For as long as I can remember, I’ve been haunted. By words a child should never hear, by scrutinizing adults, by schoolyard bullies, by unhealthy decisions, by dishonesty, by regret, by relentless memories, by insatiable longing, and especially by the scales.
When I was in elementary school, I remember kids calling me “Miss Piggy” and being put on a diet because I was “chubby.” I learned every exercise move and every word to every song on Jane Fonda’s Workout Record, the one with her legs straight in the air, her ankles wrapped in maroon legwarmers. When my clothes didn’t fit, I’d cry until my face looked like a red potato, and to make it better a family member would take me out for Mexican food and Swensen’s ice cream. During a trip to the mall when I was around nine or ten, that same family member and one other made me step onto an oversized, vintage lollipop scale and weigh in front of everyone walking by. They’d each stepped upon the antique contraption and marveled at either how much weight they’d lost or how much they needed to lose. When it was my turn, I tried to refuse. I cried, begging them not to make me weigh in front of everyone, but I was threatened with a spanking if I didn’t do as I was told. When the needle flew past 150 pounds, one adult covered their mouth, laughing into their palm while the other turned and walked away. In middle school, I toppled two hundred pounds, and on the last day of my eighth-grade year, my P.E. teacher told me, “You know, you should really lose about twenty pounds or so this summer.” Again, as per usual, I cried, and when I got home from school I drowned myself in a bowl of my grandmother’s homemade peach cobbler and a buttered slab of her freshly baked sourdough bread.
Looking back, I’m not sure what was so special about what that teacher said to me or the typical way in which I nursed the scrutiny, but something inside me snapped. Maybe it was timing—the onset of puberty. Nevertheless, I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to be The Fat Girl anymore. Over the next three months, I lost sixty-five pounds on SlimFast and MTV. My family raved at how great I looked, and the first day of my freshman year, my friends didn’t recognize me until the homeroom teacher called out my name. Everyone complimented me and the bullying was over. Finally, I felt free.
Since that first day of high school, I have struggled persistently with keeping off the weight. I’ve battled genetics, ravenous cravings, hormonal imbalances, binge eating, purging, peer pressure, social expectations, alcoholism, grief, anger, and shame. When people speak of their “demons,” these are mine. My demons keep me up at night. They tell me I deserve the chocolate and then chant relentlessly about what a pitiful failure I am for indulging. Sometimes, they whisper even uglier, scarier thoughts. Until I learned how to set boundaries, my demons would appear in the form of the adults who were supposed to love me the most. The demons still show up; their favorite place to linger is my memories. At times, overcoming them can feel nearly impossible, their shackles weighing me down as they feed on my fears.
As a creative person, unpacking all the hurt my demons have caused was—is—made possible through poetry and fictional writing. For years, making art was enough to numb the pain—I’d placed in every middle and high school show, and I even earned a full scholarship to SCAD—but channeling that pain through storytelling has proven an even more fulfilling and rewarding kind of therapy. These days, when grief, anger, and shame come a-calling, I renounce them, silencing them with a poem, journaling, or by writing a story. The latter is even more satisfying when I assign my pain to a character… and then kill them off.
In the Major Arcana, The Devil is a demon like no other; yet, although its presence can be startling the card is not always negative. As an example, The Devil card is one of a few Tarot cards that when reversed shines light on its shadow. Let’s review this card’s illustration and decipher what it might indicate for you, the writer, when it shows up on your desk.
What's happening in The Devil card?
In this card, a devil is represented by the half-human, half-goat faun-like deity named Baphomet. Winged, taloned, and boasting an inverted star on its forehead, the creature perches atop what A. E. Waite refers to as an “altar.” Chained and attached to the pedestal are two human figures, a woman and a man. Similar in stance to The Magician, Baphomet holds one arm upward and one down. In its raised right palm, we can see the symbol for Saturn, and its fingers are splayed, an indication of the priestly blessing mudra. In The Devil’s lowered left hand is a lit torch, held dangerously close to the man’s flaming tail. Like the man, the woman also has a tail, hers boasting a bunch of grapes. Both figures have sprouted small horns and although they are tethered to Baphomet’s altar, their chains are loosened and might be easily lifted and removed. See the Notable Symbols section to learn what this card’s abundant symbolism means.
The Devil: A Deep Dive
The majority of writers I know—myself included—and many famous storytellers have admitted to being tormented by “writer’s demons.” Such demons include bad reviews, blank page intimidation, criticism, dread, envy, greed, imposter syndrome, public speaking, reading aloud, rejection, self-doubt, worry, writer’s block, and the list goes on. What’s most important about writers and our demons is how we manage them.
