Table of Contents
This card is generally seen as a particularly scary card. I’ll set the tone right now and say that while it might seem quite scary, I assure you it’s not. However, if it strikes fear into you, there is probably a reason why. But before I get too into that, let’s have a look at the card’s description.
Note: The card of the Devil depicts either the Devil or a daemon. And for all angels or divine beings I use the pronouns they/them. Because they are divine beings, I personally do not see them as being restricted to binary labels, but beyond that, I don’t believe them to hold humanly or earthly attributes of gender at all, never mind other humanly restrictions.
Like Temperance, the Devil is another busy card in the Rider-Waite deck. The first thing the eyes lay on is the large figure in the center, a beast with a human, orange chest and red, furry goat legs, and talons for feet. Their face is that of a demon, red, and bearded with pointy ears, and two goat horns curling arind. They have large grey wings that spread across the card, and an upside-down pentagram over his head. In their left hand on the right hand side of the card, they holds a flamed torch downward. Their right hand divides his fore and middle finger together, separate of their ring and pinky finger, which are together. On the palm of their hand is a cross. The Devil perches on a block to which two people are chained, naked and horned, and relating to the two people in the Lovers. The woman has a tail which bears fruit while the man has a tail that is a flame. The background is black.
The Spiral Tarot similarly shows a devil, though the figure is completely black with a white face. They hold their left hand up, making the same sign as in the Rider-Waite card, though on their palm, instead of a cross, is the glyph for Saturn. An upside-down star is on the beats belly, and in it’s left hand it holds a trident downward. From it’s fingers are two chains binding two naked individuals, a man and a woman, and they hold up a mirror of a woman who screams at her reflection. The woman holds her hand out against the reflection, for she has grown horns. Below the people is a snake, and they are surrounded in flames. To the left side of the card is the symbol for Earth, and in the top right corner of the card is the Hebrew letter, Ayin. Below it is the glyph for Capricorn.
The Vampire Tarot shows a crouching being, hunched over and squatting. It bares its teeth which are stained with blood. It’s wings arch over it, and behind it is an orange and red tapestry portraying demons.
The Faerie Tarot shows a squat faerie with a round belly. It sticks its tongue out at the reader, holding a staff in its left hand on the right side of the card. At the base of the staff, two white and green mushrooms grow. Behind it, two white faces peer from the shadows, and toward the top left of the card, a pair of eyes glow. The card frame is dark red.
The Thoth Tarot shows a goat with long horns and a 3rd eye opened, staring straight at the reader. It’s horns v-out from its head at an angled right angle, and a wreath of berries is around the horn on the left. Below the goat, two orbs containing four people each hold up a pole with the caduceus at the top. Behind the goat and from the orbs is a pillar that reaches up beyond the edges of the card, with a ring at the top, creating a phallic symbol. The plaque containing the card name has the Hebrew letter, Ayin and the glyph for Capricorn on it.
The Prisma Vision tarot shows a forest, with wavy trees growing through which a red light shines through. The leaves o the trees are red, and the trees themselves are black.
The Impressionists Tarot has altered a piece by Vincent VanGough called ‘Portrait of Postman Joseph Roulin (1888). The portrait shows a man with a long, divided beared, and a hat at divided into two points. On his lap are handcuffs.
Saturn is a planet of authority, discipline, and rules. Justly, it rules Capricorn (and Aquarius), which is also seen in the Devil. Capricorn is a sign of ambition and climbing. There are high sights and the goat part of Capricorn has no qualms scaling mountains, even though the ledges may be treacherous.
This is a symbol of creative energy, though is also seen as the Wand of the Chief Adept, which is a symbol of higher and lower, of manifestation. This further mirrors the symbolism of masculine energy. The serpents that appear under the wings of the Caduceus are meant to represent sperm. The staff of the Caduceus runs up the length of the trunk behind the goat. See ‘Phallus’ further down.
The chains depicted are the chains that bind us to what holds us back. The Devil is a scary card, and that is because of it’s depiction of a demon. The chains represent that which latches us to our own demons and changes our nature.
The black background of the RW card shows that until there is change, there is no emerging from this place. The message of the card must be heeded if there is any recovery. Black skies in tarot also represent grief and sorry.
There is also a lot of red and orange in the card. Red is the color of energy, or power, while Orange, its very close cousin, represents creativity. Both colors are used in the makeup of the Devil,a nd both are used when depicting Fire, which is the element of the Wands and energy. There is a form of manifestation within this card.
The element of Earth denotes stability, and firmness. It is a the place where growth begins and where life flourishes. There is nourishment here. It is also the element that is related to the mundane, the material. The Devil deals with material obsession, which the physical world and the elements about it which might trap us.
In Greek myth, the goat was related to Pan, the trickster, and is also related to the depiction of the Devil. However, the Goat also represents Capricorn, the hard-working goal-getter, whose influence is prominent in the Devil.
Ayin means ‘eye’ which is a representation of the Third Eye. This is often associated with intuition. However, the Third eye is only open if all the other chakras below it are functioning. This means that the Base chakra, the Sacral chakra, the Solar plexus, the Heart chakra and the Throat chakra must all be functioning in order for the Third Eye to be open. This is only a window into the internal world, that is a world. While it opens the subject up to information outside of the self that can only be found by intuitively listening to external vibrations, it is not the same thing as opening the self to higher understandings. That is what the Crown chakra is for.
