One of the more interesting but upsetting aspects of demonology is the recurring theme of humans making a pact with the devil.
The myth of Faust is the most well known of these: in exchange for one’s soul, Satan will bestow one with wealth or power for a specified time.
According to most superstitions, witches were said to acquire their supernatural powers through a pact with the Devil. Prosecutors who were looking for tangible proofs and legal contracts made with Satan began to appear in courts during the XVth century.
The witches or wizards engaged to such practices were alleged to reject Jesus and the sacraments; observe “the witches’ sabbath” (performing infernal rites which often parodied the Mass or other sacraments of the Church); pay Divine honour to the Prince of Darkness; and, in return, receive from him preternatural powers.
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 it was believed that a Devil’s Mark, like the brand on cattle, was placed upon a witch’s skin by the devil to signify that this pact had been made and that on the spot where the mark was left, the marked person could feel no pain. The mark could be used as a proof to determine that the pact was made.
A written pact consists in the same forms of attracting the demon, but includes a written act, usually signed with the conjurer’s blood.
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.
How to make a pact with the Devil
According to occult traditions, there are many ways of making a pact with the Devil. Demons are restricted in their ability to harm us, however if someone readily abandon his soul and elect the darker way, even God cannot save him and he will have to assume for eternity his choice, probably in an unpleasant place like hell.
The Formicarus (1435) gives the earliest if not the most complete description of what happens. Supplied with friends who have already forsworn God, the applicant arrives at a church on a Sunday morning very early and renounces God and the One, Holy, and Apostolic Church. He pays homage to the devil, drinks the blood of sacrificed children, and subscribes to the rules of the damned, which cover many things from diet to cursing and sacrificing. He expresses the desire to trade his soul for one or more favors from The Evil One, often wealth or power for a specified number of years.
Another way of selling your soul to the Devil was to do the following:
- Get a piece of virgin parchment (from the first calf a cow bears, not a piece never written on before).
- Write on it with your own blood: “I promise GREAT DEMON to repay him in seven years for all he shall give me. In witness whereof, I sign my name.”
- Sign it in your own blood.
Then, within a magic circle, hold the document in you hand and recite the invocation:
LUCIFER, Emperor, Master of All Rebellious Spirits, I beseech thee to be favorable to me in calling upon thy GREAT MINISTER which I make, desiring to make a pact with him.
BEELZEBUB, Prince, I pray thee also, to protect me in my undertaking.
ASTAROTH, Count, be propitious to me and cause that this night the GREAT DEMON appear to me in human form and without any evil smell, and that he grant me, by means of the pact which I shall deliver to him, all the treasures of which I have need.
GREAT DEMON, I beseech thee, leave thy dwelling, in whatever part of the world you may be, to come speak with me; if not, I shall thereto compel thee by the power of the might words of the Great Key of Solomon, whereof he made use to force the rebellious spirits to accept his pact.
Appear then instantly or I shall continually torment thee with the might words of the Key: AGLON, TETRAGRAMMATON, VAYCHEON, STIMULAMATHON, EROHARES, RETRASAMATHON, CLYORAN, ICION, ESITION, EXISTIEN, ERYONA, ONERA, ERASYN, MOYN, MEFFIAS, SOTER, EMMANUEL, SABAOTH, ADONAI. I call you. AMEN.
When the demon appears, throw him the pact. Do not step outside the circle on any account.
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.
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.
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.
The first account of a devil pact happened in 5th century AC with the legend of St Theophilus which probably inspired Faustus’ story. His feast day is February 4.
Although Theophilus is considered to be an historical personage, the tale associated with him is of an apocryphal nature.
Theophilus was the archdeacon of Adana, Cilicia which is part of modern Turkey. He was unanimously elected to be a bishop, but turned the position down out of humility. Another man was elected in his stead.
When the new bishop unjustly deprived Theophilus of his position as archdeacon, Theophilus regretted his humility and sought out a wizard to help him contact Satan.
