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Devil’s pact

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Pact with the devil

A pledge to serve the Devi l or one of his demons. The pact may be made orally, but according to lore it is best to write it on virgin parchment and sign it in blood. The pact provides that in exchange for allegiance and one’s soul, the Devil will grant whatever a person wishes. Pacts with the Devil or demons for personal gain appear in various cultures. From the earliest days of Christianity, a pact with the Devil was tacitly understood to be part of any magic , sorcery or divi nation performed by an adept. Pacts also involved ordinary people: in legends, the Devil routinely appeared to people in distress and bartered love, money or power in exchange for souls. In the witch hysteria of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the pact took on new significance as proof of heresy and became grounds for prosecution and condemnation of accused witches.

The collaboration between men and demons, which implies a pact, predates Christ by thousands of years. King Solomon, son of David, acquired his wisdom and riches with the help of an army of demons called djinn. The Bible does not expressly deal with Devil’s pacts, but Christian theologians have always assumed them to exist and have condemned them. If the worship of God required a pledge of service and the soul, then surely those who followed God’s opposite, Satan, would do the same. The prevailing view of the church was that worldly goods and the like could not be obtained without crime except by appealing directly to God, or to Him through one of his saints.

One of the earliest Christian stories of a pact with Satan concerns Theophilus, treasurer of the church of Adana, who allegedly sold his soul to the Devil around 538 in order to become bishop. Two major early Christian theologians, Origen (185– 254) and St. Augustine (354–430) claimed that divination and the practices of magic and sorcery required demonic pacts. Much later, this was affirmed by the influential theologian Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1227–1274), who stated in Sententiae, “Magicians perform miracles through personal contracts made with demons.” Using the ritual instructions in a grimoire, the magician or sorcerer evoked demons for the purpose of attaining wealth, the power of invisibility, love or political power— but seldom to harm enemies. The belief was that sooner or later such demonic favors compromised the magician into selling his soul to Satan in return. If Satan himself was invoked instead of a lower-ranking demon, he always demanded the magician’s soul as payment “up front.”

The Key of Solomon, one of the major medieval grimoires whose authorship is attributed to King Solomon, offered the following instruction for making a pact with a demon:

 Exactly at dawn, use a new knife to cut a fork-shaped
wand from the twig of a wild nut tree that has never
borne fruit. Take the wand, a magic bloodstone and
consecrated candles to the site of the ritual, preferably
a ruined castle or deserted house, where one will be
undisturbed and receive whatever treasures the demon
produces. With the bloodstone, draw a triangle on the
ground or floor, and place the candles on the side of it.
Stand in middle of the triangle, hold the wand and recite
the required invocation. When the work is finished,
recite another incantation to dismiss the demon.

Stories of Devil’s pacts were common from the Middle Ages to the 16th and 17th centuries. Typically, the victim was not a witch but an ordinary person who was vulnerable to temptation. Satan or a demon would appear, sometimes as a man and sometimes as an animal, and offer to help. The pact would last for a specified number of years, at which time Satan would collect: the victim would die and his soul would go to hell. Perhaps the best-known tale is the story of Faust, a scientist and alchemist who sells his soul to the demon Mephistopheles in exchange for youth and lust. These moralistic stories were publipublicized through pamphlets and portrayed Satan as a trickster. The victim, despite his or her supernatural favors, usually came to a dreadful demise. Sometimes the Virgin Mary would intercede for the victims and snatch the pacts away from the Devil.

During the witch hunts, the Devil’s pact took on new resonance. Witches were said to derive their powers from Satan, which required entering into a pact with him. The purpose of the pact was portrayed less as personal gain than as the deliberate and malicious intent to harm others, and a renunciation of God and the Christian faith. Christian demonologists created a substantial body of literature on Devil’s pacts and the alleged rituals surrounding them—and the punishment that should be meted out for such acts. A representative view was expressed by Johann Trithemius (1462–1516), abbot and scholar, in his work, Liber Octo Quaestionum:

Witches are a most pestiferous class, who enter on
pacts with demons, and, after making a solemn profession
of faith, dedicate themselves, in lasting obedience,
to some particular demon. No one can describe the
evils of which this class of beings is guilty. Hence they
must nowhere be tolerated, but utterly and everywhere
exterminated. 

 Demonologists and witch-hunters distinguished between two kinds of pacts: the private pact and the solemn public pact. The private pact was a vow made by a witch, sometimes with the help of another witch. It was assumed that eventually the initiate would declare his or her allegiance to the Devil publicly. The details of these pacts were obtained from accused witches through torture. The public pact was made in a ceremony, either in a Christian church or at a sabbat, which always took place outdoors. If held in a church—an act of sacrilege—the Devil himself was not always present; at a sabbat, he was.

