The Devil is the first card of the third row in the Major Arcana, a row about moving our spirit from darkness into light — enlightenment. The Devil can represent materialism, oppression, imprisonment, temptation, and illusion.
It may seem strange that this card comes so late in the Major Arcana, immediately following Temperance. But when we keep in mind the three rows in the Fool’s Journey, it makes sense as the starting card for row three regarding the spirit and enlightenment. Row one is about learning about the world around us, row two is about inner growth, and row three zooms out to the ultimate big picture: the spirit in relation to the universe (or however you might like to call the divine). We need the inner victory of Temperance to be able to face the challenges represented in the Devil card.
I really appreciate two quotes that Paul Quinn uses to discuss this row of the Major Arcana and the Devil card:
- “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung” (107)
- “If thou has not seen the devil, look at thine own self. – Rumi” (108)
In the traditional RWS depiction, a man and woman are chained to a box the Devil sits upon. However, when examined closely their chains could be easily removed. The Devil creates the illusion that the materialistic or oppressive world is truly all there is. Also in the RWS depiction, the Devil mimics the arm and hand motions of the Hierophant and the Magician. Rather than having two fingers pointed up and two down (indicating that there is more to life than what we see) on his raised hand, his fingers are all open. In this way, the Devil communicates that the world we see is all there is. The wand he holds in his other hand is pointed to the earth. Where the Magician’s wand pointed to the sky, the Devil’s points to earth, once again speaking to the illusion that this world is all that exists.
While the pentacle represents the human body (with arms raised to the side and legs spread apart), the reversed pentacle seen in the traditional RWS depiction and the Animism Tarot depiction can indicate sexual obsession (genitals above the head). This doesn’t mean that sex is bad. There is power in sex, and we must be careful to not abuse this power or let it be the only power we draw on. The upright pentacle can be seen in both the Efflorescent Tarot and the Animal Wisdom Tarot. Since pentacles speak to the physical world, they could be another indication of only seeing the physical world.
Huszka’s Devil shows four figures: a red figure is the Devil who lulls a woman (white figure) into submission while a pink figure shows the pain experienced in the grip of the Devil and the green figure clings to a security blanket and refuses to see another possible world hushing the pink woman. Huszka’s description of this card is here.
The Devil can also symbolize “demons” from our past that we have not been able to leave behind or suppressed parts of ourselves we are ashamed of, fear, or deny. I appreciate that Paul Quinn in Tarot for Life points out that this can vary from person to person and that an attribute that may be embodied in the Devil for one person may be a liberating attribute to someone else. For example, I was listening to a meditation about compassion the other day, and I had to stop part way through because of the way it was worded. I didn’t like being told to let go of so-called selfishness because that is a trait I’ve had to cultivate a bit of in myself for self-preservation, self-protection, and self-care. Compassion to an extreme (for everyone except myself) was the only world I knew for a long time, and a dose of “selfishness” is freeing me from those particular chains.
I really like the Efflorescent Tarot’s depiction of the Devil. The coat the Devil wears is full of different things: bugs, bones, a ring, a watch, masks, and more. These items represent all of the things we carry with us that imprison us, including the “masks” we wear. The Animal Wisdom Tarot reminds us of the concept of “scapegoat.” We need to seek out and liberate our own shadows rather than projecting them on to others.
The Devil card itself is a portrait of the shadow in ourselves. An opposite or reversed meaning of the card could be liberation
If I were to assign an element to the Devil, it would be earth since it speaks to worldly attachments and entrapments within the physical world.
One demon I have conquered is the misunderstanding of compassion as something that requires me to put myself last forever and always. That view of the world was a painful imprisonment which I thankfully discovered was only a illusion which I had the power to free myself from.
One view that still imprisons me is the idea that I have to be on guard in order to minimize my vulnerability and therefore to minimize any chances of being torn down or ridiculed by my loved ones. I’m in a weird place with this belief: I don’t exactly believe it anymore, so the prison door is open. It’s just awfully scary to actually walk out into an unknown world. As the saying goes, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This fear creates a powerful hesitation even though I know where I’m at is a type of prison.