If God is said to live in our hearts, could the devil be residing in our brains… or rather in our consciousness? I had been thinking about the ‘enemy within’ quite a lot after the holidays which – as usual – lead to over-indulges of every kind. Doh!
In the car on our way to doing our weekly food shop the other day, I turned to my husband and said, ‘Does it really matter if you believe in the devil as a force within or as something external?’ I thought about the question for a split second and answered it myself (Yes, very annoying I know!). ‘I don’t suppose it does, as long as you don’t project the devil on others and only stick to resisting your own temptations.’
The Cloud of Unknowing
It wasn’t long after this conversation that I downloaded ‘The Cloud of Unknowing‘ with a free 30-day Audible trial. I’d been wanting to check this book out for a while but I’m currently reading five other books so I needed something I could listen to while doing other things. There are only so many hours in the day!
As it turned out, I ended up listening to much of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ in bed since I’ve suffered from insomnia lately. The one year deathaversary of my mother is today and I’m guessing that has something to do with it. I was the same for a few years after my father passed away.
‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ was authored by an anonymous Medieval mystic who is writing to impart knowledge about the process and pitfalls of contemplation. For this audible version, the translator has done a stellar job of updating the Middle English and the text very much feels relevant today thanks to that. If you want to check out a free version of this text online, you can find a free PDF version HERE.
Because of my recent musings, I listened with great interest to a chapter about the Devil and how he appears to us when he takes physical form. Apparently he has only one nostril. It made me chuckle but I suspect the description is meant to be taken more toward the symbolic end of the spectrum than in a hugely literal sense. Read the text below and decide for yourself…
For as I have conceived by some disciples of necromancy, the which have it in science for to make advocation of wicked spirits, and by some unto whom the fiend hath appeared in bodily likeness; that in what bodily likeness the fiend appeareth, evermore he hath but one nostril, and that is great and wide, and he will gladly cast it up that a man may see in thereat to his brain up in his head. The which brain is nought else but the fire of hell, for the fiend may have none other brain; and if he might make a man look in thereto, he wants no better. For at that looking, he should lose his wits for ever. But a perfect prentice of necromancy knoweth this well enough, and can well ordain therefore, so that he provoke him not.
The Tarot Devil
This happened to be one of those passages that I listened to in the middle of the night, too tired to get out of bed… But I made a mental note to get my Smith Waite Tarot deck out the next morning…
It was as I thought – The Devil has no septum! Alright, so I know this might be at least partly because of the Japanese style of drawing that had inspired Pixie’s devil (it was all the rage around the turn of the last century, apparently).
However, in the Tarot there is no such thing as coincidence. We move in the realm of synchronicity… and in the case of A.E. Waite, I had a sneaking suspicion that he would have read ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ himself (perhaps Pixie did too!), so whether or not the idea was his, I imagine him nodding approvingly when Pixie presented him with her one-nostril Devil.
The Devil and Fasting
I’m currently on day 2 of 40 of the Fast 800 and I’m having to resist ‘the devil’ a lot – that voice in my head that is telling me to quite, to give in, to not go for that run… Or that it’s OK to be short-tempered and grumpy because I don’t have enough carbs in the system.
Fasting is a main spiritual discipline for a reason. It teaches us to resist the enemy within. We become less reactive – more mindful. I need this right now. The voice of my own inner enemy has been overwhelming lately…
Very few modern spiritual teachers talk about temptation. Even fewer understand what the function of temptation is: It is for the Light to break through. Every time we are tempted, we should see it as an opportunity. The greater the temptation, the greater the opportunity.
Fasting, when planned, does not provide a great opportunity because we can do it in equal measure to reward the separate self with weight loss etc… but it does still strengthen that muscle that helps us resist when we would otherwise be reactive.
So how come you and I have two nostrils (and a septum)? The author of the Cloud of Unknowing has an answer for that too… and it’s all about spiritual discernment:
For that division that is in a man’s nose bodily, and the which departeth the one nostril from the tother, betokeneth that a man should have discretion ghostly; and can dissever the good from the evil, and the evil from the worse, and the good from the better, ere that he gave any full doom of anything that he heard or saw done or spoken about him.
It does us no good to pretend we are above being tempted or turn temptation into a joke. Those areas that we persevere in giving in to the enemy within lead to the darkness in our lives increasing. And that is not what we want, right?
The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of discernment. When we go against that still, small voice within, we can sometimes feel the world getting darker. Equally, when we resist temptation, it’s like the sun breaking through after a storm.