Continuing our series on the meaning of the Tarot cards, we pick up again this week with the dreaded Devil card, representing addiction, temptation and bondage.
The Devil card depicts a satyr, a mythological combination of goat and man. The goat and a horned god is reminiscent of Cernunnos or Herne the Hunter—the horned god of pagan polytheism. The horned god classically referred to the male aspect of divinity, particularly the realm of active animal behavior. So here, the horned god is used to represent the animal aspect of our raw, uninhibited desires and the devilish consequences they can wreak on our lives when unchecked.
The goat also refers to the scapegoat: the one we blame for all of our troubles as a way to avoid our own responsibility. So here, the Devil is represented as a scapegoat that we blame our problems on so that we can escape accountability ourselves. The scarier truth is that we are ultimately responsible for our choices and we cannot blame the influence of the Devil or other dark forces.
Above the satyr’s head there is a downward-facing pentagram, referring to black magic and the darker aspects of the occult. Occult knowledge is meant to further enlightenment and elevate consciousness beyond the physical realms of desire and lust, but the power achieved through occult means can often tempt practitioners to use magic for their own personal greed. The downward-facing pentagram is also the metaphysical symbol for Earth, representing the worldliness, materialism and attachment to the physical levels.
The pentagram generally stands for the four metaphysical elements—Fire, Air, Water and Earth—plus the fifth divine substance of Ether that animates all existence. An upward-pointing pentagram usually signifies the elevations of the four metaphysical energies up to pure consciousness or divine Ether. But the downward-pointing pentagram then denotes the descent of pure spirit down to worldly matter. Of course, descending from spirituality to materialism the opposite of the Tarot’s teachings, so the Devil’s card is a warning about behavior to avoid, rather than an archetype to be emulated.
The satyr has big, black wings like a vampire bat to signify that becoming a slave to your desires will literally suck the life force out of you, leaving you drained and depleted. The satyr has wide eyes and a penetrating, almost hypnotic stare. The Devil can mesmerize you with temptation, desire and lust. In his left hand, the Devil holds a fiery black scepter, indicating that following only your lustful desires will only lead to pain and suffering.
At the Devil’s feet, Adam and Eve reappear. We first saw Adam and Eve appear in the Lovers card where their union was divine, holy and in perfect harmony with spirit. But here, the Lovers are chained to the Devil’s throne, symbolizing their bondage to their base material urges. Now, the Lovers are slaves to their desire and their raw passions. The longer they indulge in pure lust, the more like the Devil they become: they have already sprouted small horns and devilish tails.
But upon closer inspection, you can notice that the chains around their necks are quite loose. They appear to be held against their will, but in actuality, they are free to go whenever they like. Ultimately, we have the free will to transcend our physical desires, but we must choose to avoid the self-indulgence of the Devil.
When the Devil appears in readings, it often indicates addiction and addictive or obsessive behavior. The extreme versions of this can mean alcoholism, drug abuse, or sex addiction. The subtler aspects can be overeating, oversleeping, and not exercising. The obsessive aspects can be internal: obsessive thinking, worrying or complaining are all subtle aspects of the Devil card.
The Devil card indicates that you are tricking yourself into thinking that change is beyond your control. When we convince ourselves that our suffering is due to some external cause beyond our control, we absolve ourselves of responsibility and guarantee that the suffering will continue without end. The Devil card forces you to ask yourself if you are really taking responsibility for your actions or if you are just blaming a scapegoat like the Devil.
The Devil card represents bondage and a lack of freedom. It can indicate that you are being held in circumstances against your will, but it also reminds you that with determination, you can fight your way to freedom.
As a challenge card, the Devil could indicate that another person is actively working against your interests. The Devil card is often associated with clouds of chaos, confusion and disorder. The Devil card can reveal that a third party really is wreaking havoc in your life by spreading lies about you, sabotaging you or otherwise manipulating you and your allies.
In reverse, the Devil card represents breaking free from bondage and limitations. A reversed Devil denotes someone who is confronting their demons and methodically fighting back. Someone who is recovering from addiction or trying to rehabilitate their former wild ways is a perfect example of the reverse Devil card. If you have been suffering from your own vices and you are finally putting in effort to change your habits, then a reversed Devil would indicate that you are genuinely making progress.
Ultimately, the Devil reminds us that living life only to satisfy our physical senses will not only be unfulfilling, but it will also lead to suffering, pain, confusion, chaos, disorder and a sense of being resigned to your fate. If the Tarot teaches us anything it’s that we are the writers of our own stories and that through sheer willpower and determination, we can transcend our desires and even all external limitations.