When reading for ourselves or others, we may pull a card about what our strength is in a given situation. Or perhaps we pull a card on what quality or talent that we need to bring to bear on a conflict.
What do you do if that card is the Devil? Or any other negative card in the deck? How do you interpret that?
While different readers have different methods, I tend to see this is a layered message. First, I think the tarot is suggesting that we have shadow work around this strength. It’s not that the quality itself is actually bad, but we may view it as such. We have trouble integrating that inner power in with the rest of lives or who we think we ought to be.
I picked the Devil card because, in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, it literally shows the parts of ourselves that we demonize. For some of us, it may be our lust for love, our soft side, our ambition or our temper. Things we may have been told are “lower,” “unspiritual” or not right for a man or a woman to express. So we hide and repress those parts, despite the fact that we need our wholes selves to be, well, whole. The tarot is simply reflecting them back to us. If the Devil cards comes up, it may mean your strength is slaying your demons. But there may be a more subtly message about finding the power to accept your temper and channeling that anger productively so that is an emotion that mobilizes you to make postive change in your life.
This technique can be used in the minor arcana cards as well. The 5 of cups came up in a reading as a strength for my client. I suggested that her strength was her ability to connect and to care deeply for those around her, but that she had been hurt in the past. She also mentioned that she had been guarding her heart lately and staying more closed off. In the context of the reading and from speaking with her, we found a deeper meaning that the path to the best outcome was being open to the emotional connection that was possible, while acknowledging potential for both intimacy and rejection. Her strength ultimately is her ability to accept that potential for grief AND to view a life rich with love and friendship as worth that risk. While another “positive” card could also share this meaning, the fact is a “negative” card helped to uncover that an open heart, for this particular client, was something hard for her. It had led to pain the past. Her openness was connected in her mind with grief. She viewed that strength as a source of weakness instead and the tarot reflected this back via a “bad” or difficult card.
To pick on the other difficult 5 in the minors, the 5 of pentacles can show the the strength at play is your power to survive. The times in your past in which you experienced loss and deprivation have given you the skill and the grit that you may need to bring to bear. You may look back at those times as unhappy periods, but because of those trials you developed the fortitude you need to solve this issue or conflict. It is time to integrating the power to endure, survive and just generally be scrappy in our life and apply it to the situation at hand.
Those are just a couple of examples of difficult cards. The next time a “bad” card comes up as strength or other “good” position in spread, consider delving into a little shadow work with that card.