The Devil is another of the popularly misunderstood cards of the Tarot, perhaps second only to Death in this category. In our modern world we do not like to think that there is a seed of negativity in everyone, so we assume that anything bad that happens must be the work of some outside Devil, who is to be feared and shunned. But really, people do not do bad things because a force outside them is controlling their actions. They do bad things because the negative part of their own personality is expressing itself. To deny this side of yourself is to give it power over you, and to give it free reign over your life will eventually destroy you.
The symbolic portrayal of the Devil in the Tarot is a clear mockery of two previous Major Arcana, the Lovers and the Hierophant. The former parody is perhaps the more obvious. Where the angel hovers on the Lovers, the Devil stands on his card, cursing the man and woman rather than blessing them. They who were once connected to each other by love are now attached to the Devil by their chains of lust and ignorance. The Devil's hand mimics the gesture of the Hierophant, but perverts it. The true Hierophant offers spiritual wisdom and beckons to us with an open hand. The Devil's gesture hides his true intentions of hurtful wisdom - not really wisdom at all.
It must be stressed again that the Devil is not a force that attacks from without, but a cancer than devours you from within. When the Devil is in power everything turns upside-down; hence, the inverted Pentagram associated with him. When you submit to your inner Devil, you simultaneously submit to every other force in the outside world that would do you harm. You allow others to bind you and control your life. You allow your creative powers to be corrupted and turned against you. But through all of this you are not a victim of anyone but yourself. In fact, in a sense you are not really a victim at all, and certainly not helpless.
The most important lesson the Devil teaches you is that you can free yourself from whatever restrictions are holding you back, at any time you choose to. The chains that bind the figures on the Devil card are loose enough to be thrown off at any time. There is still positive energy within you that you can tap to break free - but only if you can let go of the materialism and that the Devil embodies. In the end, the best way to free yourself of the Devil's bondage is not to submit to it, but to accept it as the shadow that must be cast wherever there is light. Having accepted the shadow, you can look to the light.
When the Devil card appears in a reading it usually shows that you are not in control of your life, sometimes as a result of your own actions, but more often as a byproduct of inaction. This loss of control often leads to loss of hope, and a lack of faith in your own abilities. Sometimes ignorance and materialism are the tools of the Devil, and those traits will be evident if you focus on worldly possessions and power while ignoring the spiritual power you have inside of you. As a result, your creativity and energy can be seriously impaired, and you may not wish to regain control of yourself.
Your own mindset is a critical factor when the Devil card appears. If you think darkness has won, it has. If you are willing to let others exploit and restrain you, then they can and they will. But no one has power over you unless you give it away. If you are willing to release yourself from the chains of ignorance, you can do so, and you can step into the light. Turn all that negative energy into positive energy and see how much you can accomplish when you believe you can. Take a good long look at yourself and try to see what you could not see before. Always remember, that shadow cannot exist without light, and that there is no Devil except the one you create.