The Devil tarot card often shows a classic Devil figure with horns, wings, and the legs of a goat, with two naked figures standing at his feet, held loosely in chains. The image in the traditional Rider Waite Smith deck is a clear inversion of the Lovers card, which depicts two naked figures standing at the feet of an angel who, on that card, is offering a blessing.
The naked figures standing with the Devil are often shown as demons with tails and horns themselves, seemingly unbothered by their tethered reality. It appears that they could remove the chains at any moment, but they do not: One of the classic illusions of the Devil card is that that is the only reality that exists.
The Devil Card as a Fall From Grace
The Devil card can be a little scary to get in a spread. One of the meanings of the Devil is, of course, that he is the source of all evil. But the archetype of the Devil is more complex than that. One of the origin stories of the Devil is that he is Lucifer—meaning “light bringer,” as he was once an angel of light who fell from heaven, defying God in a bid to create his own kingdom. Gnostics believe that the material world is Lucifer’s kingdom and that Jesus returns to free human souls from this bondage.
The Lovers card also suggests a fall from grace. The figures on that card are clearly meant to be Adam and Eve, who leave paradise when Eve tastes the fruit of knowledge, never pictured without the snake and the fruit in the Rider Waite Smith image. Some see this as an ancient tragedy, leading to all the suffering we experience as human beings. But another meaning is that Adam and Eve chose to know; to experience life as human beings who must work for their food and to have an experience outside of the perfect realm of heaven. This interpretation of being cast out of the Garden of Eden is known as the Fortunate Fall: the shift out of paradise that ultimately gave human beings the gifts of free will and the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
Many traditions, including Tantra, teach that our fundamental nature is to be One with God. We were One before we were born and we will be One again when we die. We get this brief experience on earth to explore being separate. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, the saying goes: We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
The Devil Card and Addictive Behavior
The Devil card asks us to look at what chains us. We are bound to our bodies, certainly, but also our desires, our expectations, and our destructive patterns. This isn’t always a bad thing—we want to be chained to some things during our short stay on earth, such as our loved ones and our experiences of pleasure and joy. But we can’t forget that these experiences are temporary, and that the chains are loose. There’s more to life than what we forget we are chained to.
There’s more to life than what we forget we are chained to.
In some cases, this card indicates addiction. Addictive behaviors and substances hold us in their realm, making us forget that anything else exists. They provide us temporary relief from the suffering that can come with being a human person in a flawed body. But that comes with bondage and the tendency to forget that there are other options; that, perhaps even like Adam and Eve, we can walk out of the garden of false paradise and make our lives into something else.
If this card has appeared for you, you may want to ask yourself what you are chained to. What beliefs, patterns, or addictions are holding you in a certain realm of existence? What’s preventing you from shaking off those chains and making a different choice? Who or what do you think is in control of your life, and have you got that belief quite right? Are you being tempted onto a different path? Where do you have choices? What are you willing to learn about yourself, your life, and the universe?
Learn more about the Hierophant, another powerful major arcana card.