The Devil (Tarot)

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Depictions of The Devil card from various Tarot decks.

The Devil is the 15th card in the Major Arcana in most traditional Tarot decks.


In the eighteenth century this card seems to have been a symbol of animal impudicity, and not directly implying the deity Satan or the Devil. Except for a fantastic headdress, the devil is entirely naked; it has bat-like wings, and the hands and feet are represented by the claws of a bird. In the right hand there is a scepter terminating in a sign which has been thought to represent fire.

Since 1856 the influence of Éliphas Lévi and his doctrine of occultism has changed the face of this card, and it now appears as a Baphometic figure with the head of a goat and a great torch between the horns; it is seated instead of erect, and in place of the generative organs there is the Hermetic caduceus.

In the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, artist Pamela Colman Smith depicted The Devil card as the Horned Goat of Mendes, with wings like those of a bat, is standing on an altar. At the pit of the stomach is the sign of Mercury. His right hand is upraised and extended, being the reverse of that benediction which is given by The Hierophant in the fifth card. In the left hand there is a great flaming torch, inverted towards the earth. A reversed pentagram is on the forehead. There is a ring in front of the altar, from which two chains are carried to the necks of two figures, male and female. These are analogous with those of The Lovers, as if Adam and Eve after the Fall. Here, the chain is of fatality and of the material life. The figures are tailed, to signify the animal nature, but there is human intelligence in the faces, and he who is exalted above them is not to be their master for ever. Even now, he is also a bondsman, sustained by the evil that is in him and blind to the liberty of service.

Alternate names

Temptation from The Hieronymus Bosch Tarot

Some modern Tarot decks give the 15th Major Arcana card a different name. The Hieronymus Bosch Tarot, by Travis McHenry, for example, calls this card Temptation, and depicts it as the serpent in the Garden of Eden handing Eve a piece of fruit.

Divinatory meaning

In divination, this card usually indicates violence, rage, extraordinary efforts or energy, force, fatality. That which is predestined, but not necessarily evil. Sexual problems.

In reversed position, it means: Evil fatality, weakness, pettiness, and blindness.

The goat-like figure recalls the sign Capricorn in which astrology teaches that the planet Mars has its exaltation, the name Devil means evil and this alliteration holds good not only in English. Allusion to sex-problems is found in the two human figures, man and woman, chained to the pedestal on which the diabolic figure is seated. That sex- nature binds man, is a natural fact of a more or less occult order. So it has to do with generation in Nature in every sense and kingdom, though astrology teaches that Mars has a special connection with the animal kingdom and animal passion—passion which drives to the preservation of the body as well as of the race; fighting for existence in both senses of the term. The torch in the hand of the figure denotes, of course, the fire of passion and desire, which may rise to anger and rage. So it may well be said to represent the condition of the struggle for existence.

If we place The Magician by the side of the Devil we shall see that the arms of the two personages are using the same gesture, but in an inverse sense. The Magician points his right hand towards the Universe, his left hand towards God; on the other hand the Devil raises his right hand into the air, while his left points to the earth. Instead of the magic-initiating wand of the Magician, the demon holds the lighted torch, the symbol of black magic and of destruction.

Tarot Topics
Major Arcana The FoolThe MagicianThe High PriestessThe EmpressThe EmperorThe HierophantThe LoversThe ChariotStrengthThe HermitWheel of FortuneJusticeThe Hanged ManDeathTemperanceThe DevilThe TowerThe StarThe MoonThe SunJudgementThe World
Minor Arcana Pentacles AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Wands AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Cups AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Swords AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Decks Visconti-Sforza TarotTarot of MarseillesRider-Waite TarotThoth TarotOccult TarotAngel TarotVlad Dracula TarotHieronymus Bosch Tarot