Diabolical pact

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Diabolical pact written by Urbain Grandier, presented at his trial.

A diabolical pact, popularly known as a deal with the Devil, is a cultural motif exemplified by the legend of Johann Georg Faust and the demon Mephistopheles, as well as being elemental to many Christian traditions.

In Christianity

According to traditional Christian beliefs about witchcraft, the pact is between a person and the Devil or another demon, trading a soul for diabolical favors, which vary by the tale, but tend to include youth, knowledge, wealth, fame and power.

Pacts with the Devil were a feature of early Christian witch-hunts. Inquisitors often accused suspected witches of making a pact, promising they will 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 who died at birth in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance), take part in Witches' Sabbaths, have sexual relations with demons, and sometimes engender children from a succubus, or an incubus in the case of women.

According to some witch trials, an oral pact left evidence in the form of the "Witches' 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.

In the Bible, Jesus is offered a series of bargains by the Devil, in which he is promised worldly riches and glory in exchange for serving the Devil rather than God. Upon rejecting the Devil's overtures, he embarks on his travels as the Messiah.

Actual diabolical pacts

Copy of a diabolical pact written in blood by Christoph Haizmann in 1669.

A diabolical pact can be either oral or written. An oral pact may be made by means of invocations, conjurations, or rituals to attract the demon; once the conjurer thinks the demon is present, they ask for the wanted favor and offer their soul in exchange, and no evidence is left of the pact. 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 it 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).

These acts present themselves as diabolical pacts, though there is not always certainty of a magician's authentic sanity. 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.

Textual history

Books like the Lesser Key of Solomon and The Grand Grimoire give a detailed list of these demon seals, also called 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 one of the demons, usually Satan.

According to some branches of 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.

Persons said to have formed a pact with the Devil

  • Johann Georg Faust (1466/80 – 1541)
  • Urbain Grandier (1590 – 1634)
  • Christoph Haizmann (1647 – 1700)
  • Rebecca Nurse (February 13, 1621 – July 19, 1692)
  • Robert Johnson (8 May 1911 – 16 August 1938), a blues musician, who legend claims met Satan at a crossroads and signed over his soul to play the blues and gain mastery of the guitar.

In popular culture

The concept of making a deal with the Devil has often served as a metaphorical story to warn against the dangers of chasing money, fame, or immortality above all else. These stories often involve the individual making the pact being outwitted by the Devil and being forced into Hell.

  • The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe (1592)
  • The Devil's Wager by Frederick Santee (1979)
  • The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band
  • The Witch (2015)
  • Rosemary's Baby (1968)