A New Look At an Old Devil: Fresh Perspectives on Card XV of the Tarot Trumps

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Anne-Marie was a new client, who came to me for a Tarot reading to gain general clarity in her life. We decided to find her Year card, and then do a three card spread to fill in more detail for her year theme. 

Anne-Marie was quite distressed when the Devil, card 15 in the Major Arcana, showed as her Year card.

“I’m doomed to have a terrible year!” Tears were close, and as I took her hand to assure her that this card wasn’t scary, I was reminded of how much fear is built into the divinatory arts, and how committed I am to eradicating that fear.

“Difficult” cards like the Devil, Tower, Death, or Hanged Man can fill even experienced readers with trepidation and fear. Both the ancient history and popular media depictions of Tarot cards contribute to the unease that we may feel when powerful and challenging archetypes show up in a reading.

A History of the Devil

We’ve probably all seen scenes from movies or TV where a gypsy-like fortune teller, bejeweled and with bad lipstick gives a reading to the story’s heroine. Slowly this slightly crazed character turns over a card, the camera pans in, and the Devil (or some other dire card) is revealed. The character is warned, the music turns sinister, and we cut to the antagonist.

It’s true that in more ancient times, in the early use of the cards as fortune telling devices, cards such as the Devil were used to forecast trouble. The Devil was a powerful archetype in the largely Christian world where the cards were used. Pulling this card meant misfortune, fear, betrayal, and oppression. The image on many traditional decks was one of a half man, half goat, with people chained to him beneath his feet.

Yikes! It’s no wonder we learned to be afraid with a history like that. However, just like modern uses of astrology which emphasize a psychological interpretation based on contemporary culture, so to the Tarot has evolved to be much more complex and layered tool.

In actual fact, the goat-man isn’t Satan, but a depiction of Dionysus, or Pan, the god of revelry, wine, and desire. And while the Devil card does warn against certain pitfalls, it is a disservice to this card to stop at such a limited reading.

Playing with the Devil

I had my first true aha moment with this card when I worked with it as my Zodiac card (I’m a Capricorn). I was used to the often dark and negative stereotypes associated with Cap, and so I really wanted to dig deep with the Devil archetype. I meditated with the Devil card in my abstract deck, which shows merely an autumnal forest. I used a meditation to walk into the card and asked for deeper insights about the meaning. Through the imagery that was revealed to me, I found that indeed, the forest was dark and sometimes frightening, but in actuality was bound on all sides by green, sunny, open pastures. I could leave any time I liked. In addition, the forest was full of good smells, animals, and a sense of peace. I realized that the Devil card is about enslavement to our illusions, and that how we approach working with our fears is the key question in this card.

We’re all human. Greed, addiction, obsessive thinking, negativity — these are all part of everyday human life. Do we become controlled by our fears or addictions? Do we give our power away, or try and control others?

In the forest of my Devil card, I realized that we are not really trapped in the forest of our fears. The wood may be mysterious and dark in places, but it’s also home to wondrous creatures. It’s all in how we see it. The choice to stay in fear or darkness is just that, a choice. Ultimately we are as free as we let ourselves be, and that is the true wisdom and gift of the Devil archetype.

As a visitor to Pan’s magical wood, I had the power to come and go, to receive the wisdom of nature, and to enjoy the offerings of this physical life.

The Devil in Readings

To return to Anne-Marie’s reading, I explained to her that the Devil was a great card to spend the year working with. I assured her that he heralded opportunity for personal growth and self-knowledge. I asked her to look at what she was afraid of, the negative stories she was telling herself, or at addictions or behaviors that were actually getting in the way of her happiness.

Anne-Marie admitted that she had been hoping to finally leave a job she hated this year, but that she was immobilized by fear. She also revealed that she was struggling with weight and emotional eating as a result of her job woes.

“And if I’m addicted to anything, it’s worrying,” she said.

“Worrying is praying for what you don’t want,” I reminded her. “I know — I’m from a long line of worriers myself!”

We discussed strategies to help her stay in the present and began a series of sessions to help her take baby steps through the fear of leaving her job to create a more pleasurable reality.

The Devil is actually quite a humorous character, and just like Pan, he delights in a good time. I encouraged Anne-Marie to develop joy practices, cultivate the ability to not take herself so seriously, and referred her to a nutritional counselor to help her work on her weight issues. 

As we worked through that year of the Devil, I saw Anne-Marie take courageous steps toward creating the life that she loved. Her willingness to move past the fear of the Devil, and to dance with his higher intent for her allowed her to look honestly at her life. She was able to admit to what was holding her back and to make real and lasting changes. 

If you feel stuck in fear or negative patterns, consult an intuitive or guide. Getting help to take positive steps forward is a gift to yourself. If you want to learn more about your card for the year, contact a Keen advisor that specializes in Tarot reading

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