XV - The Devil

XV - The Devil - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

One of the most misunderstood cards of the Major Arcana the Devil represents temptation, scrutiny, respect, and the recognition of authority. By nature, the Devil is a figure who holds dominion over every human being as consequence of original sin; beyond the Christian symbolism it is worth remembering here regardless of your religious beliefs that humanity was never taught to be evil, it is in our nature, when left unchecked humanity commits acts of unbridled cruelty with an infinite capacity to harm. What we have done in our name throughout history is the consequence of our own free will.

It is our choices that determine the calibre of our being, not our nature, being evil is easy it requires little conscious effort, whereas goodness requires effort and sacrifice both of which conflict with our desire to stagnate and pursue paths of least resistance. This is one of the reasons why we are encouraged not to attempt to eliminate all negativity from our lives, as the proverb goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” – we must recognise that struggle in life and resistance from the Universe attempts to guide us not to encourage us to fall idle.

In the upright state the Devil represents the balance between want and need once more, where Temperance focused on these aspects as we relate to the world and the Universe, here the Devil focuses inward on the way we treat ourselves. Procrastination, immediate gratification, imposter syndrome, cognitive dissonance, and self-doubt among others all play a role in convincing us that we cannot achieve our goals or that we are better served by accepting our current state and making no effort to change it. This is a deal we make or break with ourselves and the focus that the Devil card asks us to consider. Balancing our desires and understanding where to draw the line in self-indulgence is the question we have to answer.

In the inverted state these are taken in opposing measures and we are asked to consider how critical we are being of ourselves and to weigh the efforts we have made thus far and recognise where those efforts have been made and the cost we have paid so far.

It is easy to write off our own efforts if they have not produced visible or tangible results, but the elements of preparation and training should not be overlooked; the future is unknown to us and whilst we may dismiss our efforts in the moment as wasted, we often look back in hindsight with gratitude that we developed the skills and abilities we have by investing time and effort in the past. The act of preparation in itself should be considered justified in the moment, even if we do not yet know what it is we are actually preparing for.

In the Rider-Waite deck, the Devil card depicts Adam and Eve bound in chains to a door upon with the Devil sits. Adam and Eve have both grown horns and sprouted tails representing the dominion of the Devil. Eve’s tail is topped with a pomegranate representing fertility and pain in childbirth the punishment God gave for eating from the tree of knowledge. Adam’s tail is topped with fire from the tree of life representing the life outside Eden that God sentenced humanity to as punishment.

Adam and Eve are both engulfed in darkness, with the Devil bearing a torch in his left hand tipped with flame representing the illumination of knowledge persisting in offering humanity an alternative to blissful ignorance of what lies in the darkness. A word of warning is given here that Adam and Eve remained bound, awareness of the threats lying in the darkness will not deliver them from those threats nor will it offer any protection.

Our awareness of what lies within the darkness feeds our anxiety, the more we know of its depth the more we anticipate that depth. From a statistical standpoint the field of Psychology has examined the correlation between depression and intelligence at length and found the higher your level of intelligence the more likely you are to experience depression, anxiety, and a myriad of mental illnesses.

This serves to remind us that the infinite capacity held within darkness whilst seductive should not be entertained with devotion, light is a powerful weapon against darkness but it requires effort to kindle, the greater our awareness of that darkness and its depth becomes, the brighter that light must become and the more effort it takes to maintain.

An inverted cross can be seen in the right-hand palm of the Devil representing the negation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Famously when Saint Peter was crucified, he was sentenced to crucifixion upon an inverted cross believing himself unworthy of dying in the same manner as Jesus. The inverted cross represents the antithesis of Jesus, whilst often associated with the antichrist here it literally serves as the depiction of undoing the sacrifice that absolved humanity of its original sin.

The Devil ultimately serves as the embodiment of bargaining, temptation, and scrutiny, The Devil represents objectivity, judgement free from sanctimony, and amorality as a preference in recognition of the subjective nature of morality, all of this in an attempt to avoid inherent bias.

In self-reflection this card can be useful as a prompt to remove the elements of morality and ethicality from the equation and judge your behaviour instead in terms of a contract or transaction, what price is being paid, what is being given in return, and is that payment worth it.

Where Strength represented the awareness of the impact on the four domains that our actions have and whether the toll is worth paying, that decision was made in the context of morality and our beliefs. Similarly, the Hierophant represented the question of desire versus expectation. Both of these cards are combined by the Devil and the element of expectation and morality are removed.

The Devil serves as a reframing of the question of the distinction between want and need prompting you to apply it to your emotional domain and to consider the distinction between desire and necessity – is your pursuit something you actually want or just something you have convinced yourself you want?

The concepts of good and evil are subjective but these concepts often originate in outside sources that inform the development of our own sense of morality and judgement. What we believe to be good and evil relate heavily to the values that have been instilled within us by others. The Devil serves as objection to external authority. In the religious sense, Adam and Eve submitted to the authority of God in the Garden of Eden, their values and morals were defined by God, it was the Devil through temptation that convinced them to question that authority and make decisions for themselves.

As a card the Devil serves to prompt that question “Do I actually believe this?” or “Would I still want that if they hadn’t convinced me not to pursue the alternative?” – the purpose here is to deconstruct your beliefs and disconnect them from your decision-making process, instead encouraging you to think about the questions you ask based on what you actually believe.

Ultimately the Devil serves as a prompt to understand your decision-making process rather than the impact of that decision as opposed to the Pope and Strength which emphasise “Should I?” and “Can I?” respectively, the Devil asks “How do I decide?” and “Why would I want to?”

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