The meaning of the dream symbol: Devil

We must ask ourselves whether we are seduced by this demon (representative of some form of worldly gain,) or terrified by its intentions. Based on this, we may be able to determine in which direction our own Unconscious seems to lean. Do we need to open up to our dangerous, frivolous and desirous self, or do we find purity in our denial of all temptation? In either case, a moral quandary in our life is clearly illustrated which needs to be resolved immediately.


The myth of the Devil is closely akin to the myths of the dragon, the serpent and the guardian at the door and to the symbolism of closing off and of setting fixed limits. To pass those limits is to become either damned or saved, the Devil’s victim, or the elect of God. It is either the Fall or the Ascension. The notion of God comprehends that of the opening of a hidden centre of grace, light and revelation.

The Devil is the symbol of evil. It matters little whether he is the fine gentleman or the grotesque of the capitals of cathedral pillars, whether he wears the goat’s or the camel’s head, cloven hooves, horns or shaggy hair, he has a multitude of shapes at his disposal, yet always remains the Tempter and the Tormentor. His fall from grace is symbolized by his debasement into animal shape. The Devil’s entire purpose is to deprive humans of the grace of God and to make them yield to his control. The fallen angel, his wings clipped, wills the clipping of the spiritual wings of all beings. He is the synthesis of all those powers which lead to the disintegration of the personality. By contrast, Christ’s role is to snatch humanity from the Devil’s clutches through the mystery of the Crucifixion. Christ’s cross sets mankind free; that is to say, by the grace of God it restores to human beings the freedom, which the Devil’s tyranny had taken from them, to dispose of their own selves.

With temperance on one side and the tower on the other, the fifteenth major arcanum of the tarot provides a meditation upon the Devil. ‘It expresses the conjunction of the powers of nature and of the four natural elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) with which human life is interwoven. These are the desire to slake one’s passions at no matter what cost, cares, hyperactivity, the use of illicit means and weakness yielding to oppressive influences’ (Wirth). ‘In astrology it corresponds to the third house of the horoscope and somehow stands for qualities opposite to those of the empress. Instead of the carefully controlled mastery of external powers, the Devil stands for a regression into disorder, discord and dissolution, not simply upon the physical plane, but on a moral and metaphysical level, too’ (Andre Virel).

Standing half-naked upon a flesh-coloured orb half-buried in a pedestal or in a red anvil of six plates set one above the other, the Devil, his androgynous qualities heavily emphasized, has blue and влт-like wings, blue breeches held up by a red belt curving below his navel and with fingers and toes clawed like those of an ape. His right arm is raised. In his left he holds, by its blade and pointing towards the ground, a sword which lacks both hilt and guard. His head-dress is a peculiar yellow combination of a pair of crescent Moons facing one another and the antlers of a stag of five points. To his pedestal is fixed a ring through which a rope passes, either end knotted round the throat of a pair of identical imps, both stark naked, one male the other female, although they, too, are sometimes hermaphrodites. Each has a long tail touching the ground. Their toes are clawed and their hands are behind their backs, while on their heads they wear red caps from which sprout a pair of black antlers, two sparks of fire or two horns. The ground is yellow, the upper portion streaked with black lines, but below the feet of the two imps, it is as black as that over which passes the scythe of death, the thirteenth arcanum.

The entire atmosphere is that of the domain of Hell, where brute beast and human are no longer differentiated. The Devil rules the occult powers and his parody of God, the ‘Ape of God’, stands as a warning of the perils incurred by those who seek to use those powers for their own purposes by diverting them from their appointed ends.

The seeker after hidden knowledge and occult power must keep his balance like the juggler, or, like the hero in the chariot, hold in check the adverse tendencies of the abyss, like the hermit gain inner peace or, like the hanging man, unselfishly victorious broadcast the fruits of his knowledge. Otherwise he will fall victim to the untrammelled, flowing currents which he has raised or projected and which he cannot control. When dealing with the occult one has either to succeed in mastering it or resign oneself to being its slave. There is no standing on level terms with the Powers of Annihilation, one is either victor over or vanquished by them.

Nevertheless these powers are esssential to the balance of nature itself. Lucifer, bearer of light, alone could become the Prince of Darkness, and when the cards of the Tarot are arranged in two lines, the eighth arcanum dominates the fifteenth, ‘the odd, triangular number, the dynamic and creative agent’, so as to remind us that the Devil himself remains bound by the universal law of justice.

On the psychological plane the Devil demonstrates the servitude which awaits the person who is the blind slave of instinct, emphasizing, however, at the same time the fundamental importance of the libido. Without it, full human development is impossible; while to escape the fall of the tower (sixteenth arcanum), a person will have needed to be able to confront these terrifying powers in a dynamic fashion.

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