What a cobbled-together fellow the Devil of the Rider-Waite deck is! With bat wings, his right hand raised in a Mr. Spock salute, in itself half of a priestly blessing from Judaism, his left hand holding a flaming torch pointed at the ground, sporting goat horns, a bestial face, the furred legs of Pan and oddly flaccid talons, he’s seated or perched on a bollard, to which two humans, the Lovers (it appears), are bound. The chains around their necks can be lifted as they wish but, for some reason, they don’t wish. Why might this be?
Aesthetic and cultural aside: The original drawing this is based on comes from the work of the nineteenth century’s truly astonishing oddballs – a French socialist/magician/proto-feminist/philosopher/illustrator who preferred to go by the name Éliphas Lévi, although his parents baptized him Alphonse Louis Constant. His drawing, which you may view at Lévi’s wikipedia page, differs in some interesting ways from Colman’s painting; the feminized breasts (placing the Devil along the gender range), for example, and the feathered, as opposed to bat-like, wings of this Tarot card.
Lies, in particular self-deception, are the Devil’s main territory on earth. His human slaves, who don’t even raise a hand to their chains, have tails, bearing fire (associated with anger and lust) on the man, and the grapes which become wine (standing in for all of temptation and addiction) on the woman. The full range of human sin is binding them, and they hardly look concerned, because it is apathy in the face of evil that is most excoriated in this card.
The Devil represents the capacity of humans to deceive themselves. Depending on where the cards are, they point to self deceit about family members and friends, one’s own abilities, one’s frailties. In almost every case the fault comes from within, but as humans it’s our obligation to make the evil in us come forth so we can deal with it in the context of our needs and our obligations to others.
Better by far to acknowledge the darkness and not be used by it to hurt others. This card calls you on your lies, and your inaction in the face of them. Whether you address them in contemplation and private very much depends on you.