The Devil: Gateway to the Shadow

Alejandro Jodorowsky, in his decimal approach to the numbering of the Major Arcana (described in The Way of Tarot), notes that the “5” that is subsumed in “15,” the number of the tarot Devil, is connected as a “numerological counterpart” to the “5” of the Pope/Hierophant. Where the latter aspires to spiritual sublimation, the former seeks the lowest rung of subjective awareness, the “depths of the being” and the “night of the deep subconscious.” In my own terms, I would say that the Pope is a gateway to the “crowning perfection” of the individual Soul or Ego while the Devil is a corresponding “express elevator” to the personal Shadow.

The Devil is one of those cards that can be very difficult to cast in a positive light, primarily because of the religious, cultural and allegorical baggage that has accumulated around it. In its most encouraging sense, it expresses the passion of the artist and the lover. Crowley saw it as tremendous creative energy in its rawest form (largely sexual in nature although he euphemized it as lustily “procreative”) which is eminently pragmatic due to the exaltation of Mars in Capricorn. But this doesn’t apply to every instance of its appearance in a reading. I also like Jodorowsky’s idea that it pertains to obsessive and possibly self-destructive attachment to the temptations of the flesh that are rooted in our most primitive subconscious drives and appetites (often appearing as addictions of one kind or another). He endeavors to dignify it by saying it indicates a “summons to search for . . . the powerful energy buried in the psyche” and the “hidden potentials of the human subconscious, both negative and positive;” also, “a part of ourselves (tempting) us with unknown possibilities.” (Anyone who ever took LSD can vouch for this.) What seems deceptive or dishonest may just be impenetrable or inscrutable to our limited understanding of the larger scheme of things. In other words, we could be deluding ourselves with mistaken suppositions when in fact “all is not what it seems.” The Devil has a profound agenda that brooks no carping over petty misconceptions. As an ambassador of Saturn, the Taskmaster and the Great Teacher, he advocates “It is what it is. Get over it!”

Then there is the Devil’s downturned torch. Jodorosky chooses to see it as confirming that the Devil “dwells in darkness,” signifying that the ascending light of the Pope has been desecrated and “buried in matter.” I also believe that the smoky flame is encroaching on the physical realm, but more in the prideful Luciferan sense of “dawn-bringer” or “morning star,” in which case I compare this card to the role of the Magician as a bridge to higher (or in this case alternate) consciousness. I don’t fully buy into Jodorowsky’s assumption that it merely serves as a link to our innate animal nature, even though he acknowledges that “to achieve illumination, (the initiate) should not refuse his animal side but accept it, honor it, and guide it” to a higher purpose, a premise that is also seen in the Fortitude card of the Tarot de Marseille. The Devil still remembers his origins and his previous mission, for which he was cast down. The vengeful Abrahamic God never did like anyone usurping his authority. (There is much more to the story of Lucifer in the scholarly commentary that refutes the customary view, but it suits me to keep it in these simplistic terms.)

Considering the above character sketch, we might see the Devil in a reading as an opportunity to pit ourselves against the full weight of our private Shadow rather than scrupulously skirting it at every turn, hoping it will leave us alone. This looks like full-on “soul-searching time” and we might be surprised by what it reveals about our untapped resilience and resourcefulness. Personally, I welcome the Old Boy whenever he decides to drop in on my readings with his intriguing perspective (just as long as he doesn’t ring my doorbell).

Originally published at on December 7, 2022.


I’ve been involved in the esoteric arts since 1972, with a primary interest in tarot and astrology. See my previous work at

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Parsifal the Scribe

I’ve been involved in the esoteric arts since 1972, with a primary interest in tarot and astrology. See my previous work at