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The Devil Card really is a mishmash of religious symbolism that would give Jung nightmares in its inconsistency. It is the ultimate bondage card, but it is also a “get-out-of-jail-free!” card, a warning of the excesses of enjoying life, too much responsibility, the effects of tyranny, complacency, bad partnerships, lack of foresight, and the dangers of playing with matches.
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The Devil Card is another fun card, one your clients will no doubt enjoy seeing in their spread. Señor Diablo is waving at the crowd for the publicity shots in hell. (They were going for an image makeover that never really caught on). It’s not so much that he is trying to hide his torch as it is that he lit the man’s tail on fire for effect. Leave aside all of the endless arguments of “Christian devil versus Eliphas Lévi’s* pagan horned-god rendition” and just call this guy the Devil and be done with it. He perches on his throne and Adam and Eve get to rot in hell for all eternity (until you turn the card upside down of course). (*his cool nom de plume)
The (Christian) devil allegedly promises fun but in the end only brings pain. Whether that is true or not (we haven’t met the guy so we are not 100% certain of this fact), the emphasis of this meaning is the loss of “life” that folly brings. This goes back to The Hanging Man (or The Hanged Man to the uninitiated). This is the esoteric state of the dancing to exhaustion, the hangover after an “all-nighter,” the drudgery of endless routine, or the seemingly endless contractual obligations after one has committed to a quest.
When this card shows up in a reading, it usually indicates physical incapacitation. “You are stuck—here.” This could be a bad marriage, a boring job (with the obligatory evil boss), an extended hospital stay, waiting—endless waiting for other people to fulfill their obligations so you can move on, or any other slow systematic torture that seems well beyond the control of your client to change or eliminate. As such, it needs to be opened up to find the root cause of this, and then re-opened to find the “way out.” This is obviously a concept card and almost never directly relates to an individual or a single event, unless it is speaking as a purely visual example of your client’s emotional experience (“That ‘mandatory office Christmas party’ was four hours of hell while I was hit on by every upper-management troglodyte over 50!”).
Occasionally this card will (like the devil) play tricks on you and show up as variations of its central theme. This is why we avoid hard, fast meanings in the Tarot. For one client of yours this card may be the ruination brought on by some action or lifestyle (“Hi, I lost my job, my wife, my great life to the evils of alcohol . . .”) and thirty minutes later another one of your male corporate executive clients comes in who is being sued by his dominatrix and he is afraid that his wife will find out and divorce him (this is a poetic interpretation by the Tarot, combining the meanings of oppression, bondage, and a sense of hopelessness). This card is the embodiment of evil in a philosophical sense and in a very real “so and so did/is doing this to me” kind of way. It is far more important to understand how to tease answers from this card than it is to memorize any set interpretations.
Traditional reversed meaning: This is where the “get-out-of-jail-free!” part comes in. When reversed, The Devil indicates a release or an escape from oppression. Again, this can be on a number of levels. It’s like squeezing a giant pimple. It’s not very pretty, but the release of pressure that has been nagging at you for what seems like forever feels good in an almost “guilty pleasure” sense. Unlike Death, where things are usually pretty cut-and-dry, The Devil oozes along, leaving a trail of odor that lingers for a while. While this indicates that the worst is over (leaving that bad job, abusive relationship, beating cancer, etc.) there is still both stigma and consequence that has to be cleansed before things can be “totally normal” again.
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