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The Devil Card in Tarot and How to Read It

Andrea has a background in Myers-Briggs and Western astrology. She mostly writes about relationships.

The Devil card in Tarot gives people the creeps, but it could indicate some positive qualities about you. Don't let the card scare you.

The Devil card in Tarot gives people the creeps, but it could indicate some positive qualities about you. Don't let the card scare you.

The Devil Card in Tarot

When this card appears in a reading, it can give people the creeps. The Devil is a feared menace in cultures around the world, not just in Christianity.

  • It's an archetype that appears universally, similar to flood myths, humans encountering fire, titanomachy, dragons and serpents, the concept of an underworld, and myths about the end times.
  • The Devil myth is usually about a rebellious son. He is someone who separated himself from God. Judaism, in large part, is about family ties. A good chunk of the Old Testament follows generations of people connected to each other.

I recommend that if you do have fears about Satan that you dilute those fears—you don't want to be controlled by fear. You may have religious trauma and need to work with a therapist to untangle your fears about hell, demons, and the like.

If you're less squeamish, I would recommend watching the television show Lucifer. It might give you a new perspective on the archetype and then you can be more relaxed about the Dark Prince.

Just remember what you fear is what you worship, and what you hate you will become.

The Devil Card Has a Long Backstory

I'm only going to scratch the surface on what all this card entails. In fact, I think when people see it they resonate so strongly with it because it's packed with symbolism. In many decks, it's one of the few cards with distinctly dark imagery.

The Devil is the 15th trump in the Major Arcana. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Devil is based off Éliphas Lévi's illustration of Baphomet in his Dogme et rituel de la Haute Magie.

What Is Baphomet?

That's a loaded question that's steeped in medieval history. It was a deity the Knights Templar were accused of worshiping. The name appeared in trial transcripts for the Inquisition of the Knights Templar dating back to 1307.

There are a lot of rumors and speculation as to what in the world was going on in the minds of the templars, they likely had PTSD issues from the cruel conditions of the times and working in militant roles. Add in an intensely religious culture and you have a recipe for people having visions of evil incarnate.

Some speculate the Knights Templar simulated worship of Baphomet and flirted with apostasy to prepare themselves for potential torture if they were captured by opposing forces. They may have done this practice as a form of protection.

So who were the templars? They were a Catholic military order founded in 1119. They were headquartered on the Temple Mound in Jerusalem through 1128. They were active until 1312 when Pope Clement V suppressed them.

In their confessions in the inquisition, the templars would describe Baphomet in completely different ways. Some reported it was a cat and others called it a head with three faces. There wasn't a general consensus on it.

Modern scholars agree the name Baphomet was originally the Old French word for Muhammad. The Old French word was "Mahomet." The templars, with their long occupation of the Outremer, incorporated Islamic ideas into their belief system, and the inquisitors saw that as heresy.

Jump forward to the 18th century and speculative theories were popping up that tied the Knights Templar to the origins of the Freemasons.

Since 1865, Baphomet has been associated with the Sabbatic Goat image drawn by Lévi. The creature symbolizes the equilibrium of opposites: half-human, half-animal, half-angel, good and evil.

Card Description

In the Tarot card, the Devil has harpy feet, ram horns, bat wings, a reversed pentagram on his forehead, a raised right hand, and a lowered left hand holding a torch.

The figure squats on a square pedestal. Two demons, one male and one female, stand next to him. The demons repeat a pattern that's found in many Tarot cards: two pillars or other objects on the sides of the main figure. The demons represent the dualism of the conscious and subconscious.

Many Tarot decks show the Devil as a satyr-like creature, like the Greek Pan. The Devil only knows half the story. He is perched on a half-altar. Because of his position he cannot make an informed decision.

The card represents: being seduced by the material world and pleasure. It indicates a lust for money and power. You might be caged by a life of overabundance and luxury. It could also indicate that you're living in fear.

