Staring out at the reader, the Devil in the Tarot is an imposing and striking figure. Seated on a cube to which a man and woman are chained, the devil points up with his right hand and down with his left hand which also holds a burning torch. The woman has a tail with fruit at the tip, the man’s tail is on fire. A pentacle is drawn over the Devil’s forehead. Depicted as half man, half animal, his legs are of the animal world, hooves as feet. Horns like a goat and wings like a bat complete the Devil.
One of the more (in)famous cards of the Tarot, The Devil plays on people’s perceptions and beliefs. The card is striking, black and gloomy and the figure depicted is closer to the Christian Devil rather than anything a pagan would believe in. It is also similar to a later figure drawn by Eliphas Levi that depicts Baphomet, an idol or figure said (though not proven) to have been incorporated into rituals of the Knights Templar. The Christian Church later wiped tortured and wiped out the Knights Templar using this figure as an excuse.
If we study the Devil in the Tarot for a while we begin to see many similarities with previous cards and all it not as it seems. Examining the chains around the necks of the man and woman, we see that they could easily escape them if they so wished. They are prisoners only because they cannot see that the chains that bind them can be broken or escaped from. Perhaps their position in life has become so normalised that it does not occur to them to break free. Both man and woman have horns in their head and the bunch of fruit that adorns the tail of the woman evokes a memory of Eve tempting Adam with the apple and thus condemning all to be born guilty in the eyes of the Church. The horns and tails remind us that the longer we allow ourselves to exist in a situation of bondage, the more we become like our ‘captor’. Interesting too that the Devil is the 15th card of the Tarot which resolves to Six (i.e. five plus one) – the sixth card of the Tarot is The Lovers and it is perhaps apt that they are shown here, subservient to a darker place in the mind of man.
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Pointing up with one hand and down with the other, the Devil strikes a similar pose to The Magician of the Second Major Arcana. “As Above, So Below” is a reference that applied to the Devil, can lead us to conclude that the Devil is both above and below. Hopefully, having progressed through the cards since The Magician, we begin to understand the world around us and our own ability to construct and demolish our own reality. Hidden behind the veil of The High Priestess, the Devil is but a reflection of what already exists around us and in us.
Seated on a square block that represents the world, the Devil is a symbol of materialism and bondage. We are all consumed by worldly affairs, we are often chained into a routine that neither benefits us or allows us to grow. Yet somehow, we remain chained, afraid to leave, afraid to change. That is not some physical monster keeping us in check, it is the Devil or the fears that we create in our own minds. The choice to break free to progress on our journey lies with us and it is only us that can make that decision. In a way, we can think of the Devil, drawn as half man and half goat, as our own personal scapegoat, that thing on which we hang every excuse we can think of to avoid living a life of freedom or to put off chasing after our dreams.
The upside down pentagram drawn on his forehead, the strong stare, the naked man and woman are all suggestive of a darker side, a more lustful or material side to our nature. The bat wings on the devil remind us of the creature that lives off the blood of others. The card could be telling us that we have become too materialistic, that our greed, desires and drive for instant gratification rule us. Maybe we are lacking control in our lives or self discipline.
Rather than depicting some evil god that keeps us all in slavery or that is destined to torture us for eternity, the card of The Devil is very much about the creations or fears we carry around in our own minds. We can literally entrap ourselves and put ourselves in a situation where we continue taking negative actions or rather more accurately, failing to take positive actions. The devil is in our mind. It is not some big bogey man waiting to snare us. By engaging in negative actions, we have ensnared ourselves. When this card appears, it is time to look deeply within ourselves and see what is holding us in bondage. It may be a bad relationship, unfounded dears, negative self beliefs that limit us, materialism or in a very real sense, an addiction to porn or instant gratification. If we dare to challenge our own beliefs, we can thrown off the mental chains that keep us in subservience to our darker side.
The Devil Reversed
When the Devil appears Reversed, I normally take it as a positive sign. It suggests to us that now is the time that we can throw off the negative beliefs and actions that hold us in check. It encourages us to swap negatives for positives. Instead of beating ourselves up, doing ourselves down, engaging in repeated actions that do us no good, now is the time when we can throw off all that if we are willing to face up to our fears.
It is almost as if this card is telling us that what we fear is only in our mind. By appearing reversed, the Devil loses his intimidating stare. We see that As Above, So Below and if we have been so negative to ourselves then we can also be hugely positive to ourselves. We just need to take the first step and stop losing in our minds. On a physical level, we may be overcoming drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex, porn, greed or any number of addictive and base impulses. The Devil Reversed reminds us that we can come out of the dark and defeat those desires, replacing them with ones of positivity.