Tarot Card Meanings: XV. The Devil

The Devil is one of the more complex cards in the deck.  Representing empirical science, desire, and material reality, it speaks of illusion and bondage.  And if, upon reading such a twining of concepts, you’re getting a strong whiff of moralistic, monotheistic pleasure-hating — I think you’re right!  Although, this is most certainly not a “safe” card.  Traditionally represented by Capricorn (The Sea-Goat) in the Western Zodiac, this card signals the need for heightened self-awareness and increased intuition.  The Devil plays with fire.  The only question is: Who shall be Master?

Traditional representations of the card generally show Baphomet, not Satan; although these two deities have been grossly conflated for quite some time.  Baphomet is a winged, hermaphroditic goat god, supposedly worshiped by the Knights Templar.  More recently, s/he was glorified by Crowley as the perfect union of opposites, the spermatozoon puncturing the ovum, the zygote, “the hieroglyph of arcane perfection” representing vision (the eye) and liberty.  The Thoth deck then takes a devoutly positive view of this card.  But it is singular in this.

The Rider-Waite deck stresses bondage and addiction, the darker and more acquisitive side of Capricorn.  Showing a traditional rendering of Baphomet, the card is matte black with a naked man and woman enchained at his/her feet.  This is the enslavement that is the flesh, the body as the ground of being, at once debased and dying and yet capable of escape by way of its very enslavement.  Or to put this another way: The Book of Revelations speaks of bodies rising up from their graves before being judged.  But why should pure spirit raise the flesh?  Because paradise and damnation are only ever experienced sensorially, and the body is the gateway to both Heaven and Hell.  It is the flesh that is punished and the flesh that is rewarded.

Dali figures the Devil brilliantly.  Half light and half dark, an androgyne plays with a dead representation against a clear blue sky.  S/he is rendered exactly as a mirror image to the Fool in the Rider-Waite, almost as if in parody, and pursues a whirligig butterfly over which s/he is the obvious master, right off a cliff.  Crudely painted hands reach out from the top left of the card, attempting to clutch at the childish figure and save him/her.

The meaning?  You own your illusions and are their master.

The warning?  The pursuit of that which you possess will lead you into harm.

The androgyne child is so focused on the whirligig butterfly that s/he ceases to perceive her/his environment.  And that which is most delightful is always the most dangerous.

Any downfall that occurs here is the result of solipsism and a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of all hierarchy.  As such, I always associate this card (regardless of the deck) with the novella Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the man who unwittingly put the “M” in “S&M”).  The novella tells the tale of a man who enjoys being dominated by women.  One day he meets Wanda, a woman who only desires to be his lover.  But as his desires are a bit more complicated than simple lovemaking, he embarks upon an education of Wanda, training her to treat him cruelly and dominate him.  She obliges, eventually becoming the monster that she was only meant to play at and dumping Severin for her equal in both beauty and cruelty.  The novella concludes with a fabulous feminist entreaty for women’s rights (read the book!) and the following moral:

Whoever allows himself to be whipped, deserves to be whipped. (210)

Frankly, Severin is being too generous with himself in the above quote, as he didn’t “allow himself to be whipped,” he trained someone to do it!  The upshot?  There is no slave that is not also the master of her/his master.  And to serve another is to have power over that entity whom one serves.  This is also the lesson of Lucifer within the Bible — once God’s most beloved servant/Angel, Lucifer did not fall — s/he quit!

When you pull The Devil, be aware that power is morally neutral and only ever exists between and betwixt two entities.  That which uplifts you can just as easily drag you down.


**While all manner of comments are welcomed, any further information pertaining to art history, symbolism, myth, cultural reverberations, and Tarot card meanings that traverse decks or lend especial light to the Universal Dali deck, specifically, are actively sought and encouraged.  I’m not using a book for these descriptions, so I may miss a reference that bears mention in relation to a card.  If you know something, please share it!

Conversely, I actively negate the astrological significations of the Trump cards within the Universal Dali deck in favor of the more traditional Thoth.  My plan is to tackle the astrological significations of the Universal Dali Trumps and their overt divergence from all norms in one article… after having described each card.  That’s a ways off.  ;)

Numerological Affiliations: 5 of Wands5 of Cups5 of Swords5 of Pentacles

Astrological Affiliations: VII. The ChariotIX. The Hermit, XXI. The World

Next in Suit: XIV. Temperance

To visit the Tarot card library, click here.

2 responses to “Tarot Card Meanings: XV. The Devil

  1. Hey Kelsey, I meant to tell you before that I find your description of this card very interesting. I’ve seen some different takes on it, but not quite in this way (this is also a new deck for me). The part about the “you own your own illusions” is a little more like what I have in the past associated with this card. One deck I’ve used a lot is Motherpeace, which has a pretty different take on things, and in that one the Devil is like the hierarchical power structure.

    • Thanks, Gray! Motherpeace is absolutely right in linking the Devil to hierarchical power structures. All of the 5’s — V, XV, and the four Minor Arcana 5’s — are about hierarchy, and they’re my least favorite group of cards. I have a new page for Tarot Card Meanings where I’ve tried to order it so the numerological groupings are a wee bit intuitive if you scroll down (1, 2 + Kings, 3 + Queens, 4, 5, 6 + Knights, 7, 8, 9, 10 + Pages). It’s not perfect and it never will be, but hopefully it’s organized for such an endeavor.

      Each Tarot card has a few meanings and different decks stress different sides. The “truth” is like the root of all. What do all interpretations or faces of The Devil card have in common? This can take some pretty deep though to uncover. Haha. ;)

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