5 Sinister Deals with the Devil in History

5 Sinister Deals with the Devil in History

August 9, 2019 100 By William Hollis


The devil has always been a source of
fascination in Judeo-Christian belief. He is seen as an all-powerful entity second
only to God. Even Jesus in the Gospels refers to him as Prince of this world. In
fact, according to Scripture, Jesus himself was offered the greatest
bargain of all by the devil when he fasted in the desert. The devil stated
that he could give to Jesus all man’s authority and splendor, proclaiming that
“it has been given to me and I can give it to anyone I want to”.
If Jesus agreed to worship the devil it would all be his. Jesus refused to be
tempted and said no. However, it is claimed that many others after him have
said yes and have made their own deals with the devil. Born Gerbert of Aurillac, Pope Sylvester II
was a Renaissance man hundreds of years before the time, having been born in 946
and dying in 1003. He was a humanist scholar before there was even a term for
it, being well-read in classic literature and having been an early advocate for
the use of the Hindu-Arabic numerals that we use today, in a Europe that had
no mathematical writing system. Amongst his many scholarly accomplishments, he is
known for having reintroduced the abacus, an ancient calculating tool used before
written numerals, to Europe, and is even noted for having constructed a hydraulic
powered brass organ, which was hailed as having surpassed all previously built
musical instruments. It was for this and other accomplishments the Gerbert was
hailed as one of the preeminent scientists of his day. Alongside his fame
as a scholar, however, was a belief that he was a sorcerer. It was whispered that
he had acquired such occult knowledge during his time spent in the Iberian
Islamic kingdom of al-Andalus. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the kingdom
of al-Andalus was the most enlightened and prosperous kingdom in continental
Europe, containing knowledge from across the vast contemporary Islamic world and
of the ancient philosophers. To the Christian powers in the rest of Europe,
this Arabic kingdom was not only an exotic place, but also a dangerous one.
Yet, even then, some Europeans regardless of their religion recognized al-Andalus
as the only place to acquire a true education. Such was this recognition that
in the Christian monastery in Vic, Catalonia, there were many works imported
from the enlightened kingdom. It was there the Gerbert acquired his first
taste of Arabic culture. From here he would embark on his travels, journeying
through the Muslim lands so as to gain the knowledge that would make him famous.
Many tales of Gerbert’s genius circulated during and after his lifetime. In the
12th century, the English monk historian William of
Malmesbury wrote that during his time in al-Andalus, Gerbert acquired a book of
spells from an Arabic philosopher. Contained within this book, it was said,
was the knowledge to subdue the devil. According to Malmesbury, the philosopher
refused to part with his beloved book. He would sleep with it under his pillow so
as to protect it. Gerbert, however, was determined to
possess this great tome, so he seduced the man’s daughter and
learned of its whereabouts. It was then just a simple matter of
getting the philosopher drunk and stealing the book. Yet, the philosopher
was cunning and had the knowledge to track all things on earth or water.
Gerbert, however, was wiser still and was able to trick the man and escape by
hanging off a wooden bridge and thereby touching neither earth nor water. With
the book now in his possession, it is said that Gerbert was able to contact
demons and sell his soul to the devil. This is how, at least according to legend,
Gerbert gained the Papal throne. According to the tale there was a caveat
to Gerbert’s diabolical pact. Should he ever hear Mass in Jerusalem, then the
devil would come to claim him. With this knowledge, Gerbert, now Pope Sylvester II,
was easily able to reject any offers of pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem.
