A very long time ago when I first began working with the Thoth deck, I encountered the idea that the Devil card brings enormous physical energy and creativity to the subject of a reading (even if Crowley did inevitably characterize it as procreative or at any rate sexual). This seemed like a more useful take on the card than the dreary “temptation/manipulation/deception” angle that frequently holds center stage when it shows up in a spread, so I always consider it as a possibility. But more recently I came across the notion that the Devil can represent a “contract” (Jodorowsky once again), which didn’t make much sense to me unless we’re talking about an agreement of Faustian proportions, or maybe the “offer he can’t refuse” that Don Corleone made to movie mogul Jack Woltz in The Godfather.
Then I thought some more about it and soon recognized that the Devil, as an exemplar of “bondage,” perfectly articulates the nature of a “binding” contract in which there is no “escape clause,” and for which a monetary (or in Faust’s case, spiritual) “surety” must often be paid into an escrow account to guarantee follow-through. In more common terms, it can mean an airtight obligation or inescapable commitment of any kind. This burden is not always one that is taken on willingly, and there can be an element of coercion to it that is not necessarily personal. Some countries have compulsory military service that falls under this heading, as does jury duty in the United States; these are aspects of the “social contract” that citizens typically enter into with their government at the time of birth, and it can feel unjust when the debt is finally called in.
Unless I prep my sitters in advance for its possible appearance, the Devil is one of the cards that makes them say “Whoa!” and take a deep breath and two mental steps back as they try to absorb its significance (Death, the Tower, the Hanged Man, the RWS 3 of Swords and 10 of Swords are others). But in reality – although times have changed and ethical boundaries are now indistinct due to the incursion of political correctness – superimposing the face of any strict authority figure (for example, a demanding parent, teacher, official or spouse) over that of the Devil would be just as legitimate. It can be a case of the “devil we know” being our true adversary when we are looking in vain for the “devil we don’t know” to pin the blame on. Like Shakespeare’s Shylock, the Devil will always claim its “pound of flesh” in some way and we might as well accept that fact since it hangs in the balance whenever the Devil enters the picture.
By way of contrast, I would submit that the anxiously hovering mother of modern parenting is more an expression of the acquiescent Moon; rather than laying down the law in a familial confrontation (something the Devil excels at), she is apt to just “roll over and take it” for fear of traumatizing her fragile offspring. In that sense, by default, the child assumes the dominant role of the manipulative Devil, imposing his or her will on the situation. The duty of obedience that was traditionally owed to one’s parents until a minor reached the age of consent seems to be a thing of the past, a casualty of the gradual dismantling of our theistic, patriarchal society. The Devil comes in all shapes and sizes and one of its trademarks is its capricious and cunning duplicity. I’m certain its contractual terms will always be lop-sided. Albert Einstein may have said “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Devil keeps a loaded pair in his back pocket.