Meaning of the Devil Card in Tarot

Karen Frazier
The Devil Card in Tarot

Temptation arises on every soul's journey through the human realm as he or she seeks to grow and change. In the tarot decks based on the Latin tarot (Tarot de Marseilles), such as the Rider-Waite-Smith-Tarot, this is represented by the major arcana card The Devil. When the Devil appears in a tarot spread, you know temptation is rearing its head and the soul on the journey has come to an important crossroads.

The Devil Symbolism

The Devil card is daunting in its imagery. The background of the card is black, and a horned devil with dragons wings sits perched above a door. Above his head is an inverted pentagram. He has one hand raised and in his other, he holds a flaming scepter pointed at the ground. At his feet, Adam and Eve are chained to the door. They have tails and horns to show they have succumbed to the Devil's temptation, but the chains are loose around their necks, as if they could easily slip away from them if they tried.

Temptation Mythology

Temptation mythology abounds throughout human history, and The Devil represents this temptation.

  • In The Bible, Matthew 4: 1 - 11 tells of Jesus's temptation by the Devil during his 40 days in the desert.
  • The Egyptian god Horus was also tempted in the desert of Amenta by his uncle Seth.
  • Prior to his enlightenment, the Buddha was also tempted by Mara.

You'll find similar temptation mythology in many hero's journeys as well, such as the temptation of Odysseus by the Sirens in The Odyssey. Succumbing to, overcoming, and/or resisting temptation are all part of the hero's journey and a necessary experience along the path to enlightenment. The Devil card in tarot is the one that represents this important part of the journey.

Place in the Major Arcana

The Devil is one in a series of major arcana cards that show tumultuous change and potential disaster, including Death and the Tower. The major arcana cards symbolically depict the progression of a soul from innocence to enlightenment, and this dark series of cards shows that along this path, a soul must meet with darker influences and move beyond them in order to progress into the light. Therefore, the Devil represents the temptations the soul must overcome in order to choose to emerge from darkness and move once again towards the light.

Numerology

The Devil is the sixteenth card in the major arcana, although it is numbered 15 (XV) because major arcana cards of the Latin tarot start with zero (0 - The Fool). In numerology, 15 reduces to 6 (1+5=6), and it represents personal responsibility. Biblically, 666 is considered the Mark of the Beast or a sign of the Devil.

Adam and Eve in Chains

The Devil isn't Adam and Eve's first appearance in the major arcana. They first appear on the card, The Lovers, which talks about the need to make choices. On the Devil, they have succumbed to temptation and made a choice that has bound them to darkness, but it's interesting to note how loose their chains are. While they may feel enslaved by the choices they have made, in fact the looseness of the chains suggest escaping the consequences of giving in to temptation by making another choice is an easy possibility.

The Devil in a Tarot Spread

When the Devil appears in a tarot spread, it indicates someone or something is giving in to temptations that may not serve their best interests. Other potential interpretations include:

  • It may indicate someone has entered the querent's life who may lead them into darkness.
  • It may indicate a temptation that could lead the querent into a dark period.

For example, in a love reading, it may suggest the querent has succumbed to darker urges such as lust instead of true love, or in a financial reading it may suggest the querent is taking the easy path that may lead to short-term gain but long-term disaster. When the Devil appears, it tells you to check your motivations and see if you are giving into temptation that won't serve you in the long-term.

The Devil Reversed

When reversed, the Devil has a generally positive meaning. It may suggest obstacles will be more easily overcome than you think, or it may indicate what seems like very difficult circumstances will be easily overcome.

Temptation Is Part of the Journey

Everyone faces temptation at various points in their lives, but it is through personal choice and behaviors that each decides how they move through and beyond it. Facing temptation provides the opportunity to define who you are, and when successfully dealt with, it is part of the progression from innocence to enlightenment.

Meaning of the Devil Card in Tarot