With that potentially problematic scenario avoided, he was able to dedicate
himself to the luxuries and indulgences afforded to him by his office. Yet, a man
of Sylvester’s wisdom should have known that a deal with the devil is never so
simple to negotiate. One day, upon hearing mass in a church in Rome, that he learned
too late was called the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, he knew that he was doomed and
soon after fell mortally ill. In another version of the legend, the devil came for
Sylvester in person, accompanied by a horde of demons. The wayward Pope met a
grisly end in front of the whole congregation, with Satan’s
minions given his gouged out eyeballs to play with. In both variants of the legend,
the devil’s price was paid. According to the lore, to this day
Pope Sylvester’s very bones are cursed and are said to rattle in his tomb
whenever a pope is about to die. In 1589, King James VI of Scotland,
later James I of England, was due to marry Princess Anne of Denmark. As the
princess sailed to Scotland, fierce storms raged and forced her and her
company to find shelter in Norway. Although James and Anne were eventually
wed, the tempest was blamed on malevolent witches, who were said to want to thwart
their royal union. Thus, both in Denmark and Scotland large-scale inquisitions
were instigated against suspected sorcerers for two years, with King James
himself supervising some of the tortures and examinations that occurred. Amongst
those said to be witches was Dr. John Fian. Fian, who went by the alias
Cunningham, was discovered with the aid of another who confessed to the
authorities that he, too, was a practitioner. At first Fian said
nothing at all. The inquisitors then began the customary torture, starting
with one of their milder punishments, which involved thrashing Fian’s head
with a rope around it. After that, he started to talk. Yet, he provided no
coherent confession that satisfied his tormentors. Thus, a torture method known
as the boots, which King James describes as the most severe and cruel pain in the
world, was employed. Still, Fian was resolute. He would not confess to
witchcraft. This prompted a further examination of his body, where it was
found the two pine needles had been placed
under his tongue. Supposedly, this was a spell cast to prevent him from
confessing under torture. With the needles removed, Fian confessed
to everything. He stated that his soul belonged to the
devil, after having made a covenant with him long ago. It was by serving him that
Fian had gained his powers of witchcraft. It was recorded that amongst his powers
was the ability to bewitch a gentleman and send him into fits of lunacy. One man
who supposedly suffered in this manner was brought before the King’s presence on
the 24th of December 1590. What the man allegedly did under Fian’s command is
described in King James’s own book, Daemonology. “Suddenly he gave a great
screech and fell into a madness, sometimes bending himself and sometime
capring so directly up at his head did touch the ceiling of the chamber, to the
great admiration of His Majesty and others then present.” When the man was
finally worn out by his supposed bewitchment, it took an hour for him to come to
his senses and be brought back before the King, only to admit to having no
memory of the event. Fian continued to tell other tales of his nefarious
witchcraft, which were verified by witnesses in the court. Eventually, he
promised to recant his evil ways. He testified that the devil had come to
visit him the night before, with a white wand in his hand, trying to persuade him
to keep his vow and serve him. Fian said that he castigated the
archfiend, telling him “I utterly forsake thee”. The devil then supposedly broke the
white wand, and said, “That once ere thou die thou shall be mine.” Soon after this,
Fian managed to steal the keys from his jailer and escape. His freedom did not
last long, for the king’s men soon caught up with the supposed malefactor and
detained him. John Fian then endured more horrendous tortures. This time, however, he
confessed to nothing, even after his feet were completely pulverized. When the
inquisition felt nothing else could be gained from their examination, Fian was put to death. In the 17th century the Dutch were obsessed with
speed. Their empire expanded across the world, with colonies on most major
continents. One of their most lucrative colonies was in Batavia, modern-day
Jakarta, which had a highly profitable trade in spices. At the time, spices were
extremely valuable, being not only used for culinary purposes, but to disguise
bad odors and to make medicine. Thanks to the spice trade, the Dutch became a very
wealthy empire. However, they were in intense competition with Portuguese and
English merchants. Thus, if they could find the fastest routes and employ the
most able captains, it would help secure their dominance of the spice trade. At
the beginning of the century, a journey from the Netherlands to Indonesia would
take around one year. Yet, in 1678, captain Bernard Fokke made that trip in just over
three months. At the time there was no Suez canal to cut through, so this meant
that he had to have somehow sailed around a large part of Europe, along the
entire length of Africa, and across the Indian Ocean, in a cumbersome wooden ship,
in a meager amount of time. This was a speed that would only be beaten in more
modern times. For the 17th century, this speed seems unbelievable. However, the
sail time was verified by the dates stamps on the letters the captain
delivered. After his feat, ominous stories started to circulate about the captain,
describing him as a severe taskmaster who made serving under him in misery.
