The Devil card raises a lot of questions. Is it evil? Is it a sign of demon possession, or some kind of demonic influence in your life? Is it a sign that tarot is evil?
As with so many other cards in the Major Arcana, it’s important to look past the name. Interpreting the imagery and symbolism of the card yields a much more useful meaning.
About The Devil
- Keywords: Addiction, obsession, abuse, powerlessness, a manipulator
- Keywords (Reversed): Overcoming addiction, pettiness, weakness, taking steps toward freedom
- Yes or No: No
- Yes or No (Reversed): Maybe
- Element: Earth
- Zodiac Sign: Capricorn
The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot’s depiction of The Devil draws heavily from French esotericist Éliphas Lévi Zahed’s illustration of Baphomet. Pamela Colman Smith’s Devil has birdlike feet, goatlike legs, a goat’s head, and batlike wings.
An inverted pentagram sits between his horns, and he holds his right hand pointing skyward, and his left pointing downward while holding a torch. He squats precariously on a narrow, rectangular altar set with a massive iron ring.
Two nude demons, one male and one female, are chained to this ring. The female demon’s tail is green and red, with a tip shaped like a cluster of grapes. The male demon’s tail is red and orange, with a tip of flame.
The background of the card is solid black, leaving all of the focus on the three figures in front.
In older decks, like the Tarot de Marseille, The Devil is given a more medieval look. He’s shown with stag horns, a face on his stomach, eyes on his knees, paws, and human sexual characteristics — including large breasts and a phallus. Similarly to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, two demons are chained before him.
This is a card of sex, obsession, power, manipulation, and indulgence. Passion is represented by flames, and the fruit of one demon’s tail represents earthly pleasure.
The Devil sits with one hand pointing above, and the other below, gesturing that “as above, so below.” This is a reference to Hermetic philosophy, but, in this context, can also be viewed in the light of manipulation — as within, so without, and a manipulative figure uses mental games to control a person’s outward actions.
The Devil Meaning (Upright)
In general, The Devil symbolizes a situation with has gained power over you. This can be a manipulative figure in your life, addiction, materialism, anxiety, or depression. Whatever it might be, you may feel chained to it — just like the hapless demons in the image. At some point, this person or situation has taken your power from you.
Sometimes, this card indicates an obsession or compulsion. In any case, you feel that your behavior has gone beyond your control. You may struggle with drinking, overeating, drug abuse, or an addition to sex or shopping, and feel that there isn’t anything you can do. These things no longer bring fulfillment, but you may think you lack the power to stop them.
If you look closely at the two demons, they aren’t happy to be chained to The Devil. That said, the only things chained are their necks — their hands are free. They still have the power to escape, if they so choose. Even if your progress seems incremental right now, you can still take steps to get out from under your own, personal Devil.
As a signifier, The Devil can stand for a manipulator or abuser. They may be a parent, spouse, frenemy, boss, or anyone else — the relationship isn’t particularly important. What matters is that this figure has gaslit you into giving them power.
The Devil Meaning (Reversed)
The Devil reversed is a sign of progress. If The Devil upright highlights a loss of control, The Devil reversed indicates an awareness of this loss. You’ve acknowledged that there’s a major problem here, and may even be taking the first steps toward freeing yourself.
This can also indicate pettiness, weakness, or ineffectual shows of force. As a person, The Devil reversed is someone who’s weak or ridiculous and is attempting to take power over you. This may even be a manipulator who’s begun to lose their grip on their victims.
Bear in mind that The Devil doesn’t let their victims go willingly. Even if you’re battling an addiction, rather than a person, the fight is going to be long and difficult. Stay alert, be aware, and avoid slipping back into old patterns — they will only get you ensnared again.
See also: Check out alternate Tarot decks here.
The Devil Meaning – Love & Relationships (Upright)
In a love reading, The Devil indicates that someone is feeling trapped. One partner may be suffocating or obsessive, which has the other feeling smothered.
It can also point to a relationship that’s held together by unhealthy emotional highs and lows, hedonism, and mind games. There may be a severe case of co-dependency. This isn’t a healthy or sustainable situation.
If you’re single, The Devil may point to using sex as a substitute for an emotional connection. There’s nothing wrong with hooking up, as long as you do so safely and it’s what you truly want.
If you’re allowing yourself to be used as a temporary sex partner in the hopes that it will turn into a relationship, you’re only setting yourself up for pain.
The Devil Meaning – Love & Relationships (Reversed)
When The Devil appears reversed in a love reading, he indicates a close call. It’s possible that you or your partner came very close to doing something unforgivable.
You may have been subject to abuse, which finally pushed you to break things off before they got worse. You may also have recently recognized some negative emotional patterns and chosen to break them, rather than allow them to control you.
Your work here isn’t done, but you’ve gotten started. It’ll take some time and effort to heal and repair things.
If you’re single, The Devil reversed can signify that you’re finally recognizing your worth. You may have been willing to put up with a lot in order to receive another person’s love, but people looking for that kind of relationship aren’t looking for a lover — just a target.
It’s time to take care of yourself, and work on your feelings of independence and self-sufficiency.
The Devil Meaning – Careers, Business & Money (Upright)
When it comes to careers and business, The Devil is the job you hate. It’s the boss you resent, and the paycheck you depend on. It’s every night you spend staying up too late, because you don’t want tomorrow morning to come yet. You may feel trapped there because it helps you pay your bills, but suffer undue stress because of it.
Remember: You don’t need to stay there. Your labor has value. Your boss isn’t doing you a favor by hiring you; this is a mutually beneficial arrangement. If it’s no longer benefitting you, it’s time to either renegotiate, or leave. You have the power to seek your freedom.
In a money context, finances are likely to be tight right now. This is likely to be due to factors that are within your control. Take an honest look at your spending, and see where you can cut back to bring things back into balance. This card sometimes indicates compulsive shopping or gambling addictions.
The Devil Meaning – Careers, Business & Money (Reversed)
Just like in other contexts, The Devil reversed in a career or business reading shows that you’re starting to see your situation with more clarity. You’ve realized that your job has begun to dominate your life, and that you’re suffering because of it.
You may have even started to take the necessary steps to improve your situation. Good job!
Financially, The Devil reversed indicates that you’ve started to rein in some of your negative spending habits. It’s going to take a while before you’re completely clear of them, but you’ve made the first steps. Keep going, and you’ll be on the way to financial stability and freedom.
The Devil: Yes or No?
The Devil often gets a worse rap than this card deserves. Nonetheless, as a card of negativity, control, and manipulation, it’s still a “No” in “Yes or No” readings. It often indicates that malevolent circumstances outside of your control are keeping you from the outcome you want.
When reversed, The Devil is more like a “Maybe.” Its meaning is definitely better than when it’s upright, but still indicates challenges and difficulties. The situation isn’t dire, but there’s a strong chance that things might not work out favorably.
The Devil is one of the few cards whose upright and reversed meanings don’t change significantly. Both orientations highlight a potentially dangerous situation, but the reversal indicates that you’re starting to make progress toward getting out of it.
When The Devil appears in a reading, pay close attention. Avoiding this warning can cost you everything.
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