The Devil is always a fascinating card to approach from an interpretive standpoint. As I understand it, the paragon of evil shown in early decks was intended to be a demon (or arch-demon), not the biblical Satan; its elevation came later. There is a modern tendency to see the Devil as “not such a bad guy after all,” an unlikely beneficiary of the “no good or bad cards” mindset, but that attitude hasn’t gained much traction among experienced readers. The dominant perception seems to be that this is a card of questionable morals, and perhaps of sexual compulsion or coercion. This can range from a stimulating “wild week-end” to instances of non-consensual sexual bondage. I, for one, find this to be a rather one-dimensional perspective. There are more ways to compromise one’s scruples than by yielding to sexual obsession. Any form of shady dealing would seem to qualify.
Aleister Crowley considered this to be a card of tremendous creative potential – “creative energy in its most material form.” It is, however, a rough – even blind and chaotic – force, uniquely masculine, that is careless of the niceties of enlightened human interaction and the finer points of virtuous conduct. Crowley points out that it “takes no account of reason, custom or foresight,” and is “divinely unscrupulous.” He delights in describing it as “the goat leaping with lust upon the high places of the earth,” completely unconcerned with moralizing. It is more the instinctive and unreasoning “urge to create” than the actual execution (which requires preparation and forethought). Mars exalted in Capricorn may represent the “fiery material energy of creation,” but it isn’t much enamored of the details; it manifests the coarse “art” of the orgasmic virtuoso more convincingly than that of the consummate craftsman. Mischief-making of all kinds is also represented, thus the attribution of this card to “Mirth.” Crowley’s essay, “Laughter,” in Little Essays Toward Truth is instructive.
The Devil’s Christian counterpart, Satan, is cast as the Great Deceiver, so I tend to see this card as implying that something about the situation isn’t what it seems to be. This isn’t the foggy vagueness of the Moon card, but deliberate obfuscation designed to mislead. Devious intentions should be considered paramount in any encounter with the Devil, and manipulation is one of its signature methods for exerting control. Glamorous falsehood, flattery and temptation are related modes of enticement. Its goal is the debasement of ethical values in the pursuit of purely physical ends, an enslavement to the appetites and the tyranny of the senses. Once enmeshed in the Devil’s seamy embrace, there is no easy way out; this is reflected in the definitions of addiction and subservience. The self-abnegation involved in succumbing to dominant and submissive behaviors is evidence of the Devil’s handiwork. There is a dehumanizing callousness to its outlook on life that is long on pragmatism but short on empathy.