A deal with the Devil, pact with the Devil, or Faustian bargain is a cultural motif widespread wherever the Devil is vividly present, most familiar in 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, for 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.
Among the credulous, 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.
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 Age 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 seal of the demons.
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.
Although some examples have surfaced, they are usually found to be null and void, since they usually flout several principles of contract law including; Meeting of the minds, Undue influence and Impossibility.
The meaning of the term deal with the devil has expanded its meaning to include exchanges which do not involve the devil, but involve pursuing a goal (e.g. revenge) by taking actions that are evil (e.g. murder).
The predecessor of Faustus
in Christian mythology
is Theophilus ("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
. 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. In the tenth century, the poet nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim
adapted the text of Paulus Diaconis 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 within music usually in guitar dominated genres and more specifically in heavy metal.
Blues mans cross roads, located in Tchula Junction, Mississippi, is said to be the universal meeting grounds for such exchange. It was said that in your twenty-seventh year the devil would come to collect his property.
- Urbain Grandier A notorious case of a diabolical pact was the one that cost Urbain Grandier his life. One of the pacts was redacted in Latin; the other is written in abbreviated, backwards Latin (which is readable when reversed), and signed by several "demons", one of them Satan, whose name was clearly written "Satanas" (see the article on Urbain Grandier for the original pact). It is strongly suspected that the "pact" in question was counterfeited for (human) political ends.
- Gilles de Rais (executed)
- Johann Georg Faust Likely source for the Faust legend.
- Jonathan Moulton 18th century Brigadier General of the New Hampshire Militia, alleged to have sold his soul to the devil to have his boots, hung by the fireplace, filled with gold coins every month.
Diabolical pacts in fiction
- The Malleus Maleficarum has plenty of allusions to these pacts, especially concerning women. It was considered that all witches and warlocks had made a pact with some demon, especially with Satan.
- In many variants of the Aarne-Thompson type 361, of which Bearskin is an instance, the hero escapes, but the devil still comes off the better: the heroine's sisters have killed themselves, and he has gained two souls instead of one.
- The story of Theophilus of Adana, a saint who made a deal with the devil, predates the Faust legend and is a likely partial inspiration.
- The compact between human hubris and diabolical intelligence raises the old tale to its cultural peak in Goethe's Faust.
- Johnny Blaze made a deal with Mephisto, a demon in the Marvel Universe who is often mistaken for Satan. In exchange for his soul, Mephisto promised to save his adopted father. This led to Blaze becoming Ghost Rider.
- Spider-Man made a similar deal with the same Mephisto in which he traded his marriage with Mary Jane Watson in exchange for the life of his aunt, in the highly controversial One More Day storyline.
Other works depicting deals with the Devil include:
- The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe
- Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Faust, opera by Charles Gounod
- Mefistofele, opera by Arrigo Boito
- Mephisto, novel by Klaus Mann
- The Master and Margarita, novel by Mikhail Bulgakov
- Melmoth the Wanderer, novel by Charles Maturin
- The Devil and Tom Walker, a short story by Washington Irving
- The Devil and Daniel Webster, short story based on the Washington Irving story; by Steven Vincent Benét
- The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, novel by Guimarães Rosa
- Pani Twardowska, poem by Adam Mickiewicz
- Gimmicks Three, by Isaac Asimov
- That Hell-Bound Train, by Robert Bloch
- Rosemary's Baby, novel by Ira Levin
- Jack Faust, novel by Michael Swanwick
- Damn Yankees, musical theatre production and film by George Abbott and Stanley Donen
- The Bet, by Anton Chekhov
- Memnoch the Devil, by Anne Rice
- Young Goodman Brown, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Spider-Man: One More Day Spider-Man makes a deal with Mephisto, the Marvel Universe's equivalent to Satan, to sacrifice his marriage in order to save his Aunt May's life.
- The Collector, about a former monk who sold his soul to the Devil in the 1300s.
- Multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone involved sales of character's souls to the devil or to demons.
- In Star Trek: Voyager, there is one episode where the Borg are fighting a war against a species of a different dimension. Janeway realizes she must make an alliance with the Borg, and in her own words she 'makes a deal with the devil'.
- In The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror IV", Homer makes a pact with the devil for a donut. He ends up keeping his soul as he had given it to Marge in a love letter.
- The TV series G vs E featured several people who made deals with the forces of evil. These people were known collectively as "Faustians".
- In Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2", Dean makes a pact with the red-eyed Demon to resuscitate his brother.
- In Supernatural episode "In My Time Of Dying", John Winchester makes a pact with the Yellow-Eyed Demon (Azazel) to bring his son, Dean out of a coma which he has no hope of recovering from.
- In Metalocalypse episode "Bluesklok", the band is told to make a deal with the devil to get blues-playing skill.
- In Reaper, about a young man, Sam Oliver, whose parents sold his soul to the Devil to save the father from a serious illness. He must work as Satan's bounty hunter, or his mother's soul is forfeit.
- In the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the primary villain was the mayor of Sunnydale, who had ascended to power as the mayor in preparation for either ascending to immortal demonic status himself or losing his power and soul, after founding the town 100 years previously as a place for demons to feed.
- In the Futurama episode "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings", Fry makes a deal with the Robot Devil so that Fry can play the holophonor. The Robot devil asks for nothing in return, apparently just hoping to use the deal as an excuse to torment an innocent robot. When his penchant for random torment (and, ironically, his penchant for irony) leads to his own hands being given to Fry, the Robot Devil makes a deal with Bender that causes him to deafen Leela, then a deal with Leela to give back her hearing in exchange for her hand in marriage, all in a ploy to get his own hands back. Bender infamously remarks in this episode that "you may have to make a metaphorical deal with the devil, and by devil, I mean Robot Devil, and by metaphorical, I mean get your coat."
- In the Futurama episode "Hell is Other Robots", Bender is sent to Robot Hell for his sins. Fry and Leela enter Robot Hell to save him, where The Robot Devil tells them that the only way to win back Bender's soul is to beat him in a musical contest using a solid gold fiddle (in accordance to "The Fairness in Hell Act of 2275"). After a few notes it is clear Leela's fiddle playing is pathetic, so she uses it to beat the Robot Devil instead. The terms of the pact were similar to the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia, except if the challengers lost, they would receive a slightly less valuable silver fiddle in addition to Fry's death.
- In The Monkees episode, The Devil and Peter Tork Peter finds himself inadvertently trading his soul with a pawn shop proprietor, who's really Mr. S. Zero who has come to purchase another soul, for the ability to play the harp. The other Monkees had to engage in a court battle to save Peter's soul and convince Zero that Peter doesn't need Zero's magic to play the harp. To prove this, Zero took his magic away from Peter and made the harp appear. With the urging of his bandmates, Peter went to the harp and played "I Wanna Be Free" to save his soul and send Zero back to Hell empty-handed.
- In Derren Brown's TV Show "Trick or Treat", prior to choosing a card, the participants must sign a Faustian Contract, which lets Derren do anything he pleases.