Deal with the Devil

Deal with the Devil
Written Deal

A deal with the Devil, pact with the Devil, or Faustian bargain is a cultural motif widespread in the West, best exemplified by the legend of Faust and the figure of Mephistopheles, but elemental to many Christian folktales. In the Aarne-Thompson typological catalogue, it lies in category AT 756B – "The devil's contract."

According to traditional Christian belief in witchcraft, the pact is between a person and Satan or any other demon (or demons); the person offers his or her soul in exchange for diabolical favours. Those favours vary by the tale, but tend to include youth, knowledge, wealth, or power. It was also believed that some persons made this type of pact just as a sign of recognizing the Devil as their master, in exchange for nothing. Regardless, the bargain is a dangerous one, as the price of the Fiend's service is the wagerer's soul. The tale may have a moralizing end, with eternal damnation for the foolhardy venturer. Conversely it may have a comic twist, in which a wily peasant outwits the Devil, characteristically on a technical point.

Any apparently superhuman achievement might be credited to a pact with the Devil, from the numerous European Devil's Bridges to the superb violin technique of Niccolò Paganini.



Saint Wolfgang and the Devil, by Michael Pacher.

It was usually thought that the person who had made a pact also promised the demon to kill children or consecrate them to the Devil at the moment of birth (many midwives were accused of this, due to the number of children that died at birth in the Middle Ages and Renaissance), take part in Sabbaths, have sexual relations with demons, and sometimes engender children from a succubus, or incubus in the case of women.

The pact can be oral or written. An oral pact is made by means of invocations, conjurations, or rituals to attract the demon; once the conjurer thinks the demon is present, he/she asks for the wanted favour and offers his/her soul in exchange, and no evidence is left of the pact; but according to some witch trials and inquisitions that were performed, even the oral pact left evidence, namely the diabolical mark, an indelible mark where the marked person had been touched by the devil to seal the pact. The mark could be used as a proof to determine that the pact was made. It was also believed that on the spot where the mark was left, the marked person could feel no pain. A written pact consists in the same forms of attracting the demon, but includes a written act, usually signed with the conjurer's blood (although sometimes was also alleged that the whole act had to be written with blood, meanwhile some demonologists defended the idea of using red ink instead of blood and others suggested the use of animal blood instead of human blood). Forms of these include contracts or simply signing your name into Satan's Red Book.

These acts were presented often as a proof of diabolical pacts, though critics claim there is no proof of whether they were authentic, written by insane persons believing they were actually dealing with a demon or just were fake acts presented by the tribunals of the Inquisition. Usually the acts included strange characters that were said to be the signature of a demon, and each one had his own signature or seal. Books like The Lesser Key of Solomon (also known as Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis) give a detailed list of these signs, known as Diabolical signatures.

The Malleus Maleficarum discusses several alleged instances of pacts with the Devil, especially concerning women. It was considered that all witches and warlocks had made a pact with some demon, especially with Satan.

According to demonology, there is a specific month, day of the week, and hour to call each demon, so the invocation for a pact has to be done at the right time. Also, as each demon has a specific function, a certain demon is invoked depending on what the conjurer is going to ask.

Theophilus of Adana, servant of two masters

The predecessor of Faustus in Christian mythology is Theofilius ("Friend of God" or "Beloved of god") the unhappy and despairing cleric, disappointed in his worldly career by his bishop, who sells his soul to the Devil but is redeemed by the Virgin Mary.[1] His story appears in a Greek version of the sixth century written by a "Eutychianus" who claims to have been a member of the household in question.

A ninth-century Miraculum Sancte Marie de Theophilo penitente inserts a Jew as intermediary with diabolus, his "patron", providing the prototype of a closely linked series in the Latin literature of the West.[2]

In the tenth century, the poet nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim adapted the text of Paulus Diaconus for a narrative poem that elaborates Theophilus' essential goodness and internalizes the forces of Good and Evil, in which the Jew is magus, a necromancer. As in her model, Theophilus receives back his contract from the Virgin, displays it to the congregation, and soon dies.

A long poem on the subject by Gautier de Coincy (1177/8–1236), entitled Comment Theophilus vint a pénitence provided material for a thirteenth-century play by Rutebeuf, Le Miracle de Théophile, where Theophilus is the central pivot in a frieze of five characters, the Virgin and the Bishop flanking him on the side of Good, the Jew and the Devil on the side of Evil.

Alleged diabolical pacts in history


The idea of "selling your soul for instrumental mastery/fame" has occurred several times:


  • Johann Georg Faust, creator of the Faust legend.[6]
  • Jonathan Moulton, eighteenth-century brigadier general of the New Hampshire Militia, alleged to have sold his soul to the devil to have his boots filled with gold coins when hung by the fireplace every month.

Metaphorical use of the term

The term "a pact with the Devil" is also used metaphorically to condemn a person or persons perceived as having collaborated with an evil person or regime. An example of this is the still-controversial case of Rudolf Kastner in Israel, in which the term was used in reference to Kastner's alleged collaboration with Adolf Eichmann during the Holocaust in 1944 Hungary. According to some, the term served to inflame public hatred against Kastner, culminating in his assassination.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Palmer, Phillip Mason; More, Robert Pattison (1936). The Sources of the Faust Tradition: From Simon Magus to Lessing. New York: Oxford University Press. OCLC 3444206. 
  2. ^ Representative examples of the Latin tradition were analysed by Moshe Lazar, "Theophilus: Servant of Two Masters. The Pre-Faustian Theme of Despair and Revolt" in Modern Language Notes 87.6, (Nathan Edelman Memorial Issue November 1972) pp 31-50.
  3. ^ Schonberg, Harold C. (1997). The Lives of the Great Composers (3rd ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393038572. OCLC 34356892. 
  4. ^ Richter, Simon (July 18, 2008). "Did Giuseppe Tartini Sell His Soul to the Devil?". University of Pennsylvania. 
  5. ^ a b Weissman, Dick (2005). Blues: The Basics. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415970679. OCLC 56194839. 
  6. ^ Ruickbie, Leo, Faustus: The Life and Times of a Renaissance Magician. The History Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0750950909.
  7. ^ Adam LeBor (2000-08-23). "Eichmann's List: a pact with the devil". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-11-13. 

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