The Devil (Tarot card)

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Rider-Waite-Smith Devil (XV).

The Devil (XV) is the fifteenth trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks. It is used in game playing as well as in divination.


In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Devil is derived in part from Eliphas Levi's famous illustration "Baphomet" in his Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (1855). In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Devil has harpy feet, ram horns, bat wings, a reversed pentagram on the forehead, a raised right hand and lowered left hand with a torch. He squats on a square pedestal with two naked human demons—one male, one female, with tails who are chained to it. Baphomet has bird wings, goat horns, a raised right hand, lowered left hand, breasts and a torch on his head and also combines human and animal features. Many modern Tarot decks portray the Devil as a satyr-like creature. The satyr in Pan's Labyrinth is a good example of this creature. According to Waite, the Devil is standing on an altar.[1] In his left hand, the Devil holds a great flaming torch inverted towards the earth.

Eliphas Levi says in his book, Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual that:

"A reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces because it overturns the proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit. It is the goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns, a sign execrated by initiates." In Native American tarot, the attribution is often more complex than this.[2]

In pre-Eliphas Levi Tarot decks like the Tarot of Marseille, the devil is portrayed with breasts, a face on the belly, eyes on the knees, lion feet and male genitalia. He also has bat-like wings, antlers, a raised right hand, a lowered left hand and a staff. Two creatures with antlers, hooves and tails are bound to his round pedestal.

Divination usage[edit]

The Devil of the Tarot is a fairly standard European depiction of Satan. Here the Devil appears before Pope Sylvester II in a British manuscript.

Some frequent keywords used by tarot readers include:[citation needed]

  • Materialism — Ignorance — Stagnation — Self-bondage
  • Lust — Egoism — Obsession — Anxiety — Anger
  • Hedonism — Passion — Instincts — Racism
  • Sexuality — Temptation — Doubt — Vice
  • Futility — Physical attraction — Pessimism — Insight


The Devil card can be interpreted as being bound to indulgence preventing a person from growing or becoming healthy—an example might be alcoholism. On the other hand, however, it can be interpreted as being too calculated, restrained and/or dispassionate and never allowing a rash, wild or ambitious moment.

The Devil is the 15th card of the Major Arcana, and is associated with Earth and Capricorn. Though many decks portray a stereotypical Satan figure for this card, it is more representative of bondage to material things than an evil persona. It also indicates an obsession or addiction to fulfilling our own Earthly desires. Should the Devil represent a person, it will most likely be one of money and power, one who is persuasive, aggressive, and controlling. In any case, it is most important that the querent understand the ties that bind are worn freely.

Mythopoetic approach[edit]

The Devil is both the Ur-Adversary, and a tremendous source of strength. He represents nearly an inexhaustible source of energy. Battling him gives us strength. Submitting to him completely is ego-death.[who?]

As with The Magician, the iconography of most of the standard Tarot suits appear. His wings represent Air, the suit of Swords. The torch in his hands, and the flames in the tail of the male devil represent Fire, the suit of Wands. The grapes in the tail of the female devil invoke Earth; the same grapes appear in most of the cards in the suit of Disks. Only water, Cups are missing. On one level, this is curious; water is of the unconscious, and The Devil dwells in the subconscious. On another level it is heartbreaking; what is missing from the Devil’s realm is The Grail, the kindly blessings of the Cup. [3] [4]

Perhaps to make up for the lack of water, the kindlier aspects of this card can be seen in the Two of Cups.

If the Major Arcana is analogized to the Sun’s circle across the sky, The Devil governs the Sun at midnight, when it is most vulnerable to the Old Night. The ancient Egyptians tell of the serpent demon Apophis, Chaos, who would sometimes lay in wait for Ra, the Sun, as he floated in his boat across the sky piloted by Set (before he fell to the dark side) to be born again in the morning. Sometimes, Apophis would swallow the Sun. Mercifully, the reversals of the night brought Set to an unlikely rescue; he ripped Apophis open and let the Sun escape. Set, The Devil, is the adversary but sometimes, he is our best and only ally. [3] [4]

In Jungian terms, he is The Shadow: all the repressed, unmentioned or unmentionable desires that lurk beneath.

The Devil is related both through his cross sum (sum of the digits) and his iconography with Key VI, The Lovers. Both cards speak to our drives; the drives that take us out of the garden. The central character in each is winged; each lives in the archetypal ether. Each is crowned: the Angel in The Lovers with fire, The Devil by a Pentagram and ram’s horns. Above each rides a naked man and a naked woman. But in The Lovers, there is still some sense of newness, wholesomeness, and hope; in The Devil they are chained by the neck and partially transformed into creatures of the underworld; transformed by their taste of the darkness; by the fruit of the underworld. The chains are loose. They can be slipped. The Devil’s own torch can light the way out and light the return, back to the surface. [3] [4]

Popular culture[edit]

  • TV series Reaper has an escaped soul working as a fortune-teller who discovers the identity of Sam the Reaper by turning over several devil tarot cards.
  • In the popular video game series, Tekken, The Devil can be seen as an antagonist throughout the series. Four people in the series have been controlled by the Devil: Kazuya Mishima, Jin Kazama, Jinpachi Mishima, and Azazel.
  • In Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (from the Kingdom Hearts series) the Devil is one of Luxord's cards that he uses as weapons.
  • In the SNES video game Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, the Devil is portrayed as a one-eyed nearly-nude demon with a big horn on his forehead like a unicorn, holding a blue flame on his right hand and taking control of a woman with his left hand. On drawing the Tarot card after liberation of one of the towns, it lowers the Reputation Meter by 1 or 2 points, and summons the demon Asmodeus to use a strong black magic attack on the enemy units when used in battle.[5]

References & notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, by Arthur Waite
  2. ^ Sparrowhawk, Harry in Native American Tarot (Gonzalez and Weck, eds.) 1981.
  3. ^ a b c Origins of Tarot
  4. ^ a b c Tarot Heritage
  5. ^ Ogre Battle - Tarot Cards

External links[edit]