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The Devil Tarot Card in the Time of Coronavirus – Smith-Waite Centennial

The Devil appears for our daily tarot reading today, and it's one of the more mysterious cards for folks who are less familiar with tarot. This ambiguity makes good sense, since the Devil himself is a polarizing figure. To some, of course, he's evil incarnate. But to others, he represents freedom from oppressive dogma and authoritarian control. In some traditions, Lucifer is a kind of Prometheus figure, bringing the fire of knowledge and self-determination to humanity despite divine malevolence. 

In today's Card of the Day post, we'll be looking at The Devil card from a perspective that considers both of these interpretations. With the COVID-19 outbreak, The Devil is an apt tarot card to explore some conflicting impulses you might be feeling lately.

The Devil Rider-Waite tarot card pictured with an ornate bone-inlay box. You'll find a detailed image description of the card in the body text of this post.

The Devil card in the Smith-Waite Centennial tarot deck

In Pamela Colman Smith's iconic version of the tarot, known as the Rider-Waite or Rider-Waite-Smith deck, The Devil figure takes on a more Pagan look than the older French and Italian decks, where he appears more like a medieval demon. But in many traditional tarot illustrations, he's shown with two human figures in chains, and Smith (mostly) maintained this element in her occultist version of the tarot.

We see The Devil here as a portly humanoid figure with a masculine human chest and arms, a demonic head that's horned like a Baphomet, enormous bat-like wings, and furry, satyr-like legs—but with taloned feet instead of hooves. A pentagram hovers between The Devil's horns. This symbol emphasizes an earthly, material meaning to the card. (Remember that Pentacles are the suit of earth, the body, and the physical world.) And the pentagram also suggests more of a neopagan, occultist perspective on The Devil than the medieval Catholic lens of the older cards. It invites connections with the Horned God of Wicca, Pan, and Dionysus.

The Devil hails us with one hand while the other holds a large flaming cudgel, evoking Wands energy. (Wands are, as we've seen here on the Card of the Day blog, associated with the fire element as a suit. And traditionally, Wands are bastoni or cudgels in Latin-suited playing cards such as the tarot—the equivalent of the Clubs suit in French-suited decks.) 

In any case, The Devil figure perches on a column or altar as black as this tarot card's background. Chained to the stone are what appear to be two humans, one traditionally feminine and one masculine. Like in the previous versions of the scene, these figures in Smith's card are naked. But she has given them pointed horns, perhaps underscoring that the forces The Devil represents are a latent part of human consciousness rather than an external influence bearing down on us. Similarly, Smith has outfitted these two figures with demonic tails. The feminine figure has a grapevine tail, while the masculine figure sports a tail of flame. These contrasting symbols—like the two nude gendered figures—echo the meaning of The Lovers card, with its contrasting fruit of Eden and burning bush.

The Devil card in the time of coronavirus

When the Devil appears upright, it generally speaks to physical urges and the temptation to indulge, reflecting the more mainstream view of The Devil as a temptation toward vice. But personally, I tend to view this card as an invitation to connect more deeply with our bodies and work on losing the shame that so many of us learned to harbour when we pursue our own pleasure.

In today's climate of global pandemic and serious risk, The Devil tarot card invites you to explore both sides of this archetype. If you're tempted to continue living life as usual, without denying yourself the pleasures of going where you please, ask yourself whom that impulse is serving. Because I'll give you a hint: it's not those who are, like me, immune-compromised and at significant risk from this outbreak. Nor is it elders or healthcare workers, all of whom benefit hugely by everybody staying home as much as possible during this pandemic.

Looking for physical pleasure in times of isolation

The "extreme social distancing" that's necessary right now to save lives isn't easy for anyone. But the more generous view of The Devil reminds us that we have agency. We are capable of making our own choices—whatever the gods, or the world, or any higher power might say. So, in warning you not to choose your own pleasure over collective safety, today's card also reminds you that you have the power to make that choice. But importantly, it reminds you as well that your own pleasure is still important, that there is scope for pleasure even in times of isolation and quarantine.

So, how can you soothe your body and calm your nerves today? Remember that physical pleasure isn't inherently sinful, and shame is a burden we all carry. Try to find some space today to forgive yourself for any frustration, grief, or anxiety your body is feeling—whether because of the impact of COVID-19 or other physical restrictions in your life. And then take some time to make your body feel good. Even in a small way. Even just for a moment. Because pleasure is important even in times of crisis, and there are ways we can honour these needs without compromising the safety of our friends and comrades who are most at risk.

S.M.