Element: Earth

Astrological Sign: Capricorn

Ruling Planet: Saturn

The Devil card represents the shadow self. If you refuse to acknowledge your shadows, then they will take over you. Don't leave addressing yourself to your subconscious. The conscious needs to do heavy lifting too.

The Devil card represents the shadow self. If you refuse to acknowledge your shadows, then they will take over you. Don't leave addressing yourself to your subconscious. The conscious needs to do heavy lifting too.

Myths About the Devil

  • He is the personification of evil.
  • The figure has been conceived in various cultures and religions throughout the world.
  • The Devil has many names: Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Iblis.
  • The word devil may refer to the supreme evil spirit or one of his workers, demons, and like thereof.
  • Those who follow their lower nature may be called out as a follower of the Evil One.
  • In Christianity, Satan is a fallen angel who is the primary opponent of God. Christians considered the Roman and Greek deities as devils.
  • Sathariel, Sataniel, and Satan'el are other names for the Devil and mirror the spellings of other angels, Michael, Raphael, Uriel.
  • Iblis is the term used in Islam. He plays a less significant role in the personification of evil than in Christianity. Iblis is merely a tempter, notable for inciting humans into sin. His role is different in the Garden of Eden. God asked the angels to worship Adam, but Iblis refused to do so. He was praised for not putting something above God, but punished for not following directions.
  • People are described as having free-will to either turn toward God and spiritual development or to turn to their own self-interests. Someone who doesn't develop spiritual virtues are described in Baha'i writings as satanic.

For more information, read The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity by Jeffrey Burton Russell.

Card Alignments

Upright

Shadow self, attachment, addiction, restriction, rebellion, half-knowledge, half-truth, independence, aggression, self-interest, lust, pride, greed, trying new things, separating from past, impulsive.

Reversed

Releasing limited beliefs, exposing dark thoughts, detachment, new considerations, challenging the status quo, mental fog, different from others, close to a breakthrough, spontaneous.

The Devil Card and Its Symbolism

The Devil card is loaded with meaning and possibilities. The Devil is one of the most studied archetypes, and it's universally known. It isn't necessarily a bad sign if this card pops up, but it can be jarring to see it. The imagery is strong and the colors are usually dark.

The card is about being the scapegoat. We often push all the blame onto someone and unjustly so. The Devil is often described as a vampire or werewolf.

This card often looks like something that escaped a Halloween movie. The Devil has a hypnotic stare and tries to get you to do what you think you want to do.

He raises his right hand in a Vulcan Salute, a Jewish blessing. It was made popular in the film series, Star Trek. In his left hand: a lit torch. The Devil is sometimes referred to as the light bringer.

The other characters in the card appear to be held there against their will, but if you look closer the chains around their necks are loose. The people who stay with him will become more like him overtime.

The tails and horns in the picture relate to animalistic tendencies. You prefer to operate on impulse rather than carefully manage your emotions.

The Devil card indicates that you're seduced by the physical world and its charms. You demand that things are given to you rather than seeing it as a privilege to be part of this world.

The Devil card indicates that you're seduced by the physical world and its charms. You demand that things are given to you rather than seeing it as a privilege to be part of this world.

What Does the Earth Element Have to Do With the Devil?

The Devil card reveals that you've been seduced by the material world and physical pleasures. It's a perversion of the earth element's characteristics.

The earth element is about managing physical resources, getting in touch with your senses, knowing your body, and taking the practical approach. When someone nurtures their earth element it will produce a legacy that supports relationships, wealth, and health.

The Devil card shows a rejection of the other elements. This is someone who isn't focusing on developing their spirit, their emotions, or managing their free-will. They reject fire, air, and water to focus only on earth, and in doing so they also lose some of the good qualities of earth.

The physical realm is a gift. It's a privilege to be in a world with flora and fauna. We're fortunate to live in a world with rivers, mountains, and forests. We have to show gratitude for the material world rather than be consumed by it. When we think we deserve all the things around us, and demand ownership of these things we become greedy. We think we can own and possess the land, but we can only borrow it for a time.

