The Devil revisited


I ran across something in The Tarot of the Magicians by Oswald Wirth that has me thinking about this card again. Regarding the satyr and faun at the feet of his Devil, Wirth writes:

"...both form the sign of esotericism by bending the last two fingers of the hand they stretch out."

Wirth Devil

This makes it plain that it's the bending of the fingers that makes it the "sign of esotericism." Of the Hierophant, Waite tells us:

"...with his right hand he gives the well-known ecclesiastical sign which is called that of esotericism, distinguishing between the manifest and concealed part of doctrine."

The manifest part is symbolized by the three raised fingers and the concealed part by the two bent ones. Then commenting on The Devil he says:

"The right hand is upraised and extended, being the reverse of that benediction which is given by the Hierophant in the fifth card."

By "the reverse" it would seems he's referring to the last two fingers being raised. While The Hierophant conceals part of the doctrine, all is revealed by The Devil who corresponds to "occult science and magic."

The one thing that really has me stymied is that enigmatic symbol on The Devil's right palm.


Three of Waite's predecessors (Levi, Papus, and Wirth) include the formula "solve et coagula" in their versions of this card, so I can't help wondering if Waite was influenced by them (even though he strenuously denies it). He doesn't say specifically, but does say The Devil represents "occult science and magic." So could the symbol on his hand be some sort hermetic or alchemical symbol for solve (dissolving) or coagula (bonding/fixing)? Occultists disagree on which arm is which, so it's hard to tell what Waite had in mind, if anything. I've looked through all the ideograms I could find at Adam McClean's Alchemy Website and all the books I have on the subject, and while some come close, nothing matches exactly. It could be something Waite invented, a hybrid of two symbols perhaps. But with nothing to go on, all leads end up going nowhere.

Anyone like to get to the bottom of this? I'm willing to do some brainstorming. :)


Sorry to quote myself, but look at my posts in this thread, I asked myself many of the same questions you are. My answers aren't, of course, absolute, but they may point you in a certain direction.

(especially post 12)


closrapexa, The Hierophant's making a sign of benediction, but Waite's description makes it sound like something other than the obvious Catholic blessing. He says The Hierophant symbolizes "the ruling power of external religion," not a Pope per se. I don't know enough about it to say for sure, but I get the feeling what he's talking about (sign of "esotericism") is something more familiar to occultists than Catholics.

The Devil's hand does look similar to the Jewish priestly blessing, and that's what I've thought it was for a long time, but now I'm rethinking. In your post #12, you said it comes from a passage relating largely to the external practice of religion, so it's the opposite of The Hierophant's blessing. But Waite says The Hierophant is the ruling power of external religion and The Devil symbolizes occult science and magic. Also, from what I know of the Jewish priestly blessing, it's performed with two hands not one (I don't believe Spock was a priest, but I could be wrong :laugh:).

When Waite, describing The Devil's hand, says it's "the reverse of that benediction which is given by the Hierophant," he seems to be pointing to the fact his last two fingers are raised, revealing the conspicuous symbol in the palm of his hand.

It just seems to me that many of the theories that have been floated for years don't add up when closely examined, that's what has prompted me to look again from a fresh perspective and hopefully stimulate others to look again as well. :)


Well, I always thought the Hierophant was a Qabalistic reference. The ruling power of external religion is basically what makes religion tick, in essence, God himself. This is shown both in the PKT's quote:

He is the order and the head of the recognized hierarchy, which is the reflection of another and greater hierarchic order

and in the structure of the Tree itself. The Hierophant is the path descending from Chochma to Chesed, thus bringing down the basic building blocks of manifestation, and being the "outward face" of the greater hierarchy of the supernal triangle. Attributed to Taurus, he represents the actual work and rules creating the universe (in another thread I made reference to the Mosaic law). The sign he makes, while not necessarily Catholic, still fits, as he is merely the "words" but those are as nothing to the abstractions of the supernals. The supernals are indeed esoteric, that is, hidden beyong the Abyss.

The Devil, as you said, reveals all and sees no reason to hide anything. Now, when occultists themselves say a figure is "occult science and magic" one might wonder (notwithstanding the comment of "With more than his usual derision for the arts which he pretended to respect and interpret"). In my opinion the Devil, as Lord of the Gates of Matter; a continuation, as it were, of the path of the Hermit and bearing the sign of Mercury in the pit of his stomach (which I myself cannot see, but Waite says is there) and descending from Tiphareth to Hod, does represent the actual mechanics of religion and initiation (occult science and magic) and the chaining of the spirit to flesh. The Devil may reveal all, but the problem is, he isn't high enough up the Tree to know all, and this goes to the story of the apple: Adam and Eve may have discovered the joys of procreation and become "as gods," but the ultimate creative power still comes from higher up. In this sense, the Devil's sign actually is the opposite of the Hierophant's, as what the Snake/Devil gave Adam and Eve was to great extent human/animalistic passions while the Hierophant represents a higher initiatory grade of Divine law.


