric arts.” Undoubtedly this is influenced by my perception of myself as a wordsmith and an artist of words, characters, plots, and worlds (not so much visual images; those are hard)! In my opinion, esoteric and occult practices, despite many similarities to academic disciplines, more closely resemble arts due to their ability for rapid change, the individualistic flairs they encourage, and the tradition built up behind them consisting of vast amounts of practical experience as opposed to a collection of tested theories. Neither one of these types of traditions are better than the other, a point I shall get back to soon.
Before that, however, there is one more comparison I must make between occult and esoteric practices and the arts, and that is the esoteric emphasis on intuition. In this case, most esoteric arts take a completely different view on intuition than science does. In science, intuition is merely the expression of emotions and current circumstances leading you to think something, perhaps combined with “animal instincts.” In most esoteric arts, intuition can be all of these things, but more importantly, it is also an expression of some kind of fundamental energy, whether you call it a spirit, god, nature, or anything else. I call it the universe. As such, many esoteric arts heavily involve relying upon the intuition as a means of reading and understanding the universe through one’s own subconscious. Artists do a similar thing, I believe, though they use different words to describe it.
It is because of this reliance on intuition primarily that makes me view myself as an artist rather than a scientist. However, this is not to say that there are not esoteric and occult scientists; there definitely are. However, most of them work on occult and esoteric theory as opposed to practice. I am currently at nowhere near that stage of development in my esoteric practices, and am content learning and applying theory to what I consider my art. In time I hope to move up to theory, and I am already starting to develop some ideas. Esoteric theory, in many ways, is an extension of philosophy – but that is a discussion for another day.
Every time I read a Tarot Spread or a Geomantic Chart, I am practicing an art form, not a science, in my opinion. When I make my art, I am drawing upon the world as it is expressed in myself. I believe that the world has a little piece of everyone inside them, and that by using an esoteric art my mind is better able to bring the subconscious forward by using symbols to trigger thoughts I might not otherwise have thought. That is all.
Now, I promised I would come back to the two traditions: one built on logical experimentation (science) and one built on practical experience (art). As I said, I firmly believe that neither is better than the other overall, but each has its place, and it is best when the two are mixed together in moderation. For example, in matters of theory, experimentation clearly takes the lead, and in any kind of artistry practical experience does. However, in the medical field, both are necessary; logical experimentation to develop the theories to lead to the cures, and practical experience on the ground.
The two are halves of the same coin, yet in the modern academic climate, one is almost entirely ignored (experience) and the other praised as the only way forward (experimentation). I believe this is not the best way to proceed. As much as I might disagree with occultist John Michael Greer’s criticisms of much of the Western scientific tradition, he does bring up the point that its flat, outright denial of esoteric and occult symbolism and thought hinders more than helps. Scientists don’t truly understand occult and esoteric practices, and yet still dismiss them out of hand without ever coming to truly understand them. They use only their logical experimentation, which, I might add, is imperfect at best, and are happy to ignore the experience of countless generations of occultists.
So, what am I saying? Science is very good and has gotten us to a great deal of places, and I put a lo of faith in it. Bravo, science! However, its ridicule of things it does not really understand – the esoteric arts being the primary one of these (I won’t bring religion into this right now, as I have my own very harsh views on organized religion) – doesn’t really help anyone, I think, especially if most of these practitioners have accepted science as equally valid, if not in some cases more so, as their own practices. Science should have an open mind, not a closed one.
To boil it all down to a single sentence, I consider myself an academic who studies society, but also an esoteric artist and a wordsmith.