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The Tarot is a centuries-old system of divination that encompasses a deck of 78 cards, each with its own unique symbolism, meanings, and associations. Among these cards, few are as intriguing and enigmatic as the Devil card. Positioned as the fifteenth card in the Major Arcana, the Devil card often evokes intense emotions and a sense of foreboding. Its imagery is haunting, depicting a horned figure standing atop a pedestal, with chained figures – one male and one female – bound at its feet. In the background, a fiery landscape hints at a realm of darkness. However, despite its initial sinister appearance, the Devil card holds a multifaceted significance that delves into human nature, desires, and the concepts of bondage and liberation.

Historical origins and symbolism

The origins of the Devil card can be traced back to the early Tarot decks, such as the Visconti-Sforza Tarot from the 15th century. Its imagery evolved over time, influenced by various cultures and beliefs. The horned figure in the card bears resemblance to Pan, a Greek god associated with wilderness, lust, and freedom. Additionally, the imagery of chained figures harks back to ancient allegorical depictions of enslavement and temptation. In the context of the Tarot, the Devil card often stands as a symbol of our primal, instinctual nature. It highlights the aspects of ourselves that are driven by urges, impulses, and desires. These aspects may be materialistic, sexual, or even destructive in nature. The chains that bind the figures are not physical but symbolic, representing the ties that bind us to these base instincts and the illusion of our own limitations.

The shadow self and temptation

One of the central concepts associated with the Devil card is the idea of the shadow self. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced this concept, suggesting that individuals possess both conscious and unconscious aspects of their personalities. The shadow self represents the hidden, often darker aspects that we suppress or deny. The Devil card serves as a mirror, reflecting these hidden desires, fears, and impulses that we might prefer not to acknowledge. Temptation is another crucial element connected to the Devil card. The card urges us to confront the allure of immediate gratification, even when it contradicts our long-term well-being and growth. It warns against succumbing to short-term pleasures at the expense of our higher selves. The Devil card, in this sense, serves as a cautionary tale, inviting us to recognize the seductive power of our desires and question whether we are truly acting in our best interests.

Breaking the chains: Liberation and enlightenment

While the Devil card delves into the aspects of human nature that can lead to entrapment, it also holds the promise of liberation. The chains are not unbreakable, and the figures have the potential to free themselves. This symbolism suggests that despite the temptations and illusions that hold us back, we possess the power to overcome our baser instincts and attain a state of enlightenment. This liberation often involves a journey of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-mastery. By acknowledging our shadow selves and confronting our desires, we gain a deeper understanding of who we are. The Devil card encourages us to question societal norms, expectations, and the conditioning that may be keeping us chained. This introspective process can ultimately lead to personal transformation and growth.

The Reversed Devil Card

In Tarot readings, cards can appear in their upright or reversed positions, each holding distinct meanings. When the Devil card is reversed, its symbolism undergoes a shift. This reversal may indicate a release from the chains of materialism, addiction, or self-destructive behavior. It suggests that the querent is beginning to recognize the illusions that have been holding them captive and is actively seeking freedom from them. However, a reversed Devil card can also indicate a reluctance to confront one’s inner demons. It might point to denial or a lack of willingness to address personal issues. In some cases, it might even suggest a false sense of liberation, where the querent believes they are free but are actually still held back by their own unresolved issues.


The Devil card in the Tarot is a complex and thought-provoking symbol that speaks to the intricacies of human nature, desires, and the struggle for liberation. Its imagery of chains, the horned figure, and the bound figures creates a powerful visual representation of the forces that can hold us captive, both externally and within ourselves. By confronting these elements, the Devil card teaches us to embrace our shadow selves, recognize our desires, and actively work toward breaking free from the constraints that hinder our personal growth and enlightenment. Ultimately, the Devil card is a reminder that true liberation comes from within, through self-awareness, acceptance, and the journey toward a higher state of being.