I agree the "sign of Mercury" is questionable. It looks like it could be a crude crescent. In alchemy, Mercury is feminine and is sometime represented by the moon. Or it might be a case of miscommunication where Waite was expecting one thing and Pamela drew something else, hard to say.

I think I've been reading something wrong. When Waite says, "...Eliphas Levi affirms that the Baphometic figure is occult science and magic," I was taking the word "affirms" to mean he and Levi were in agreement, but in context that doesn't seem to be the case. The only clear indication Waite gives of what it symbolizes to him is where he says, "What it does signify is the Dweller on the Threshold..."

As far as I know, the "Dweller of the Threshold" first appears in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel Zanoni in 1842. Wikipedia describes it as "...a story of love and occult aspiration." A quote from Chapter 5.1, "Know, at least, that all of us--the highest and the wisest--who have, in sober truth, passed beyond the threshold, have had, as our first fearful task, to master and subdue its grisly and appalling guardian." Sounds like it might be pretty good, I'm gonna try to read the whole thing. :)


By Threshold, Waite probably is referring to the Veil of Paroketh, which crosses the Path of Samekh. The Devil is the Dweller (or Guardian) on the Threshold, which must be subdued if one is to attain the KCHGA.

I've read Zanoni a couple of times. It's not a bad read, but Bulwer-Lytton gets a little too wordy at times. Zzzzzzzz....

I've never been able to make out the Mercury symbol on the Waite Devil, but P. F. Case obviously thought that it really should be there.


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I've never been able to make out the Mercury symbol on the Waite Devil, but P. F. Case obviously thought that it really should be there.

It makes sense it would be there, in his crotch, as a little Hermit-Yod/Hod reference (gates of matter, etc.).

What you say about Samech makes sense, but "threshold" could have another meaning, as the Devil is attributed to Ain, usually the literal Eye but also (sorry for being graphic) the meatus of the urethra, the literal Gate of Matter, a very threshold-y thing.


Just throwing in a wild card here: Look at your own palm - right (sorry I do not have the technical terms here) do you have a line going from right to left and dropping towards the wrist and another going from left to right and rising towards the fingers? They dont meet? (I think they are head and heart lines ??)

Most of us do. Some of us (1/20 I think or less?) have those lines joined, i.e. one line straight across. I am a bit different; I have right palm 'normal' and left palm lines conjoined [the rarer conjoined appears on both hands everytime I have seen it ... only seen my combo once, my father had it .... and I suspect he inheretied it from Gran ( the 'strange' famly secret one that was from Spain ... a low cast gypsy .... that ended up being shut up in the back room and later institutionalised - as they used to do to non-conformist women back then) ].

My right hand has a line going down from the little finger; if I combine major unusual features of both hands I sorta get a similar palm of the Devil. - Sinistra!

Anyway - the point is ... a wild shot in the dark - Abrac, have you got an opinion from a palm reader?

I have never got mine diagnosed ... no reader seems to be able to identify it and they give me wierd looks after they have seen my palms ??? )


It seems plausible to me that Waite had the Veil of Paroketh in mind, but probably drew inspiration from Zanoni as well.

I'm reminded of Genesis 3:24, "And He drove out the man. And He placed cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life." Waite says he's "...the Dweller on the Threshold without the Mystical Garden."

If The Devil's a guardian (which seems likely), that symbol could be a riddle or key that must be solved before passage is allowed.


I've never gotten an opinion on the card from a professional palm reader. I used to have a book though that had something interesting which I posted about in another thread several years ago. The book is Hands - A Complete Guide to Palmistry by Enid Hoffman. On page 188 it talks about "ambition lines." To quote my earlier post, "These are lines that extend from, but never cross, the 'life' line. They indicate the presence of ambition in whatever direction they point to." In the symbol there are lines that look exactly like this extending from The Devil's "life line" (if indeed that's what it is) and crossing over to the "head line" (again, if that's what it is). The symbol would look exactly like an inverted Jupiter sigil if not for these lines. Unfortunately I don't have the book anymore and didn't scan any pictures from it but I'm thinking about scoring another copy. I'm on the verge of abandoning the palmistry angle though for lack of evidence that Waite ever had anything to do with palmistry. Maybe Pamela did but I've never seen any evidence of it. I'm still open to all possibilities at this point. :)