The Devil is quite possibly the most misunderstood Tarot card – it is certainly the most feared. At a glance, the Devil Tarot card looks incredibly ominous and forbidding. The devilish figure – half goat, half man, crowned with an inverted pentagram – spreads his large bat wings against the pitch black background. A naked man and woman, who seem very small in comparison, are chained to the Devil’s throne.
When the upright Devil card appears in Tarot readings, its meaning is generally negative, as it points to a struggle with the aspects of ourselves that we would rather keep out of the spotlight. The Devil represents the shadow self, and all of the forbidden, unsightly or unwanted character traits and impulses we normally delegate to the subconscious realm.
The reversed Devil might indicate letting go of unhealthy attachments, overcoming addictions, or successfully reclaiming parts of ourselves that we previously suppressed, such as our authentic sexual identity or true ambition.
The key thing to understand about the Devil is that his domain, the shadow, is not all bad. Certainly, we all have thoughts and urges that we had better not act on or allow to take hold, but in suppressing destructive or dangerous desires, we are also run the risk of suppressing parts of us that are positive, exciting and empowering. The Devil serves as a reminder that it is all about balance – there needs to be room in our lives for our shadow, but by the same token, we must not allow our desires to enslave us.
The Devil of the Major Arcana
The Tarot divides into the Minor and Major Arcana, meaning the ‘lesser mysteries’ and ‘greater mysteries’ respectively. The Minor Arcana deals with everyday situations, experiences and energies while the Major Arcana addresses the truly profound, life-changing lessons and archetypal energies we encounter as we move through life.
The Devil is a Major Arcana card, and represents one of the greatest challenges or lessons we can ever hope to come across and learn how to master. If we can learn how to become comfortable with our shadow – rather than fall prey to it or suppress it so forcefully that it ends up blowing up in our faces -we have achieved something truly rare and empowering.
The Devil Tarot card description
Renditions of the Devil vary between Tarot decks, but most are inspired by the classic Rider-Waite Tarot and includes its essential symbols and details. Let us take a closer look.
The Devil shows a larger-than-life devil, half goat and half human, crowned with an inverted pentagram. He has the distinct vampire bat wings, a creature known for sucking blood and vital life force out of its prey. His right hand is lifted in a the Vulcan Salute, while his left hand is holding a lit torch and pointing it towards the ground.
The devilish creature is depicted as Baphomet, originally a symbol of balance between male and female, dark and light, good and evil, man and nature. However, over time, Baphomet has taken on mostly negative connotations and become a convenient scapegoat for prejudices and projections of ‘evil’ on. In short, the Devil represents the shadow self.
A man and a woman are chained to Baphomet’s throne, which is nothing more than a square stone block.
A closer look reveals that the man and woman are not as trapped as they might seem. The chains around their necks are loose, and they could easily slide them off and escape the Devil if they truly wished to leave.
The Devil is not holding them here by brute force, but rather through subtle persuasion, and through their own weakness and inability to resist temptation. The longer they stay, the harder it becomes for them to eventually tear themselves away. This is evident from the fact that they have grown small horns and tails. The woman’s tail is tipped with grapes, and the man’s with fire, signifying pleasure and lust. It is clear that the longer they stay in the Devil’s realm, the more they will come to resemble him, and the more their chances of ever regaining their freedom decreases.
The Devil Tarot card meanings
When the upright Devil card appears in a Tarot readings, it is usually a negative omen – it certainly shows that you are struggling with something within yourself, some powerful and persuasive force.
Here are the key upright Devil Tarot card meanings.
The shadow self
The Devil represents the shadow self. The shadow is a concept first coined by the the father of psychotherapy, C.G. Jung. He described the shadow as the parts of ourselves that we learn to disown, deny and suppress over the course of time. Those aspects of ourselves that we identify as unwanted, unsightly, dirty or wrong don’t disappear just because we delegate them to the shadow – they are only out of sight.
Everyone has a shadow, and some have a shadow that is bigger and stronger than others. If, for example, you are a gay man who grew up in a deeply religious and conservative household where you were repeatedly told that LGBT people are wrong and evil, chances are you quickly learned to suppress a vital part of your true self and banished your authentic sexuality to the shadow realm.
There are aspects of ourselves that truly belong in the shadow, for example, violent and aggressive impulses. But there are also parts of us that may have ended up there when we didn’t know any better, and that have the power to bring us massive healing if we manage to extract and reclaim them, such as our undiluted, uncensored sexuality, creativity and ambition.
Directly related to the existence of the shadow self is the suppression of the shadow self.
Often, the upright Devil card represents suppression, or points to an ongoing internal struggle with suppression of character traits or tendencies that ayou are ashamed of owning or owing up to.
Restriction, holding back
The Devil can represent a fear of the full force of your own lust, desire and ambition. You may have learned, over time, to hold yourself back.
Perhaps you were told as a child or a young person that you expected and wanted too much, that you were too demanding. The result is that you are now always holding back – leaving most of your fire, desire and creativity trapped inside.
In some cases, the Devil represents unhealthy and destructive attachments, and even addictions.
Bad habits left to their own devices may have grown into full-blown addictions, slowly gaining more and more control over you and your life. Just like the persuasive Baphomet, your addiction is keeping you chained in place by exploring your inability to resist and walk away.
The Devil reversed Tarot card meanings
When the Devil reversed comes up in a Tarot reading, its meaning is also turned on its head. Here are the key reversed Devil Tarot card meanings.
Exploring the shadow
The reversed Devil can be a sign that you are exploring your shadow self.
You might be on a healing mission, doing shadow work to work through trauma and suppression, and ultimately, to reclaim vital and worthy aspects of yourself that you previously delegated to the shadow.
The Devil reversed can indicate that you are reclaiming the power, drive, fire and ambition that you might have wrongly identified as shadow aspects because others were have felt threatened by them in the past.
Owning our power, our desire and our ambition is one of the greatest lessons we can hope to learn in this lifetime.
Letting go of attachments
Whether you are finally leaving a toxic relationship, walking away from a dead-end job because you know you are worthy of more, or kicking an addiction to the curb, you are letting to of negative and restrictive attachments.
As show in the card, Baphomet only has power over the people through their own weakness and lack of self awareness. Once they truly decide to leave and be free, he is unable to stop them.
The Devil card interpretation
Every Tarot card contains multiple facets and layers of meaning. Which aspect of the card’s significance stands out in any particular Tarot reading is always going to depend on a number of moving parts, including any other cards that show up in the spread, the individual Tarot reader’s take on the card, and the question or topic of the reading.
Here are a few example of how the Devil Tarot card might be interpreted in the context of different readings.
What the Devil Tarot card means in a love Tarot reading
The Devil can be an indication of a co-dependent relationship, where one or both partners are prone to unhealthy attachments to each other.
If you are in a relationship, either you or your partner is too dependent and subservient to the other. One partner is clearly holding the reigns and is using and abusing every bit of leverage they have.
You might be breaking free from a controlling or abusive relationship.
Alternatively, you might be reconnecting, exploring and reclaiming your sexuality in a way that is healing and empowering.
What the Devil card means in a career Tarot reading
You are in a toxic work situation, lacking freedom of expression. You might be financially comfortable, but a controlling boss or abusive client is making you feel trapped
You are walking away from an untenable working environment or situation. Hungry for a working life that provides you with more freedom, you might be exploring a new career path that is more in line with your true ambition and personal interests.