According to demonologists, the initiates renounced their Christian faith and baptism, swore allegiance to Satan and promised to sacrifice to him unbaptized children, pledged an annual tribute to him and gave him a token piece of their clothing. They signed a written pact in their own blood. The Devil gave them new names and marked them with his claw (see Devi l’s mark). In some accounts, the Devil stripped off the initiates’ clothing and forced them to pay homage to him by kissing him on the anus. All aspects of the ceremony were done in reverse, since Satan is the reverse of God. Crosses were held upside down and then trampled, pacts were written backwards, the initiates signed their names with their left hands and the Devil made his mark on the left side of the body. Until the 14th century most witches were prosecuted only for the alleged harm they did to people and their animals—not just for worshiping and making pact with the Devil. The church began to press the idea that witches should be prosecuted for heresy as well. This view received a powerful impetus from the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII (1484), which, in addition to citing various maleficia done by witches, adds, “. . . over and above this, they blasphemously renounce that Faith which is theirs by the Sacrament of Baptism . . .”

In order to prove this heresy in a witch trial, the existence of a formal pact with the Devil had to be established. Most inquisitors had little trouble with this—they simply tortured the accused until he or she confessed. Seldom was a document actually produced; it was said that the Devil conveniently took most of his pacts with him in order to protect his servants. One notable exception to this was the trial of Father Urbain Grandier, parish priest of St.-Pierre-du-Marche in Loudun, France, in 1633. Grandier was accused of causing the nuns in Loudun to become possessed. At his trial, a Devil’s pact, allegedly written backwards in Latin in his own hand and signed in blood, was produced and introduced as evidence. The pact stated:

 We, the all-powerful Lucifer, seconded by Satan, Beelzebub,
Leviathan, Elimi, Astaroth, and others, have today
accepted the pace of alliance with Urbain Grandier, who
is on our side. And we promise him the love of women,
the flower of virgins, the chastity of nuns, worldly honors,
pleasures, and riches. He will fornicate every three
days; intoxication will be dear to him. He will offer to
us once a year a tribute marked with his blood; he will
trample under foot the sacraments of the church, and he
will say his prayers to us. By virtue of this pact, he will
live happily for twenty years on earth among men, and
finally will come among us to curse God. Done in hell,
in the council of the devils.
[Signed by] Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Elimi, Leviathan,
Astaroth.
Notarized the signature and mark of the chief Devil,
and my lords the princes of hell.
[Countersigned by] Baalberith, recorder.

Grandier was convicted and burned. Louis Gaufridi, a man who confessed to being a witch in 1611, recited his pact verbally for the inquisitors:

I, Louis Gaufridi, renounce all good, both spiritual as
well as temporal, which may be bestowed upon me by
God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, all the Saints of Heaven,
particularly my Patron St. John-Baptist, as also S. Peter,
S. Paul, and S. Francis, and I give myself body and soul
to Lucifer, before whom I stand, together with every
good that I may ever possess (save always the benefits of
the sacraments touching those who receive them). And
according to the tenor of these terms have I signed and
sealed. 

One of Gaufridi’s victims was a woman named Madeleine de la Paud who also confessed her Devil’s pact: 

With all my heart and most unfeignedly and with all
my will most deliberately do I wholly renounce God,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost; the most Holy Mother of
God; all the Angels and especially my Guardian Angel,
the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Precious Blood
and the merits thereof, my lot in Paradise, also the good
inspirations which God may give me in the future, all
the prayers which are made or may be made for me.

 The prosecution of witches solely for having pacts with the Devil increased slowly on the European continent, though convictions still required evidence of maleficia. Witch-hunting handbooks such as the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) discussed pacts in great detail. In Protestant England, Devil’s pacts were acknowledged to exist but did not play a major role in most trials, according to surviving records. The public cared little about pacts and more about what harm a witch did to her neighbors. Such maleficia were presumed possible without a pact. Of the three Parliamentary Witchcraft Acts, only the third (1604) outlawed pacts “with any evil or wicked spirit.” The first oral Devil’s pact was recorded in 1612, and Elizabethan witches in general were believed not to be in direct contact with Satan.

In 1645 Matthew Hopkins began his infamous hunt of witches in England and obtained sworn evidence of written pacts. Some of his 230-plus victims may have been condemned largely on the basis of such “evidence.” Wiccans do not worship the Devil and have nothing to do with Devil’s pacts.

Breaking Pacts

Pacts with the Devil are not necessarily irrevocable, and redemption is always possible. In moral tales, appeals are made to the Virgin Mary or Jesus, who intercede. (In some versions of the Faust legend, however, there is no salvation once the pact is made).

St. Alphonso Maria de Liguori, who founded the Redemptorist order in the 18th century, gave advice for breaking demonic pacts. He said that one must renounce and abjure the pact, burn it if in writing, or declare it to be rejected; destroy all CHARMs, talismans, and writings connected with black magic; and make whatever restitution is possible.

According to modern demonologists, humans always have free will to revoke a diabolic pact. Repenting will render a pact useless. 

 



 

Source: Lea, Henry Charles. Materials Toward a History of Witchcraft. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1939. Michelet, Jules. Satanism and Witchcraft. Reprint. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1939. Rudwin, Maximilian. The Devil in Legend and Literature. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing Co., 1931, 1959. Russell, Jeffrey B. A History of Witchcraft. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980. Seligmann, Kurt. The Mirror of Magic. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948. 

 

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