Then, there was an allegation of diabolical treachery – Fokke had sold his
soul to the devil to be the fastest sailor in the world. It is said that, in
return for his soul, the devil turned the masts of his ship from wood to iron, and
thus he was able to change sails during even the fiercest
of storms, something which a wooden mast made very difficult. Thus, with the Devil’s
supposed help, and his unyielding leadership, Fokke performed one of the
fastest voyages of the age. In the centuries since, some have claimed that
Fokke was the inspiration for the legend of the infamous ghost ship the Flying
Dutchman, for it is said that this swift captain was later ensnared by the devil
and made to sail the world’s oceans forever under his command. On the 29th of
August 1677, Christoph Haizmann was found on the floor convulsing violently, whilst
he was working in a small castle in Potterbrun, Austria. The authorities took him in
for questioning, initially believing him to be bewitched,
and that he himself was possibly a witch. There was a reason for the authorities
paranoia: this was the age of witch hunts. In nearby Salzburg, such inquests were
commonplace, and would continue to be until 1690, claiming more than a hundred
lives in the process. Haizmann was initially in very real
danger; yet, the story that he told the authorities quickly made them reassess
the situation. He explained that he was not bewitched, but rather he had made a
deal with the devil, and was now demonically possessed. Haizmann explained
that nine years ago the devil appeared to him whilst he was an impoverished
painter. The devil tempted him repeatedly, hounded him, offering him money, power, and
women, until finally, he succumbed on the ninth temptation. The reason he finally
agreed to strike a deal was because the devil promised to cure his depression,
which he had suffered since the recent loss of his father. Two pacts were then
supposedly signed between him and the devil one in ink,
the other in blood. Haizmann pledged in those agreements that in return he would
give himself, body and soul, to the devil, in nine years time, on the 24th of
September. At the time of his arrest, this was only
a few weeks away. When the local Catholic priest,
Leopold Braun, heard Haizmann’s story, he took pity on him, describing him as a
miserable man. The priest wrote to a nearby abbey, and asked them to assist
him. They, in due course, accepted Haizmann and the monks there started to perform
severe exorcisms. Haizmann was dutifully penitent and did everything they told
him. Yet, at midnight on the 8th of September, he met the devil again. The
monks attested that whilst holding him in a state of agony, Haizmann freed
himself and ran to their chapel only to return with a piece of paper sometime
later. Haizmann claimed that the piece of paper was the contract written in blood
many years ago. He said that he had snatched the accursed pact from the very
claws of the devil, who appeared to him in the form of a winged dragon. The
monastery popularized his case as a miracle. However, it was not to last, for
by the 11th of October Haizmann’s convulsions were back. Not only that, they
were worse than ever, sometimes leaving him entirely paralyzed.
During these episodes, he later testified to being tormented, not only by the devil,
but by the Virgin Mary and Christ: the devil with his customary temptations, and
Christ and Mary demanding he renounce worldly possessions and become a man of
God. Again, Haizmann underwent exorcisms, and this time received the pact he had
made in ink from the devil. After this he joined a monastery, and became a monk.
There, he completed several paintings of the devil in his different incarnations,
including an especially grand piece in which he painted the Virgin Mary helping
him to retrieve the pact in ink from the devil. The torments, however, never
stopped. They would plague Haizmann for the rest of his life until he died in
the year 1700, “peaceful and of good comfort”. One of the most prominent blues
musicians of the early 20th century was Tommy Johnson. He was part of a musical
movement known as the Delta Blues, so called for originating in the region of
the Mississippi Delta of the United States. This movement was also known by
another name, The Devil’s Blues, for many believed that the music and its artists
were closely associated with the devil. Some had even come to believe that
artists, like the unrelated blues musician Robert Johnson, had to have sold
their souls in order to gain such mastery over the guitars which made them
famous. Whilst many claim that it was Robert Johnson who began the legend of
selling one soul to the devil to play the blues, one of his biographers, Tom
Graves, stated in 2008 that this story actually originated with Tommy Johnson,
and was later ascribed to Robert. And Tommy was indeed a perfect candidate for
such a damnable pact. He was a troubled soul and a chronic alcoholic. He had,
however, been somewhat commercially successful during his lifetime, with hits
like Canned Heat Blues, a song about drinking methanol from the cooking fuel
Sterno. His live performances were said to be legendary,
inspiring the flamboyant antics of later rock and roll artists. He was known to
play the guitar behind his neck, in between his legs, and in mid-air. Asides
from his guitar, Tommy’s voice was unique and incredibly
difficult for anyone to imitate, for he was able to express a wide range of
vocal tones effortlessly. People at the time started to believe that such great
ability must have come from the devil himself. This idea became all the more
popular when Tommy himself began to confirm the claim. Some time after
Tommy’s death, in 1966, his brother Ledell Johnson stated in an interview with
Tommy’s biographer David Evans, that Tommy had in fact told him
about his pact with Satan personally. Not only that, Tommy has supposedly described
how anyone could sell their soul to the devil.
“Now if Tommy was living he’d tell you. He said the reason he knew so much was
because he sold himself to the devil. I asked him how, he said, ‘if you want to
learn how to play anything, you want to play and learn how to make songs
yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where a road crosses that way, where a
crossroads is, get there, be sure to get there just a little before 12:00 that
night, so you’ll know you’ll be there, you have your guitar and be playing a piece
there by yourself. A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar, and
he’ll tune it, and then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the
way I learned to play anything I want.'” Ledell Johnson had been a Blues musician
himself, occasionally performing alongside his
brother. In his older years, something about the music and his lifestyle made
him turn to the Church and become a man of God, believing, like many in the area,
that Blues was the work of the devil. Whilst Tommy only left behind a small
number of recorded works, they are considered masterpieces, with the vinyl
records he released at the time now considered precious treasures. In 2013,
one of his original singles sold on eBay for over $37,000, making it the most
expensive 78 rpm record ever sold at the time. It would seem that, at least in the
case of Tommy Johnson, the devil certainly held up his end of the bargain. thank you for watching if you enjoyed
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