The Third eye focuses on the intuitive and the spiritual, though it cannot function if the subject is focused on the material. The Third eye in the context of the Devil is listening to what obstacles are within us, what we are afraid of and struggling against, and listening to how to release us from our chains.
In the Thoth Deck, the Devil has multiple people within the spheres, As there is a repetition of a masculine nature (see Caduceus above and Phallus below), these people represent the future generations, or those who are awaiting incarnation.
In the traditional decks, there are two people generally shown tethered to the Devil in some way. In the RW deck they relate back to the lovers. In the Lovers, the woman has a fruitful tree behind her, representing her fertility and feminine energy, while the man has a burning tree behind him, representing the active masculine energy. In the Devil, the woman’s tail bears fruit at the end while the man’s tail bears flame. This shows the obsession with their qualities that have bound them and transformed them. Often this is meant to indicate a material obsession.
The Spiral tarot shows a woman screaming at her reflection, indicating being shown that which she does not want to see. She can’t face herself, what she sees horrifies herself. She is her own Devil, and the message that we have to face our demons if we are to release ourselves.
Numerically, the Devil is the number 6 (1+5), which mirrors the Lovers. The Lovers and the Devil have already been compared in ‘The Humans’ section, though both correspond to the vibration of six.
The number six has to do with idealism and spiritual growth.
In the Thoth deck, the two round orbs and the pillar behind the goat create a striking resemblance of a penis. This is a representation of materialization, of Will or higher order coming into physical creation. This is a the masculine energy within the card, creating an active energy.
The symbolism of a serpent in the tarot goes back to Biblical mythology regarding Adam and Eve, and thus, represents temptation. However, in the Thoth deck, the snakes, as mentioned in the ‘Caduceus’ section, represent sperm, and thus masculinity.
The governing planet of the card is Saturn, which is a card of discipline, Capricorn representing the hard work in attaining that discipline. The energy of the card is masculine, and thus active. It’s a card of grounding, hence the element of earth, and to gaining a sturdiness. There is work to be done on the mundane level, on the physical and mental plane before spiritual growth can be attained. Part of this is acknowledging the chains that bind us on the material plane such as wealth and physical gains, and releasing them in order to gain something greater. Sometimes in doing so, we have to learn what our weaknesses are, what our ‘sins’ are (greed, gluttony, etc.) and address them.
The demons have human-like characteristics, suggestion that the association with the Devil is turning them into beings like him. The Devil himself represents our fears and ugly traits or characteristics that we don’t want to let go.
The Devil shows us what binds us to one place. Usually these are our fears, and until we confront them, we are chained to them. It isn’t always comfortable, but it is certainly necessary. We are bound by our fears, our obsessions, and only by facing them can we be released of them.
Keywords: confrontation, fears, difficulty, temptation, psychic energy, illusion, addiction.
Read more Major Arcana
Faerie Tarot by Nathalie Hertz, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc, 2008. Hertz is a French artist, and the creator of several other beautiful tarot decks. The Faerie Tarot was ‘inspired by the flora and fauna of the French countryside,’ and ‘invites you to see the world in a delightful new way…blending fantasy, whimsy, and nature.’
Impressionist Tarot by Arturo Picca (artist) and Corrine Kenner (author), published by Lo Scarabeo in 2015. This deck takes works of classic impressionist paintings and recreates them to fit the meanings of the tarot. It pulls from works of Edonard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gough, and Paul Gauguin. A truly beautiful deck, especially for those who have interest in the art world.
Prisma Visions Tarot by James R. Eads, 3rd ed., published in 2016. The deck itself is beautiful, though perhaps not for the beginning tarot reader. The suits all fit together to create a master picture displaying the energy and progression of the suits. The figures and images flow from one card to the next, showing movement within the stationary cards.
Rider-Waite by A. E. Waite. The deck used in these photos is currently out of print. I won’t say much about this deck, as it is fairly standard and probably one of the most produced decks. It serves as a standard for many tarot readers and artists, depicting classic images relating in part to the original playing cards that tarot developed from.
The Spiral Tarot by Kay Steventon. With turn-of-the-20th-century style art, this deck takes from the classic Rider-Waite deck and brings it up to the late 1800-early 1900’s, a time of industry and contemplation for the western world as it moved forward into a more technological era. I am a little biased toward this deck as it’s been my main deck for 15 years. The cards are thick with additional symbolism that can be tricky to pick out of the traditional Rider-Waite, and adds layers of Greek myth throughout the Major Arcana.
Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley (designer and author) and Lady Frieda Harris (artist), published by U. S. Games Systems, Inc., in 1978. This deck takes from most esoteric imagery, and requires the reader of the deck to have deep, initiate knowledge of the symbolism used. There is nothing within the cards that is without meaning. However, on a more surface level, the deck draws from Egyptian symbolism and from the style of the Marseille Tarot (mostly seen within the Minor Arcana). For those looking for deeper understandings of the universe, I recommend this deck. I would caution that this deck is highly advanced, and might be avoided for the budding reader.
Vampire Tarot – by Nathalie Hertz, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. in 2000. As mentioned above in reference to the Faerie Tarot, Hertze is a French artist who gained her notability through the publication of her tarot decks. The Vampire Tarot was a bestselling deck upon its release, and plays on more gothic symbolism, providing more jarring interpretations to allow for the accepting of negative forces within the world to compliment the positive forces. The deck brings together myths and legends in the form of vampires, which ‘gives tarot readers a macabre passport’ into the world of divination.