One of the most well-known tunes by Australian rock band INXS is the breathy “Devil Inside,” with singer Michael Hutchence doing his best Lou-Reed-meets-Billy-Idol impersonation. I heard it a few days ago and it got me thinking about the tarot Devil and its somewhat disjointed jumble of meanings. A widespread belief is that the card simply stands for temptation, usually of the sexual variety, in the sense of “the Devil made me do it.” Being led astray by enticing but ultimately self-destructive urges is a common interpretation, and there is often a seductively delusional aura about it. There can be an irresistible “moth-to-a-flame” sexiness to its allure that some card readers conclude is a good thing if all one wants out of the Devil’s intrusion is a casual, inconsequential hook-up. But there is also a moralizing Christian slant to the image that goes all the way back to the medieval roots of the tarot.
In Jungian terms, it is the “shadow” – disassociated aspects of the personality that bedevil the more coherent side of an individual’s psyche. In my own practice I often view it as misrepresentation or distortion of the truth: some element of a situation isn’t what it seems. Think of it as a more sinister expression of the Moon, in which the false light of misapprehension has coalesced into self-defeating attitudes or behaviors, putting cautionary substance to the illusion. There can be a powerful compulsion to see only what one wants to see, ignoring unpleasant hints that something is very wrong with the picture. The typical advice is that of “Robot B9” from the Lost in Space TV series: “Danger, Will Robinson!” Even though trump cards are held to represent major external influences entering a matter that are beyond the querent’s ability to avoid or fully deflect, with the Devil a foothold has usually been prepared for it through some form of personal indiscretion or error of judgment.
Although he did not dismiss its sexual overtones, Aleister Crowley had perhaps the most useful interpretation of this card as creative energy in its most material form. Any project requiring the constructive use of physical prowess to produce concrete results can benefit from the Devil’s lusty procreative impulse. He makes much of the fact that the Devil’s astrological correspondence – Capricorn, the sign of Saturn – is the exaltation of the planet Mars, the engine of desire and its energetic pursuit. Bringing mass (Saturn) and energy (Mars) together creates an opportunity for “work,” which is the title of the Thoth 3 of Disks (Mars in Capricorn). But with the Devil there is always the chance that even the best resources will be misapplied, resulting in wasted motion and lost productivity.