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Deal with the devil: myth or reality?

The pact with the Devil is a recurring theme in human reflections, in literature, in particular romantic, fantasy and Gothic. This subject is also discussed today in films and series but the best known legend remains that of Faust for literature and Robert Johnson for the musical world. The legend of the pact with the Devil remains elementary in many Christian traditions.

The pact :

According to traditional belief, the pact is made between a person and Satan (or a demon). The person offers his soul in exchange for so-called diabolical favors, such as youth, wealth, knowledge, fame, power, ... but for a limited time.

Making a pact remains a dangerous act of witchcraft, since 10 years after the agreement, the person's soul is harvested and sent to hell.

Certain beliefs also speak of people having made this type of pact as a sign of recognition from the Devil. They don't ask for anything in return.

The legends are numerous but the finality remains the same: 10 years of a dream life against the damnation of his soul.

People supposed to have made a pact with the Devil :

-Urbain Grandier, Catholic priest of the city of Loudun in France, accused of having made a pact with the Devil. The sisters of the Ursuline convent were possessed by demons in order to expand the reconquest of the Roman Catholic Church in the context of the Counter-Reformation and the change of mentality in France.

-Lil Uzi Vert, American rapper suspected of having made a pact with the Devil. at least that's what he tweeted, adding that his fans would join him in hell.

Some works that talk about the subject :

Literature :

-Macbeth - William Shakespears (1606)

-The tragic story of Doctor Faust - Christopher Marlowe (1588)

-Faust - Goethe (1808)

-Elixir of long life (1830) et Skin of sorrows (1831) - Honoré de Balzac

-The master bell ringers - George Sand (1850)

-The devil in the bottle - Robert Louis Stevenson (1893)

-The pearl - John Steinbeck (1947)

Cinema :

-The Devil's hand by Maurice Tourneur (1943)

-Deal with the devil by Cyril Frankel (1950)

-Crossroads by Walter Hill (1986) (Inspired by the legend of Robert Johnson)

-Ghost Rider by Mark Steven Johnson (2007)

Tv show :

-In the Supernatural series, the Demonic Pact is used repeatedly over the 15 years of broadcasts, with one episode in particular from Season 01, Crossroad Blues, by the same title as Robert Johnson's song.

-In The Simpsons, in The Simpson Horror Show IV - Homer Simpson and the Devil.

Music :

-Crossroad Blues by Robert Johnson (1936)

-The devil went down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels (1979)

-The small print by Muse (2003)

From France and elsewhere :

The legend of the Devil of Pont Valentré (Lot Valley - Quercy) : It is said that the architect, unable to complete his work, resorted to Satan and made a pact with him.

The latter undertook to help him by all means and to obey him punctually, whatever order he may receive. The finished work, the soul of the architect had to be the price. If the demon, for whatever reason, refused to continue his assistance until the end, he would lose all his rights to the prize in question.

But this architect not wanting to have made a "stupid deal", asked the Devil while the bridge was near the end of its construction:

"Friend, I found you docile so far, and you know you have to be until the end; take this sieve (pierced bucket), leave it as it is and go draw the water that you will take to the masons to dilute the lime. "

The Devil bit his lip in annoyance. He tried the experiment, however, it failed 20 times.

Confused the Devil came to confess his defeat, but swore revenge.

Indeed, when the masons had almost finished building the middle tower, they found the upper northwest corner cut down and it was impossible for them to complete this tower.

A pact with the devil near the temple in Lanleff (Côte d'Armor / Brittany) : In Lanleff, near the temple, the edge of a fountain still bears the marks of a pact with the Devil.

Legend has it that a witch here made a pact with the Devil himself, giving him her newborn for 12 gold coins.

When the Devil took the child, he threw the coins to the mother who, wanting to catch them in flight, burned her hands.

The gold coins were coming out of the fire of hell and you can still see the marks they made when they fell on the coping next to the source.

We don't nickname him Le Malin for nothing ...

To better see them, wet the stone with water, but beware of the spell ...

The legend of Faust : hero of a German folk tale, she has been the source of many reinterpretations over time.

Faust, a scientist disappointed at not finding a solution to certain problems condemning his art, contracts a pact with the Devil.

The latter places at the service of Faust one of his Spirits, Méphistophélès, in order to procure for him a human servant, the student Wagner, who will become his "famulus". A new life will follow for Faust, this time turned towards sensitive pleasures, at the cost of his soul.

