Keywords for The Devil
In the image on this card, we see the Devil represented not as Lucifer, bringer of light, but instead as Baphomet, part man, part goat, with the wings of a bat and feet of a bird. In this form, he is representative of the forces of darkness.
This is further reinforced by the dark mark, perhaps a stigmata, we see etched into the palm of his right hand. It is the glyph for Saturn, planet of limitation, restriction, and boundaries. Saturn also represents incorporation into physical form, along with all the physical limitations inherent in materiality.
This symbol, like many other elements here, is as if to say, “This is it—the physical, material world you see before your eyes is all there is—nothing more is possible.” It asks us to forget the spiritual, to tie our hopes and desires to the physical only. It encourages blind consumption, sex without soul, obsession with form and ignorance of spirit.
This is further echoed by the appearance of the man and woman standing with chains around their necks by the feet of the Devil. They are parallel figures to the pair we saw earlier, blessed by Archangel Raphael, in the Lovers card.
Here, they appear with a set of horns on their heads, indicating their animal-like nature. There are no trees as we saw earlier in the Garden of Eden. Instead, the woman herself bears the fruit, her tail extending behind her as a ripe bunch of grapes.
The man’s tail is made entirely of fire, likely an allusion to the libido, or sexual life force energy. He holds his right hand with palm facing up, touching the clawed feet of the Devil.
It is interesting to note that the Devil himself lights his torch from the flames produced by the fiery energy of the man in this image. It is as if to say that the ideas represented by the Devil (bondage, ignorance, focus on the physical instead of the spiritual) springs from the sexual impulses of man when uncontrolled or unskillfully expressed.
Interpretation of the Devil in a Reading
When the Devil comes up in a tarot reading, it can refer to the feeling of being trapped, despondent, or hopeless. We may despair of ever finding a way out of our difficult and limiting circumstances.
This card can also speak to themes around captivity, bondage or enslavement. We may feel like we are in chains, bound to a destructive force that is much greater than ourselves. This often takes the form of overindulgence in/addiction to various substances such as drugs and alcohol, as well as process addictions like shopping or gambling.
It also speaks to obsessions, especially those of a romantic or sexual nature, where we may feel compelled by physical drives to engage in relationships or other forms of social interaction which we know on some level are ultimately unhealthy for us.
A central theme of this card revolves around what value we attribute to the physical & material elements of our world. The upside down pentagram which we see suspended at the crown of the Devil’s head provides a key to understanding these themes more deeply.
The pentagram, right side up, is a five pointed star meant to represent the human body and our relationship to the five elements. The top point of the star represents the head, the two sides the arms, and the lower points the legs and feet.
Right side up, the pentagram has the head over the heart and body, in a relationship of “mind over matter,” where our desires are informed and directed by our reason and higher mind.
Inverted, the Devil’s pentagram signifies desire over reason, and matter over spirit. In this case, we let our lower animal passions drive our conscious mind. Instead of utilizing our consciousness constructively, reason is instead used solely for the purpose of rationalization, to justify wrongs done in the name of passion.
When we allow our “lower” (or our unexamined or unmediated) desires to rule our lives, we find that our entire system can be thrown off balance.
It often expresses itself in what we might call the “sins” of materialism. Materialism is not simply an obsession with money and the physical objects it can buy, but also a more philosophical orientation towards the world that holds that nothing exists beyond the world of the senses. This is especially common in the modern scientific outlook which holds that if it cannot be measured, then it must not exist.
Remember that the word “sin” originated as a latin term from archery meaning “to miss the mark.” With this in mind, we see how this obsession with form is not necessarily “evil” per se, but simply misses the mark. It is incomplete, and as such, fails to draw a complete picture of our reality.
Unfortunately, this failure of perception results in grave errors that undermine our experience and even our capacity for continued existence on this living planet Earth. We can see this today, for example, in overconsumption, the drive for endless economic growth, and its relationship to climate change and environmental destruction.
This is the bad news. The good news is that we are not condemned to continue the errors of the past. Look at the chains which hold the woman and man on this card. They hang loose around their necks. It would be so easy to remove them and become free.
First, they would need to become aware of their bondage, and recognize the falsehood of the lies which have held them chained. Liberation would then become inevitable. For those who have developed the eyes to see, it would then be a simple task to lift the chains from off one’s neck, drop the lies, and step into the future free from the limitations of ignorance.