Our bodies are a gift. One of the greatest gifts we'll ever receive. That doesn't mean we should worship our bodies or put them on a pedestal. We have to remember our bodies don't last forever.

It's because of our pride and contorted belief systems that the planet is hurting. We've created the mess of climate change out of our shared greed. The Devil card represents our avarice for the earth rather than our respect for it.

Other Indications From the Card

The Devil card indicates one is independent, a manager of goods, and is protective of their property.

The Devil isn't a peon. He is a master of his domain. He is scrupulous for his goals even if this comes at the cost of other people's fortune. The Devil doesn't really care about consequences that negatively impact others. This is someone who has a strong-will and isn't easily manipulated by emotions.

The Devil can make hard decisions and enforce them when others can't. This is someone who is going to persevere for what they want. They're a leader, but maybe a chaotic leader.

In the best case scenario, a person who has this kind of intensity for the material world will have spiritual giftings on their side to help them be empathetic and more balanced. If a Devil card is surrounded by more calm cards this could be a good thing. Temperance could help dilute the Devil.

Keep in mind: a Devil without mercy is a dangerous thing.

Influence From Capricorn

The Devil card isn't represented by Scorpio, as some people might have guessed. Capricorn lends itself to this card. It is the cardinal earth sign. It is the 10th zodiacal sign and represented by the goat.

Capricorn is known as a survivalist and family provider. Capricorn wants to leave behind a distinct legacy. People born under this sign want to live for as long as possible.

They're born at the the beginning of winter and work hard to survive through the season. They hoard possessions, they have every tool they need, and they want to create a supportive structure for their family.

The Devil is like Capricorn in that it wants to survive. This card is about obtaining all the right resources, not necessarily sharing them. Capricorns make for a great spouse and parents. They dedicate themselves to those they love. They work hard to bring in money. They're diligent, cerebral, independent, but sometimes lonely.

Capricorns are generally not seen as overly passionate or lustful. They tend to manage their feelings well. They're not easily persuaded by large outbursts.

Ruling Planet of Saturn

Saturn is the Roman counterpart to Greece's Cronus. Saturn is the father of Jupiter. He was exiled after Jupiter came into power. Saturn occasionally meets with humans to teach them about technology and new inventions. He loses his place on Mount Olympus, and acts as a restless wanderer.

The remains of Saturn's temple at Rome, the eight columns, still stand at the west end of the Forum of the Clivus Capitolinus. The temple dates back to the earliest records of the republic.

Saturn's festival, the Saturnalia, became the most popular of Roman festivals. It was celebrated around the winter solstice. Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations have ties to Saturnalia.

Upright Devil

This card relates to your lesser self. In Tarot divination readings, the goal is to learn how to make decisions using your higher self. You want to use your wisdom, you want to make decisions for the greater good, and you want to develop your empathy.

Are there times that you should use your lesser self? Potentially. If we use our higher self all the time we could forfeit it and get burnt out. If we don't listen to our inner child and its relationship to our lesser self then unfed emotions will come into play. You want yourself to be in balance, having a strong understanding of both your conscious and subconscious thoughts.

When the Devil card appears, it may mean that you have negative habits that are influencing your relationships, thoughts patterns, and creating unhealthy addictions. You might even feel trapped by your need to fulfill your appetite for pleasure.

The Lovers card speaks to duality and choice. The Devil card also relates to duality and choice but you are choosing the path of instant gratification. You live by impulse. Instead of investing in your well-being for the long term you have taken an indefinite vacation in sin. (Perhaps you're needing to unwind and cut loose.)

The Devil card appears when your shadow self is strong and you don't think there is a way to turn around. You're going against what you know to be right and true, and you think you don't know how to stop it. But truth time: you do know how to change course because that little voice in your head is trying to wake you up.

So you know what you're doing is bad. The question is why won't you stop. You likely think there is some sort of gain from what you're doing, and maybe there is, but at what cost? Your soul? Your integrity? Your conscious?

