The Tarot Devil card meaning in a nutshell:
The pain and delight
of giving in to temptation.
The Tarot Devil is all about temptation and how we're often enslaved by our lust. There are many other devils, pointing to other vices and weaknesses of mankind. This one focuses on sexual aspects, which makes it much less frightening.
At the time of the production of this Tarot card deck, the beginning of the 20th century, lust was generally regarded as a sin, and sex was shameful - at least out of wedlock. Times have changed, though not completely and not everywhere. Still, modern society usually has a much brighter view on the sexual urges and their satisfaction than what the picture on the Tarot Devil card implies.
There are indeed many devils, in such a way that the ideas about what the devil signifies varies through time as well as from one congregation to another.
The fallen angel of the Old Testament usually tried to expose people as not being that very devoted to their god. Sin was to deviate from the path man was supposed to travel. When the praise of chastity grew in the monasteries and around them, as a way of remaining fidel to God, so did the condemnation of lust and sex. A good Christian was supposed to deny carnal instincts and become spiritual, almost as if leaving the body already in this life.
In such a world, the Tarot Devil would be the one tempting people to give in to their carnal desires. But there have been different views of the devil as well as of what is sin.
Goethe in his Faust made the devil a clever guy who revealed people's hypocrisy, thereby sort of doing God's work. Occultists in the early 20th century and onwards, such as Aleister Crowley of The Golden Dawn, saw the devil as a representation of the necessity to liberate oneself of inhibitions, in order to realize one's full potential as a human being. That devil was sort of a challenger.
In comparative religion, the devil is definitely what's called a trickster, a divinity acting as sort of a mediator between gods and men, often working for the benefit of the latter against the will of the former. A revolutionary of sorts.
But back to the Devil portrayed on this Tarot card. He sits like a ruler of the enchained woman and man, who also have horns on their heads, albeit small ones. That makes them wilfully enchained - two persons giving in to their temptations.
The Tarot Devil card should be compared to that of the Lovers, who are guarded by an angel and who seem to remain in chastity. It's Eros against Agape - carnal love against spiritual. This Tarot deck condemns the former and praises the latter. But life would cease to exist without both.
So, the Tarot Devil is not necessarily a card about evil things happening. It's about temptation and satisfaction, lust and passion and boundless delight. It's about challenging one's limitations and inhibitions, daring to question established morals, revolting against prejudice.
When the Tarot Devil card represents a person, it's somebody doing just that. When the Devil card represents an event, it's an opportunity to do that.
In short, the Tarot Devil card asks the question: Do you dare to fall for your temptation, and if not - do you have the strength to resist it?
As for the image of the devil, which we are quite familiar with, its inspiration is bound to come from Greek and Roman mythical creatures, such as Pan, the Fauns, and Satyrs. The horns are there, the goat legs too. Also, Pan and the others are notoriously lustful and uninhibited in the myths – the very opposite of what the Bible seems to preach.
Pan and Daphnis. Roman copy of a Hellenistic sculpture.
A. E. Waite's Texts
15. The Devil. In the eighteenth century this card seems to have been rather a symbol of merely animal impudicity. Except for a fantastic head-dress, the chief figure is entirely naked; it has bat-like wings, and the hands and feet are represented by the claws of a bird. In the right hand there is a sceptre terminating in a sign which has been thought to represent fire. The figure as a whole is not particularly evil; it has no tail, and the commentators who have said that the claws are those of a harpy have spoken at random. There is no better ground for the alternative suggestion that they are eagle's claws. Attached, by a cord depending from their collars, to the pedestal on which the figure is mounted, are two small demons, presumably male and female. These are tailed, but not winged. Since 1856 the influence of Eliphas Levi and his doctrine of occultism has changed the face of this card, and it now appears as a pseudo-Baphometic figure with the head of a goat and a great torch between the horns; it is seated instead of erect, and in place of the generative organs there is the Hermetic caduceus. In Le Tarot Divinatoire of Papus the small demons are replaced by naked human beings, male and female, who are yoked only to each other. The author may be felicitated on this improved symbolism.
About the Tarot Devil Card
The Inner Symbolism of the Tarot Devil Card
The design is an accommodation, mean or harmony, between several motives mentioned in the first part. The Horned Goat of Mendes, with wings like those of a bat, is standing on an altar. At the pit of the stomach there is the sign of Mercury. The right hand is upraised and extended, being the reverse of that benediction which is given by the Hierophant in the fifth card. In the left hand there is a great flaming torch, inverted towards the earth. A reversed pentagram is on the forehead. There is a ring in front of the altar, from which two chains are carried to the necks of two figures, male and female. These are analogous with those of the fifth card, as if Adam and Eve after the Fall. Hereof is the chain and fatality of the material life.
The figures are tailed, to signify the animal nature, but there is human intelligence in the faces, and he who is exalted above them is not to be their master for ever. Even now, he is also a bondsman, sustained by the evil that is in him and blind to the liberty of service. With more than his usual derision for the arts which he pretended to respect and interpret as a master therein, Eliphas Levi affirms that the Baphometic figure is occult science and magic. Another commentator says that in the Divine world it signifies predestination, but there is no correspondence in that world with the things which below are of the brute. What it does signify is the Dweller on the Threshold without the Mystical Garden when those are driven forth therefrom who have eaten the forbidden fruit.
Divinatory Meaning of the Tarot Devil Card
Ravage, violence, vehemence, extraordinary efforts, force, fatality; that which is predestined but is not for this reason evil. Reversed: Evil fatality, weakness, pettiness, blindness.
The Tarot Major Arcana
- The Magician
- The High Priestess
- The Empress
- The Emperor
- The Hierophant
- The Lovers
- The Chariot
- The Hermit
- Wheel of Fortune
- The Hanged Man
- The Devil
- The Tower
- The Star
- The Moon
- The Sun
- The World
- The Fool
This book by Stefan Stenudd presents an imaginative reading of the divination cards, i.e. focusing on what impressions the images and their symbols give. Several spreads are introduced, as well as the meanings of all the 78 cards and their pictures. Also, it gives many examples of symbolic and allegorical imagery within and beyond the Tarot. This book will help you find your own intuitive way of making inspired Tarot card readings. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.