When the Devil card appears in a Tarot reading people have strong reactions. “Does this mean I am evil?” they ask, or “Is evil around me?” they wonder. Neither is the case, although the second fear comes closest to the implication of this card. The Devil appears stark and sinister, a demonic looking beast seated authoritatively, smugly watching as a distortion of the “lovers” stand in chains at his feet. There is often black or dark backgrounds, flames appear and we know this is an indicator of difficulties encountered by the Querent in his or her journey. The Devil in Tarot is a helpful indicator, though. Not to be confused with the presence of evil, this card represents the presence of an interpersonal type of evil; the enslavement brought on by compulsion and addiction.
It is no surprise that during prohibition alcohol was likened to and called “the devil” or a “demon” and people describe embarking on rehabilitation processes as personally being called to “face their inner demons.” A popular Irish folk song calls Whiskey the “devil” and “Demon Rum” was a popular term in days past to conjure the reality of those living with alcoholism, and alcoholics, in American history. The Devil here is not portraying an evil person or entity, it is alerting the Querent to the fact that their life is being drained and slowly overtaken by some form of compulsion or addiction. Looking at the other cards, or discussing this with the Querent can often yield clues as to what that addiction is.
Regardless of the external vehicle for one’s addiction, it is a force to be reckoned with. It assumes a position of power, becoming an obsession and taking priority over all other goals and relationships. High moral posturing aside, those who have been acquainted with the demon of addiction know all too well that no one is spared its influence.
A loving parent will follow the inner obsession with their child in the sidelines; a dedicated worker will find their career infiltrated by the infestation of their addiction. It creeps in gradually with allure and seduction and slowly takes hold, taking no prisoners. Usually before one realizes it, the wondrously gratifying illusion they have been pursuing has brought havoc to their lives and relationships, naturally they simply try to leave, only to find they are fastened in place by heavy chains that are not so easily unlocked. Just as the fellowships of AA and NA propose that it takes a power greater than an individual to restore “sanity” in the grips of an addiction, so do we see the powerful clutches holding the Querent in slavery, likewise sucking away any chance at spiritual progress so long as the Querent remains in bondage.
When this card appears, there is a need for some higher intervention, a greater perspective, and a force larger than will or ego to help break the chains tying the figures to each other and the Devil. What that powerful benevolent force will be will depend on the situation. It will involve some form of spirituality that has been missing from this dark vacuum of compulsion and obsession, but the type and manner can be varied based on the individual’s lifestyle and circumstances.
When the Devil appears be ready to face facts; something that began as rewarding and pleasurable, fun and positively reinforcing, has taken on a life of its own. What has enslaved you? What do you feel you cannot live without? Are there relationships that have become compulsive, needy and codependent? Has work become an obsession, draining energy from you and keeping you from nurturing other goals? Are substances like alcohol, pills, drugs, or even food carrying more significance than they should? Are processes such as gambling, cleaning, exercising or care-taking defining you more than your spiritual path, leaving no room to have a life? These questions can be difficult to answer because as dark as the Devil is, this card also represents a sense of need and often accompanies a belief that the substance, behavior, or relationship is needed and that without it life would not be manageable. This is a false illusion.
It can be useful to contemplate both the Devil and Lovers card and meditate on what has been missing, what is needed to set the figures involved free again. As always don’t hesitate to seek professional help if matters seem to be beyond your personal control, and when the Devil card appears there is a pretty good chance things have reached that point.