This legend is said to be inspired by Theophile's Miracle (a play by Rutebeuf, 13th C.) itself inspired by the narrative collection of Miracles of Notre-Dame by cleric Gautier de Coincy (12th-13th century).

In 1587, an anonymous writing Historia von Johann Fausten was published, translated into English in 1593, then resumed by Christopher Marlowe, situating the action of his play in Wittenberg. Goethe will study the writing of Marlowe and the tragedy of Faust will then eclipse historical Faust, about which little is known.

The life of J. Faust has been written several times: Georg Wiedmann (1953) translated into French under the title Histoire prodigieuse et lamentable de J. Faust, grand magicien et enchanteur by Palma Cayet (from 1958 to 1674).

Heumann composed a curious dissertation on Faust in Wittenberg in 1683)

Some have thought that Faust is none other than Johann Fust of Mainz, one of the inventors of the printing press, whose life would have been disfigured by folk tales.

Some non-literary works dealing with the legend of Faust:

  • The damnation of Faust - Hector Berlioz (1846)

  • The opening Faust - Richard Wagner (1855)

  • Mefistofele - Opera by Arrigo Boito (1868)

  • The 8th symphony by Gustav Mahler (1906-1907)

  • The albums Epica and The Black Halo by the heavy metal band Kamelot

  • The song of Faust in the album Silent so Long of Emigrate

  • A German band is called Faust

  • In the manga Black Butler by Yana Toboso

  • Faust is the title of a song by Alain Souchon in the album C'est comme vous voulez (1985)

  • The song The Small Print by Muse was originally called Action Faust

  • The Damnation of Faust (1898), The damnation of Faust (1903) and Faust in Hell (1904), films by Georges Méliès

  • The devil's beauty (La beauté du Diable Fr.) (1950) by René Clair with Michel Simon and Gérard Philippe

  • Phantom of the paradise (1974) by Brian de Palma

  • Faust and Mephistopheles, painting of Eugène Delacroix (1827-1828)...

The legend of Robert Johnson : American bluesman born in 1911 in Mississippi.

He grew up in poverty and family chaos in an America scarred by slavery (it was only 50 years since it was abolished) and racial tensions.

Abandoned by his biological father, then his adoptive father then his mother, transported from town to town, his wanderings lead him to encounter two blues myths: Charlie Patton & Willie Brown.

Robert at 18 and his two mentors teach him the basics of blues guitar. But he fails to excel and remains a mediocre musician.

At the same time, his 16-year-old wife lost their first child in childbirth, which plunged him into a deep depression. This is when the first mysterious rumors about his life begin.

It is said that he lost his child because of his passion for the blues, otherwise known as "Music of the devil".

Despite everything he continues his life as a musician.

He ends up returning to his hometown where he meets Ike Zinnerman, his last mentor. Thanks to him, the young bluesman discovers new practices of improvement on the guitar, in particular by rehearsal sessions in the middle of the night in the middle of the graves.

A few months later, Charlie Patton and Willie Brown hear about a new virtuoso bluesman playing in all the juke-points in the region.

Intrigued, they attend a show one evening and what were their surprises when they realized that it was Robert Johnson.

Surprised by his progress, they question him and discover a transformed Robert Johnson: in just a few months, Johnson has become a guitar virtuoso and an inhabited singer. It is acclaimed in all the bars of the Mississippi Delta. The only explanation he gives for this change is that of a chance encounter at the crossroads of two roads a few miles away.

What we learn from these songs is that he made a pact with the devil.

In the words of his legendary song Crossroad Blues, he returns to the crossroads to ask forgiveness from God for his act:

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees

Asked the Lord above

Have mercy now, save poor Bob if you please

In the second verse, the pact theory is also confirmed because the lyrics mean both that God does not respond but also that he is trying to hitchhike and that no one notices him. This verse would be the admission of a mystical incident where he would have disappeared from the world of the living:

Standin 'at the crossroad, tried to flag a ride

I tried to flag a ride

Didn't nobody seem to know me

Babe everybody pass me by

In Hellhound on my trail, he describes how he tries to escape the hellhounds, certainly sent by the god himself to repatriate him to the abyss:

And the days keeps on worryin 'me

There's a hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail

Hellhound on my trail