Card Meaning: XV The Devil

The Devil
Element: Earth
Astrology: Capricorn
Hebrew letter: Ayin, ע


 No doubt that Death and The Devil are the most infamous cards in the Major Arcana. Exploited heavily in the entertainment business these cards are percepted as bad and evil. Lucifer. Mephistos. Satan. The Prince of Darkness. Baphomet. This card has all sorts of bad associations. But what this card is really trying to tell us? Usually we think that the primary reason for all the evil in the world lies outside us, that some misterious force that we name The Devil is forcing us to engage in outmoded ways of behaviour that no longer serves us, or in some sort of action that brings pain to us or the others. But as usual, the problem is inside, in our own weaknesses and addictions. What is important is to be honest to oneself and see where do these behaviours originate from. There is no outside force forcing us to do things, the man and woman on the card are just seemingly chained although they can go any time they want, but they want to stay. Just as ordinary man loves his weaknesses and habbits, addmiting that or not, the man and woman stay inside their containers of perception and behaviour. This card is not about balance but about tremendous power of extremity. Of course, it is not wise to constantly engage in bestial, material ways of conduct but in order to achieve great things, in order to achieve sometimes unthinkable progress and victory, extremity in focus and will is welcome.


This is one of the rare cards not perserved in Visconti-Sforza tarot. Some people even consider its absence as a sign that it has never existed in that deck. In Tarot de Marseille deck The Devil is pictured as being with horns, bat wings and clawed feet. He is obviously androgynous, depicted with penis and breasts. He is holding some kind of torch or blade while standing on a pedestal. Sometimes he is cross-eyed to symbolize his impaired vision and thus, impaired judgement. Also he is often depicted with a face on his belly and eyes on his knees. His images on various old decks ranges from aimable, animal-like creature to cruel, dark and fearsome kind. The Devil card in modern times is derived in part from Eliphas Levi's famous illustration Baphomet.


Positive associations with this tarot card are will, persistence, permanance and commitment. The most prominent negative associations of this card are weaknesses of body and soul. Entrapment, attachment, lust, greed, ignorance, anger. It is our bondage to all things material. Generally speaking this card is not a good sign but if positioned on place where commitment is needed it can provide a positive effect for success. Also, it can be a sign that you are gaining control. It can personificate the animal, instinctual and even bestial parts of us.

man and woman, loose chains, baphomet, duality

   Perhaps the most prominent motif in this card is completely black background. This card and The Tower are the only cards with that feature. Obviously, black background represents the absence of light, pointing to a fact that evil considerations of this card are merely a result of absence of light.  The Devil has an inverted pentagram on his forehead, a symbol of distorted and ill-based mental faculties. In its natural orientation pentagram symbolizes a man, but this one symbolizes falsehood and delusion. He sits upon a half-cube, symbolizing an imperfect understanding of the physical world, which is represented by a cube. Two persons beneath him are personifications of the self-conscious and the subconscious mind, their horns and hoofs indicate that delusion bestializes and devolute human consciousness. They are bonded to the cube but as it was said before, that is another delusion, they are content with their bondage, not knowing what they could become if they set themselves free. Another inversion of natural order of things is visible in the manner The Devil is holding the torch. If you are pointing fire down you will get burned sooner or later. The Devil's breasts allude on its androgynous nature. The Devil is related both through his sum of the digits and his iconography to the The Lovers (number 6). Both cards speak to our drives, the drives that take us out of the Garden of Eden. The central character in each card is winged, each one lives in the archetypal ether, each one is crowned; the angel in The Lovers with fire, The Devil with a pentagram and ram’s horns. In both cards are a naked man and a naked woman. But in The Lovers, there is still some sense of newness, wholesomeness, and hope; in The Devil they are chained by the neck and partially transformed into creatures of the underworld; transformed by their taste of the darkness, by the fruit of the underworld.

The design is an accommodation, mean or harmony, between several motives mentioned in the first part. The Horned Goat of Mendes, with wings like those of a bat, is standing on an altar. At the pit of the stomach there is the sign of Mercury. The right hand is upraised and extended, being the reverse of that benediction which is given by the Hierophant in the fifth card. In the left hand there is a great flaming torch, inverted towards the earth. A reversed pentagram is on the forehead. There is a ring in front of the altar, from which two chains are carried to the necks of two figures, male and female. These are analogous with those of the fifth card, as if Adam and Eve after the Fall. Hereof is the chain and fatality of the material life. The figures are tailed, to signify the animal nature, but there is human intelligence in the faces, and he who is exalted above them is not to be their master for ever. Even now, he is also a bondsman, sustained by the evil that is in him and blind to the liberty of service. With more than his usual derision for the arts which he pretended to respect and interpret as a master therein, Éliphas Lévi affirms that the Baphometic figure is occult science and magic. Another commentator says that in the Divine world it signifies predestination, but there is no correspondence in that world with the things which below are of the brute. What it does signify is the Dweller on the Threshold without the Mystical Garden when those are driven forth therefrom who have eaten the forbidden fruit.

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, by A.E. Waite

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