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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Historical (Not Too Hysterical) Wednesdays, Halloween Countdown

In honor of Halloween at the end of the month, for Wednesdays in October I've decided to post about some of the scarier aspects and anecdotes in history.

Today: deals with the devil. These stories were some of the bestsellers of medieval Europe, and still have influence on popular culture today.

What could be scarier than owing your soul to the embodiment of evil? And in exchange for what? Riches? Love? Fame? One important moral of all stories of deals with the devil is that no earthly thing you could desire is worth making such a bargain, because all earthly things fade while the soul is eternal.

The earliest versions of this story involve a man perhaps ironically named "Theophilus" -- lover of God. In spite of his devout nature, Theophilus needs more material wealth in order to help a friend, save a relative, or just to get on in the world. He makes the ultimate sacrifice, conjuring up the devil and selling his soul to him. But because Theophilus has been so devoted, God considers it a simple lapse in judgment and doesn't allow the exchange to be completed.

Indeed, most of these stories have happy endings. Once the dealmaker has been sufficiently frightened and sees the error of his ways, either a loophole is found in the contract or a trusted saint arrives to cast the devil away. Sometimes, the trusted saint is the one who finds the loophole. In these stories, we find that the devil is actually not a very good lawyer. This is in direct contrast to the saints, who spend a lot of time practicing their advocacy skills in the heavenly court for the sake of the poor souls who pass through the gates with torts and misdemeanors.

Maybe the really scary thing here is how deeply entrenched legal procedure already was into the lives of the people who first came up with this basic story. It depends on whether you think lawyers are good Halloween characters. Tune in next Wednesday for an even scarier tidbit.