In exchange for his aid, Satan demanded that Theophilus renounce Christ and the Virgin Mary in a contract signed with his own blood. Theophilus complied, and the devil gave him the position as bishop.
Years later, fearful for his soul, Theophilus repented and prayed to the Virgin for forgiveness. After forty days of fasting, the Virgin appeared to him and verbally chastised him. Theophilus begged forgiveness and Mary promised to intercede with God.
He then fasted a further thirty days, at which time Mary appeared to him again, and granted him Absolution. However, Satan was unwilling to relinquish his hold over Theophilus, and it was a further three days before Theophilus awoke to find the damning contract on his chest.
He then took the contract to the legitimate bishop and confessed all that he had done. The bishop burned the document, and Theophilus expired, out of sheer joy to be free from the burden of his contract.
Many famous characters oh history have been suspected to have signed agreements with devil.
The occultists Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelse, the Popes Leon Le Grand, Honorius and Sylvestre III, the Kings Marcomir and Henri III are also said to have signed pacts with the Devil.
More recently, musicians have been accused to sell their souls against fame/mastery. It is a recurring theme in in pre-World War II rural Blues (Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson). Bluesmans’ crossroads, located in Tchula Junction, Mississippi, is said to be the universal meeting grounds for such exchange.
The several pact signed by Urban Grandier were also produced during his trial as evidences.
Breaking a pact
According to Saint Alphonso Maria de Ligouri (1696-1787), it is possible to break a pact with Satan, even if it has been signed in blood.
The following steps must be followed:
- Renounce and abjure any contract with Satan.
- Destroy all writings, talismans, charms, etc., connected with the black art.
- Burn the written contract, or declare you regret and reject it.
- Make restitution for any harm done, insofar as is possible.
Pacts with the Devil in literature
Pacts with the Devil to get riches, fame, women or longer life have always fascinated writers. Not surprisingly, we find in this category some true masterpieces of gothic and early horror literature.
- Polish folklore legend Pan Twardowski and the devil by Michał Elwiro Andriolli
- Bearskin, fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, in which a man gains a fortune and a bride by entering into a pact with the devil.
- The Bet, by Anton Chekhov
- The Black Spider (Die Schwarze Spinne; 1842), novella by Jeremias Gotthelf, (1842)
- The Bottle Imp, by Robert Louis Stevenson, (1891)
- The Demon Pope (1888), Madam Lucifer, short stories at Wikisource by Richard Garnett
- The Devil and Daniel Webster, short story based on the Washington Irving story; by Stephen Vincent Benét
- The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving, (1824)
- The Devil’s Elixir, novel by E. T. A. Hoffmann, (1815)
- The Devil in Love, novel by Jacques Cazotte, (1772)
- The Devil in Velvet by John Dickson Car
- The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, novel by Guimarães Rosa
- The Devil Upon Two Sticks (1707), novel by Alain-René Lesage
- Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, (1808)
- Gimmicks Three, by Isaac Asimov
- That Hell-Bound Train, by Robert Bloch
- Jack Faust, novel by Michael Swanwick
- The Master and Margarita, novel by Mikhail Bulgakov
- Melmoth the Wanderer, novel by Charles Maturin
- Mephisto, novel by Klaus Mann
- The Monk, novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis, (1796)
- Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
- Peter Schlemiel by Adelbert von Chamisso
- The Picture of Dorian Gray, novel by Oscar Wilde
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
- Rosemary’s Baby, novel by Ira Levin
- Sir Dominick’s Bargain (1872), short story by Sheridan Le Fanu
- Sold to Satan by Mark Twain
- St. John’s Eve, short story by Nikolai Gogol
- Theophilus of Adana, a saint who made a deal with the devil, predates the Faust legend and is a likely partial inspiration.
- Timm Thaler, 1962 children’s novel by German author James Krüss
- The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe, (1592)
- The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey, novels by Mervyn Wall.
- Vathek, novel by William Beckford, (1786)
- The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, novel by Douglass Wallop, Joe Boyd sells his soul to the Devil.
- Young Goodman Brown, short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne