Tales of the devil take various shapes –– much like Beelzebub himself. In some cases they are centuries-old stories by the likes of John Milton, whose great epic poem “Paradise Lost” invokes a sort of classic vision of Satan. In others, they come to us through music such as the Rolling Stones’ controversial hit “Sympathy For The Devil,” in which Mick Jagger sings in first person as the Devil. Indeed, stories about Satan in all his guises cross many genres, styles and platforms.
But sometimes a good old-fashioned deal with the devil makes for the best story. Just look at “Doctor Faustus,” that old Elizabethan tragedy from the 16th century, in which a man trades his soul for knowledge and power. The play had such a strong effect on the culture and the spectators in its time that it was reported that devils appeared on the stage at one performance. No trades with the actors were noted (although we can’t say what may have happened backstage!).
In any case, below we’ll look at three of our favorite examples of spooky pacts with the Fallen Angel….
The Faustian Pact
We couldn’t very well compose a post about deals with the devil without touching on the Faustian Pact: the mother of all Satan-related business ventures. First, it’s worth pointing out that its protagonist was very real. In the 15th century, Johann Georg Faust was a German alchemist and astrologer, as well as a magician. His life was turned into a folk story upon his death, and written about by the likes of Goethe and Christopher Marlowe.
The legend generally is that Faust offered his own soul to the Devil in exchange for omnipotence and omniscience. After 16 years, he tried to back out of the pact, but the Devil instead negotiated a renewal. It took another 24 years before the Devil came back for Faust –– and an explosion took the alchemist in the night (supposedly to rest in Hell for all eternity). He must be regretting that deal now, surely.
Poker For Souls
This is the story of a Welshman named John Morris who inadvertently risked his soul by playing cards with the devil. The story goes that Morris was crossing a bridge one night when a mysterious stranger approached him with a gold deck of cards, and goaded him into a game. At some point in the game that followed, Morris dropped a card off of the bridge.
He looked down and saw in the water’s reflection that his opponent had two great horns sticking out of his head –– and that the lost card was the ace of spades. We don’t know what variety of poker the two were playing, but the ace is prized in many of the strongest and the ace of spades in particular often implies a particularly robust version of those hands. The implication, then, is that in one fell swoop Morris missed out on a strong hand –– and realized that he did so while gambling with the Devil.
The Devil’s Trill Sonata
This is the story of musician Giuseppe Tartini. The 18th-century violin virtuoso wrote a composition called “The Devil’s Trill Sonata.” The music was so complex that many other players found it impossible to master, and some supposed Tartini must have had six fingers to be able to do so. The musician’s explanation was that the Devil had been to visit him in a dream, and played the violin sonata, which was “so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence.”
It’s a bit arrogant really, if we’re to believe that he concocted the tune himself –– even if Tartini admitted the music the Devil played was better than what eventually made it into the composition. At any rate, those who believe in these kinds of satanic deals can safely assume Tartini paid an eternal debt in exchange for the music. Listen to it yourself with the Devil in mind if you want a truly creepy sensation.
These are always some of our favorite scary tales –– always simple, yet mysteriously intriguing at the same time. And while they come in many forms, the three above are some of our favorites.