While I was drafting The Devil post for my major arcana series, I decided that I wanted to write another blog post dedicated to The Devil, The Challenger. I am going to explain to you why I don’t think the Devil is the ultimate representation of Evil, and I am also going to tell you why The Devil is one of my favourite cards in tarot.
For the most part, the Devil is treated as the representation of corruption and ultimate evil in the collective cultural memory. In short, the Devil is everything bad. He exists in relation to purity and ultimate goodness, and is made powerful by this dichotomous thinking. I will not go too deeply into the religious or literary connotations of The Devil here, but I will simply say that it is not very productive or helpful to dismiss the Devil as just one end of the spectrum. The truth is, human nature is a spectrum. It is not black and white but instead, it is everything in between. It is also paradoxical because a person can be many things at once. The failings of having a dichotomous mindset is that you will never be able to perceive and appreciate the complexity of what it means to be human, and thus you will never be able to perceive and appreciate the complexity and beauty of The Devil card.
The Devil is not evil, despite his association with darkness. In addition, The Devil does not tempt you to do anything. He doesn’t whisper in your ear and corrupt you with unwholesome intentions. I disagree with this kind of thinking because it removes responsibility for the self. “The Devil made me do it.” Seriously? That’s like saying “It’s not my fault that I did this.” But it is. It takes courage to accept one’s failure and shortcomings. It is much harder to assume responsibility for oneself, one’s actions and one’s attitudes because who wants to stare at the bad ugly parts inside? Nobody wants to admit that there is darkness or shadow within them. It makes them flawed. It makes them unholy. It makes them a bad person.
This is the damaging result of having a dichotomous way of thinking (and being!). “I am either good, or bad.” “I don’t want to admit the bad things I did because I want to be good. I am good.” The state of human existence is not an either/or situation. Fair enough, nobody wants to become defined by their mistakes, but it’s not the mistakes that define you–it is what you choose and how you handle the mistake that you’ve made that truly defines you as an individual. So what you made a mistake? As the cliche goes: that only makes you human. What you choose to do with that mistake is what makes you more.
Indeed, it is more useful to look at The Devil outside of this kind of polarized conception.
The Devil represents the Shadow, or the Ego. The Devil arrives to present us with the unhealthy constructs of our identity, to stare us right in the eye, to tell us, this is who we are, and what are we going to do about it? Each tarot card teaches us a lesson in a unique way. The Devil teaches us by pushing us over the edge of the cliff. He teaches us by messing things up so we can begin to see that the world we have created for ourselves isn’t real. (Why do you think he is followed by The Tower? He totally screws things up for you.) But the thing is nobody likes to have their entire world messed up and shaken up. That’s why the more The Devil shakes us, more often than not, we do everything we can to hang on to that false reality.
The Devil is not evil. He is a Challenger. Because the exact lesson of The Devil card is to accept one’s failure and shortcomings, to get in touch with one’s shadow and embrace it as part oneself, and to rise again with learned lessons and newly gained wisdom. The Devil is here to remind us that the world is not black and white. It is much more complicated and paradoxical than we readily admit it to be. And it will be a much more beautiful place when we open our eyes to accept it. Accept the fact that the shadow parts in us don’t make us bad. They make us human–and that they are not shortcomings, they are just another part of who we are.
The Devil, in the end, is just a metaphor, just like any other tarot cards. It is a metaphor that serves as a mirror, offering us a glimpse within our soul. Nothing less and nothing more.
Now I am going to tell you why I love The Devil card.
I love The Devil card because I love dancing with my Shadow. I love dancing with it because I know it is not bad for me; it is good for me. Every time I get The Devil card, I am smiling, because The Devil is an old friend of mine. He’s here to remind me that I am stronger than he is. I’m excited when he shows up in a reading because I know he is here to challenge me, and I accept that challenge. I accept that challenge because I know I am strong enough for the fight, and that I am given the precious opportunity to choose to be better. The Devil is not Evil–what are you talking about? He’s the best thing there is. When he comes to visit me, I take out my tea cups and make tea for him. “Let’s catch up,” I’ll say. “So what are the issues I need to work on now?”
“Well,” not unused to this friendly treatment, The Devil says. “You have some recurring self-love issues…and also you might need to look into your perfectionism when it comes to relationships with people.”
“Sounds good,” I would then pour his tea and offer him a cookie.
Don’t be scared of the Devil. He’s not an object or evil spirit to be eliminated or exorcised. He is your friend, and friendship, like any kind of relationship, needs to be cultivated, nurtured and maintained. When The Devil shows up in your reading, I hope you accept his challenge. Choose to be strong and invincible. Choose to be more than you already are.