Have you ever been writing along and taken a turn or two you didn't expect, pulled by one of your characters into a place you didn't plan to go and maybe didn't want to go? I suspect that if you write by the seat of your pants, rather than follow a detailed outline, this is more likely to happen. This suspicion might be false, based as it is on a certain level of envy I have for people who can write a whole novel using a detailed outline (and the assumption that they therefore don't get pulled off their planned path). But I can see how it might happen either way, and if you have had this experience, did it perhaps lead you into dark, murky territory that was difficult to navigate honestly and intelligently? Did the direction your character took you make you unreasonably angry, arrogant, dismissive, or scared; or just horribly uncomfortable? Ah, my writerly friends, that is, of course, where the good stuff is.
Tarot's Fool is about to demonstrate this point, by running straight into more 'good stuff' than he ever wanted to deal with in his lifetime.
He's just left Temperance, who blithely assured him that he, too, could learn to mix fire and water, and achieve alchemy, if he truly understood the power of opposites to create wholeness when properly blended together (Fool's Journey, Week 14). He doesn't doubt Termperance's truth, but mastery of such a thing is no small task, and it's really not part of his plan for achieving his quest. He'd much rather go the direct route, without the mumbo jumbo. (He's very tired from all his valiant questing, and has already grown greatly as a person on his journey. It would be really nice if the remainder of the path led straight to the Golden Fleece.)
Staring, the Fool sees that the Devil is half goat, half god, and reigns over a massive black mountain. The naked people are engaging in every indulgence imaginable: sex, drugs, food, gold, drink. The Fool wants to turn and walk away, but he can't. He edges closer, and as he does so, his own earthy desires rise within him. Lust, passion, greed, obsession.
The Fool summons all his strength. "I refuse to give in to you!" he roars at the Devil. He digs his heels into the ground.
The Devil looks at him curiously. "I'm only bringing out what is already within you," he says. "Such feelings are nothing to fear, or to be ashamed of, or even to avoid."
"You expect me to believe such a thing?" the Fool responds. He gestures at the man and woman. "You say that even though they are enslaved?"
The Devil mimics the Fool's gesture. "Take another look."
When the Fool looks closer, he sees that the chained collars the man and woman wear are large enough that they could slip them off over their heads if they wanted to.
"They can be free if they wish to be," The Goat-god says. "It is true that I am the god of your strongest desires, but what you see here are only those who have allowed their base, bestial desires to control them." He points up to the peak of the mountain behind him. "You can't see those who have allowed their impulses and aspirations to take them to the top of the mountain."
"How did they get past you?" the Fool asks.
The Goat-god once again gives him a curious look. "Inhibitions can enslave as easily as excesses. They can keep you from following your passion to the highest heights."
The Fool realizes this god is not Satan, but Pan. He is a creature of great power, the lowest and the highest. He is both a beast and a god. Dangerous, but also the key to freedom and transcendence. Getting past him, scaling the mountain to its peak, is a matter of understanding that and using it well: embracing this knowledge, going for the gold by letting go of inhibitions, and then carrying the good that comes from that up the mountain. Once you have embraced your obsession and understood it, it no longer stands in your way, and neither does the Devil.
Whew. I need just a little break here so I can find my hand-painted paper fan and cool off a bit.
There, that's better.
Writers who are not afraid of going to their own dark places (or go there in spite of the fear) are the ones who can write those riveting scenes that have you cringing in recognition, eyes wide with horror at the ugly truth. Those are good. But the great ones go farther: they're about the state of grace that comes after the dark places. That state comes from respecting the ugliness, the obsession, because it's true; making the effort to understand it; recognizing its validity in their own lives; embracing it; and moving beyond it. If you've ever read a great writer who has embraced his or her obsessions so effectively that s/he can make readers empathize with any character, you can bet that writer has worn the yoke of chains, discarded it, and climbed the mountain.
Links to Fool's Journey posts: 0—The Fool; 1—The Magician; 2—The High Priestess; 3—The Empress; 4&5—The Emperor, and The Hierophant; 6—The Lovers; 7—The Chariot; 8—Strength; 9—The Hermit; 10—Wheel of Fortune; 11—Justice; 12—The Hanged Man; 13—Death; 14—Temperance
My interpretation of The Fool's Journey as it applies to the writing life is my own, but the journey is long-established from a variety of sources. Those I've relied on most heavily are: TAROT BASICS by Burger & Fiebig, AECLECTIC TAROT by Thirteen, and EVERYDAY TAROT by Fairfield