You could also be doing bad things because you're hurting. Maybe you've suffered years of abuse. Maybe your health is attacking you. You're lashing out for a reason.

You could also be taking advantage of a deal but putting others in disadvantage. Maybe you're in a competitive environment so thinking first about your advantage is necessary.

But things go too far when you become Scrooge: at that point, you can't see how hoarding all the wealth and your apathy toward the less fortunate is contributing to the erosion of society.

If the Devil card appears during a Tarot reading, consider how you can bring your negative thoughts into the foreground. Consider the exact negative influences in your life and what you can do to curb them. You have to bring your negative parts forward if you want to correct them.

You likely won't be free of your addictions and dependencies overnight. It can take a long time to break patterns and cycles. You may have generational trauma that will take more than just you to finally resolve.

Remember: someone who is very devilish has the potential to be very angelic.

  • The Devil card can also show a strong attachment to someone. Such as a mom with her new baby or a couple in the honeymoon phase. Be careful not to become co-dependent. Continue to develop your own individual self.
  • This card can represent your wild side and your darkest fantasies.
The Devil is about rebellion. The card indicates whether you are too dependent on material things or if you are striving for more independence. Now is the time to consider your attachments.

The Devil is about rebellion. The card indicates whether you are too dependent on material things or if you are striving for more independence. Now is the time to consider your attachments.

Reversed Devil

You're on the verge of a breakthrough or big change. In order to reach your highest potential, you must put something down. Let go of the old things that no longer serve you, so you can enjoy the fruits of something new.

Let go of unhealthy attachments. Don't cave to your addictions. Dilute the things around you and get back into the equanimity of the Temperance card. The Reversed Devil is an unstable card: you're in transition to something else.

In order to obtain the new thing, you must deal with your shadows. You need to work through your trauma, guilt, and failures. You need to understand why you're treating others less than what they deserve.

Let go of fear. Let go of self-imposed limits. What you're up against is easier than you think.

Confront your inner fears and anxieties to let yourself free. The chains are already loose, so go ahead and take them off.

If people in your life are toxic, drop them. Look for people who are supportive and loving. Look for people who get on the same wavelength with you.

  • Quit smoking
  • Watch less television
  • Spend more time with loved ones
  • Eat healthier food
  • Exercise
  • Stop your negative self-talk
  • Stop having mental temper tantrums
  • Rely less on alcohol
  • Don't gamble away your savings
  • Stop shopping for things you can't afford

Bring about positive change in your life by being focused. Stay focused on your ultimate goal of freedom.

Approach this card consciously, so you can address your shadow self. Don't resist it and only leave your subconscious to do the heavy lifting of combating your shadows. Work with a therapist to help you with your thoughts and mental patterns.

The Reversed Devil could be a sign that you're avoiding showing your darkest self from others. You're keeping too much of yourself a secret. You do certain things you don't want others knowing about because it embarrasses you.

When you approach your shadow self with kindness you'll find it's easier to find forgiveness.

The Reversed Devil also comes with the Buddhist principle of detachment. You need to let go of your attachments to things. Let go of your desires, and stop feeding your desires. You need to release your dependence on others. Letting go of attachments will bring you into better harmony with your surroundings and with others.

Let go of your chains rather than tightening them.

References

  • Barber, Malcolm (1995). The new knighthood: A history of the Order of the Temple(Canto ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. xxi–xxii.
  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Templars". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.)
  • Gray, Eden. "Complete Guide to the Tarot." 1970. Crown Publishers, New York, NY.
  • Strube, Julian (2016). "The 'Baphomet' of Èliphas Lévi: Its Meaning and Historical Context" (PDF). Correspondences: An Online Journal for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism. 4: 37–79. ISSN 2053-7158. Archived from the original on 8 February 2017. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  • Waite, Arthur Edward (1979). The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. New York: Samuel Weiser. pp. 285–286.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Andrea Lawrence

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