Cassandra Snow takes readers on a queer tour of tarot reading. Check out the first fourteen parts: Queering the Tarot: Temperance, Queering the Tarot: Death, Queering the Tarot: The Hanged Man, Queering the Tarot: Justice, Queering the Tarot: The Wheel, Queering The Tarot: The Hermit, Queering The Tarot: Strength, Queering The Tarot: The Chariot, Queering the Tarot: The Lovers, Queering the Tarot: The Hierophant, Queering the Tarot: The Emperor, The Empress, and Archaic Gender Roles, Queering the Tarot: The High Priestess, Queering The Tarot: The Magician, Queering the Tarot, and Queering the Tarot: Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
In tarot, The Devil is a card that on first glance clients normally assume shows that someone or something is “bad” or “wrong,” that a situation is tempting but not good for you, or that an oppressive force determined to keep you down is at play. This obviously comes from Christian mythos wherein the Devil is evil and Jesus is good, and in many readings, whether the client is queer or not, that does remain true.
When queering this card but sticking a little closer to the interpretation, your first exploration is going to be on what oppressive forces are at play in the querant’s life. It’s easy to jump to homophobic parents, transphobic employers, biphobic partners, and of course there is a chance that the Devil card is indicating these things. Digging deeper, there’s a chance we’re looking at internalized queerphobia or expectations on what BEING one’s identity means that are pulling the client out of whack. I’ve definitely seen society at large be the Devil. I have a transgender client who I adore, and when he began taking further steps in his transition, the Devil showed up when the hospital he was born at wouldn’t change the gender on his birth certificate. I also have an email client who lives in a very rural area in a state that’s not very progressive. For her, new relationships frequently show the Devil card, and she finally confided one day that she wasn’t comfortable moving forward in relationships because it wasn’t safe to walk down the street holding hands with her partner. In this case, her town’s culture was the Devil that we had to navigate around.
Over time my relationship with the Devil card has gotten a lot more nuanced. Frequently it shows up not as something particularly bad, just something tempting but that isn’t for me. When digging deeper into what the Devil represents in Christianity, we see that frequently the Devil shows up to see if he can get someone to stray from their path or to digress to a previous period when they were less sure of their faith and themselves. Certainly this is applicable and doesn’t require a particular queering—except that I have seen non-monosexual and even transgender clients feel tempted to go back in the closet when their dream job or partner shows up, or when a neglectful parent reappears and the client wants to appease them. I have seen people who know they are polyamorous decide to hold off because of their current situation. Now, these choices are not always bad, and if they show up in a reading full of happy cards, we talk about moving at your own pace and making your own choices. When they show up in a reading where the Devil shows up, it is definitely time to examine if this situation or relationship is pulling you away from being your true self in an unhealthy, binding way.
Another idea the Devil card and I have developed together is the reminder that temptation and indulgences are not always bad. If a client who once struggled to be healthy has been depriving themselves of all sweets or salty treats and gets the Devil alongside cards of balance, my job is seemingly to remind them that balance is key to life and they should be easier on themselves about their diet, and give into indulgences once in awhile. A common way I’ve seen this idea manifest in readings for queer clients and myself is the idea of going out to gay bars and clubs, and embracing the community in that way. As long as one is able to do this responsibly, there is nothing wrong with overindulging occasionally while out or by going out. Similarly, if someone has been in the closet or not fully realizing their identity until recently, the Devil can show up as a note that it’s completely fine and even well-aspected to indulge sexually. This can include experimentation if that time of full realization isn’t complete, but can also simply indicate a time where sexual activity is frequent and varied. If the surrounding cards are positive, please feel free to indulge in all the no-strings fun you desire. I personally feel like it’s an important part of the growth process for many people, but we live in a society where owning our sexuality—whatever that sexuality is—is considered wrong, and me and the Devil have frequently worked together in a reading to break down some of that oppression for clients.
Finally, if anyone reading knows the tarot very well, they might realize there’s a word frequently associated with the Devil that I’ve been avoiding — bondage. That’s because I want the idea of the Devil indicating a positive relationship with bondage to have it’s own space. Of all the aforementioned examples and interpretations of the Devil in a queer reading, the number one way it shows itself as a positive force is when I am working with a client who strongly identifies with either a dominant or submissive role in relationships, and for whom BDSM is a substantial part of their life. In this case many of the ideas we’ve talked about—oppression, temptation, allowing for sexuality, feed into the idea of the Devil bringing us or highlighting positive associations with bondage. The Devil can also be about a controlling force as opposed to oppressive. The first few times I saw the Devil surrounded by happy cups (which indicate love) and wands (which indicate passion), I was a little confused. Over time, and learning how to ask the right questions to clients, it’s abundantly clear that when this happens, you are likely working with a querant who either loves to control or be controlled, and we can not look at that as a solely unhealthy thing when other cards are positive.
So much of queering the tarot comes down to breaking down our own misconceptions and biases on what relationships should and shouldn’t be, do and do not look like. The Devil is no exception.