Saturday, February 5, 2011

the devil inside

"We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell." ~Oscar Wilde

I can think of no better quote to sum up the Tarot card called The Devil.  Along with The Tower and Death - The Devil is one of those cards that no one likes to see come up in a reading. 

When you look at the card, one thing you should be aware of is that the devil featured is far removed from the Pagan god he is based on. The christian devil is in fact a bastardised version of the Greek god Pan - who for many people has become the personification of the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle. Pan is also the god of fields, groves, wooded glens and sensual music  - but it's the fact that he's often depicted with, and also using, his quite sizable phallus that got him in so much trouble with the church later on. Pan, with his associated connotations of sexuality and free and easy  ways has earned him a new name in christian folklore and he's suffered quite the damaged image because of that.

So what does it mean when The Devil turns up in a reading? Of course, more than a little depends on just where this major arcana card lies in the Tarot spread and the other cards surrounding it, but there is also a universal meaning behind the Devil as well.

The people depicted in the card look like naked slaves chained to the Devil's throne by some stout looking hardware - strangely however, they don't resist; they aren't in motion, nor are they trying to free themselves. The devil behind them squats, looking out pretty ferociously; the inverted pentacle over his third eye speaking loudly of the triumph of the base animalistic self over our spiritual self. The chained couple even have animal tails, which is symbolic of them having followed their baser instincts. We can also see the card as a perverted progression onwards from The Lovers card; after having fallen from Eden, the man and the woman now find themselves chained to the altar of addictive destruction, the benevolent angel behind them now replaced by the winged devil.

The situation looks restrictive and hopelessly black and dark - until we take a closer look....

Take another peek at those heavy chains. Can you see how loose they actually are around the couples' necks? They could both lift those chains off with not too much effort at all and be free of them if they wanted to - and really, that's what this card is all about. 

The couple have created their own hell and their own confinement. They stay chained to their beast out of a lack of self empowerment.  When I see this card I ask myself, why have they chained themselves up? How has everything gotten so grim and why are they just standing there? 

The Devil crouched over them is ultimately a bogey man of their own making. When you think about it, no one else but ourselves could pinpoint our personal weaknesses and home in on our own vulnerabilities and temptations better than we can ourselves. We are our very own Devil and our personal inner Devil's face is mirrored in our addictions, our inactions, the way we treat others and the choices we make in life. 

I firmly believe that all of us, no matter what our path, will come to a point in life where we will have to decide if want to keep wearing our own personal chains of self flagellation around our necks. If we choose to remove them, then we will have to risk meeting the Devil inside and face what exactly it is that chains us to our self imposed hell. To lift off those restrictions and free ourselves, we need to ask some very pertinent questions about our false illusions, frustrations, blockages and losses. Most importantly, we need look our fears in the face and ask how we'll cope when we finally give up the temptations, addictions and obsessions that keep us chained.

The Devil is the only card in the tarot with a completely black background, and I'm sure that's to illustrate the fact that the darkest times of our soul always occur before we finally see the light.  I feel The Devil card speaks of the potential of restrictions finally being recognised and acknowledged before the powerful cleansing changes of the next card in the tarot, The Tower, can take place. 

But as always - it's our free will that decides where we end up. The Devil is not necessarily a card of hopelessness - it's more like a promise reminding us that what's broken inside us always has the potential to be mended.


  1. People forget that tarot is very symbolic and tend to take things at first glance. The Death card is probably the most feared and misunderstood card in the deck. Both of these cards really aren't as bad as people believe them to be. It's all about change, not doom.

    Pamela Colman Smith, the artist responsible for the Rider-Waite deck, put a lot of thought into each image. It's ironic to note that the women responsible for the most famous tarot images in the world died in debt and hardly recognized for her other artistry and writings.

  2. I get all angsty when The Tower appears... I have a bad reaction to that card. It's foretold broken promises and ill-health and life changes. To me the Devil is more of a kick up the bum wake up call. The Tower is like being hit by the ton of bricks that happen to be all that's left of your formerly safe house.

    Thanks for the info about Pamela Colman Smith, I have to say however that I do prefer the less garish and more luminous Radiant R.W deck (as re-coloured by Virginijus Poshkus) than the original cards.


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