The entity featured in The Devil card would have you manage all of the aforementioned list through the bondage of obsession, through addiction, force, selfishness, and misaligned thinking. In this regard, The Devil is a false prophet, and would rather you believe that you are not in control of removing those chains and saving yourself from the spiraling darkness that can accompany the pursuit of excellent and successful writing.
I don’t have to tell you that recognizing and removing power from your demons is immensely important, but I will gently remind you that while those negative energies might sometimes hover over you, they’re only as oppressive and heavy as you allow. You are the control. Your shackles aren’t always permanent; they are often quite relaxed. You can walk away from a blank page and return to it with a fresh perspective. You can write with clarity. You can overcome the fear of unsavory reviews. You have the power of recognizing what’s killing your spirit and making the choice to eliminate the demon(s).
You are encouraged and supported in lifting those chains. Consider finding someone else also suffering and join them in a support group, or a writer’s group, perhaps? Leaning on others can help with healing. I know all of these things have helped me.
At the conclusion of my scales story, I mentioned that The Devil card isn’t always negative. Like many of the adults in my childhood, The Devil isn’t always scrutinizing and abusive. On the contrary, this card can represent awareness, especially self-exploration and pleasure. The Devil can inform human desires, particularly with regard to the material world, and its energy can spark passion, yearning, longing, and craving. Now, per what we understand about The Devil’s propensity for spiraling us out of control, we might seek such human desires in moderation and with personal responsibility.
The Devil Reversed: The Light
When The Devil is flipped on its head, it topples from that altar, the chains falling from the man and woman’s bodies and the torch illuminating the darkness. You, your characters, and/or your writing in general are released from bondage and scrutiny. There has been a paradigm shift in consciousness and you are thinking, believing, and writing with clarity and vigor.
Notable Symbols for The Devil Card
Spirit / Earth
The Devil is number 15 of the Major Arcana, but can you see the resemblance between The Devil card and The Lovers? When adding 1 + 5, we get 6. Easy math. If you will recall from The Lovers card, six is the number of balance, karma, assistance, adjustment, alignment, and when reversed, The Devil reveals healing, support, empathy, love, compassion, and healing.
Black (as seen in the background)—This color informs power, fear, mystery, the occult, strength, authority, and it is a color often associated with darkness and grief.
Vampire bat wings—These are symbolic of sucking the life out of one’s prey.
Inverted pentagram—Although the pentagram is the symbol of the five elements (air, earth, fire, spirit, and water), when inverted it represents the darker aspects of occultism and is sometimes associated with dark magic.
Saturn symbol on the palm—Astrologically, Saturn represents caution, discipline, endurance, limitations, reserve, resistance, and restriction.
The Priestly Blessing Mudra (hand gesture)—This gesture denotes the Hebrew letter shin. Fun fact: Leonard Nimoy, famous for his role as Spock in the iconic Star Trek series and films, intentionally adapted the mudra to mean “live long and prosper,” a gesture he’d learned from his own Jewish upbringing.
The lowered left arm denotes bringing light into darkness.
Horns and tails (on the humans)—These imply the longer the individuals choose to stay chained, the more deeply they become trapped and oppressed.
Fiery and fruited tails—Fire and desire (Rick James and Teena Marie, anyone?)
Loosened chains—symbolic of bondage chosen and/or accepted
The Devil, Characterized
The Devil is a ghoul, a haint, a poltergeist, an oppressor, an abuser, Depression with a capital D, in the details, anyone hellbent on wrongdoing, a trickster, a demon, a daemon, a monster, a masochist, a sadist, a cruel, evil individual. The Devil is also a sex symbol, lusty and seductive. Where I am from in Georgia (United States), there’s a common saying that claims, “The Devil is a liar!”
Notable characters, people, or personas
Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist, Glenn Close as Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, Al Pacino as John Milton in The Devil’s Advocate, Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, by Charlie Daniels, Beelzebub, Dracula, and in Greek mythology Pan, Persephone, and Pluto, among others.
Waite, A. E. (1966). The Pictoral Key to the Tarot (3rd Printing). University Books.
Team Astroyogi. (2022, November 7). The Devil. Astroyogi.com. https://www.astroyogi.com/tarot/majorarcana/devil.aspx
Ohlheiser, A. (2015, February 27). The Jewish roots of Leonard Nimoy and ‘live long and prosper.’ Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2015/02/27/the-jewish-roots-of-leonard-nimoy-and-live-long-and-prosper/
On Writer Wednesday, the spotlight shines on indie author Ceara Nobles!
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of upmarket, literary, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. Although she earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, she has yet to figure out her family, much less herself. And that's a good thing!
When she’s not writing, Mandy loves going to the movies, theater, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, margarita-making, and binge-watching The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to promote wellness and enhance creativity. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four boys, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.