From what I can see of the Hannibal fandom that also intersects with the tarot world, it’s pretty common to position Hannibal as the Devil when comparing characters to cards. I think, in many ways, this makes a lot of sense. Mads and Bryan have repeatedly related Hannibal to the fallen angel, Lucifer (a.k.a. Satan, a.k.a. the devil) and Hannibal himself is a very devilish figure. He’s manipulative, corrupting, thrives off tempting others to betray themselves and each other. Not to mention, the religious subtext of the show has been discussed in detail by a variety of people. That said, when I think about Hannibal in terms of tarot, I’ve never felt overly inclined to place him as the Devil, despite the clear religious connections.
This is because, for me, the tarot itself is not overly religious. It’s spiritual, yes, but it doesn’t have to be tied to any major religious philosophy, like say…Christianity or Judaism. I think this is especially true for modern interpretations of tarot as a practice. And because of this, though there is a Devil card, I don’t think that automatically means that card represents Satan. This is reinforced by the fact that, traditionally, the Devil card represents the demons and addictions the we as people use to bind ourselves and keep ourselves down. I believe it’s Melissa Cynova who points out that the corrupted Lovers in the original Rider-Smith card wear chains around their necks that are loose. They could remove them, if they so wanted. But they don’t, keeping themselves bound. My point being, the Devil in the tarot is often seen, not as an external power oppressing us, but as an internal force we use to oppress ourselves.
Hannibal, in no uncertain terms, is an external force who works on the lives of others. “Nothing happened to me,” he tells Bedelia in season 3. “I happened.” And in many ways, Hannibal happens to other people. Yes, he has aspects of the Devil within him. Yes, in some ways Hannibal is Will’s shadow self. Yes, there’s an argument that Hannibal is Hades feeding Will the pomegranate seeds of moral depravity and evil. But though Hannibal is a manipulating force in Will’s life, he is not–to me–the most influential chain that binds Will to his choices. Hannibal exacerbates situations, spins people like tops, but he is not, for Will and the others on the team, the instigating force. That, in my opinion, is Garret Jacob Hobbs, the true Devil in Will Graham’s life.
So, if I don’t think Hannibal is the Devil, then who do I think he is?
In my opinion, Hannibal is the Tower. The Tower is a card of incredible, unstoppable, devastating change. It cannot be predicted, it cannot be deterred, and it cannot be ignored. To compare directly, the Devil to me is willful ignorance. The Tower, on the other hand, says, “Fuck that,” and then forces you to watch as it all burns down to the ground. But alongside this destruction, the Tower also demands we rebuild. Remake. Re-become.
This is what Hannibal inspires in everyone he touches. He enters their lives–is invited in, like a vampire–and slowly begins to turn everything inside out and upside down, until the only remaining option for survival is carving a new path forward. Jack, Bedelia, Margot, Alana, Mason, Dolarhyde, and Will are all brought to their knees by Hannibal and forced to remake themselves into something new as a result. He is the lightning strike for their becoming. He is the fire that strips away their excess. He is the volcanic eruption of bad fucking luck that makes everyone stop, assess, and prioritize.
So while Hannibal may be Satan, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to the tarot he is indeed the Tower.
- Little Red Tarot
- Melissa Cynova – Kitchen Table Tarot
- Rachel Pollack – 78 Degrees of Wisdom