Pact with the Devil

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The Devil presenting the demonic pact to Theophilus, from the Psalter of Queen Ingeborg of Denmark, c. 1210. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Pact with the Devil

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Christian chroniclers at the early witch trials invariably recorded that the accused had made a pact with Satan. The Satanic pact was a signed document promising one's soul to the devil, after a certain number of years, in return for certain advantages during that period. At the end of the prescribed period, the devil would come for his due. The period was usually seven years or, sometimes, a multiple of seven. Many of the trial records speak of the accused witch "signing the devil's book." In 1653, when Anne Styles joined the group of witches at Salisbury, the other witches "pricked (her hand) with a pin and squeezed out the blood and put it into a Pen, and put the Pen in the Maid's hand, and held her hand to write in a great book" (Thomas Bayly Howell, State Trials, London, 1816). Joseph Glanvil (Sadducismus Triumphatus, London, 1681) reported that the Somerset witches who signed even if they could not write by putting a circle or a cross as their mark. When the Prior of St. Germain-en-Laye, Guillaume Edeline, signed a pact with Satan, it was discovered on his person.

The literature of the Middle Ages is filled with stories of people who supposedly sold their soul to the devil. One example, seemingly substantiated, is that of Oliver Cromwell. According to the memoirs of a Captain Lindsay, on the eve of the Battle of Worcester Cromwell left his tent at about midnight and said he was going for a walk in the nearby woods. He specifically forbade Lindsay to remain with him, as was his job. Lindsay nevertheless did follow at a discreet distance. He saw Cromwell enter a clearing in the woods and meet with an old man who carried a scroll of parchment. The two talked for a while and seemed to argue. Eventually the old man presented the parchment to Cromwell, who signed it. The old man then disappeared, and Cromwell returned to his tent. The following morning he led the Roundheads into battle against the royalists and won. Cromwell went on to become Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and ruled for exactly seven years. On the seventh anniversary of his meeting with the old man in the woods, September 3, 1658, Cromwell died. It was reported that there was a tremendous thunderstorm over London that night.

One form of the pact is given in the book Le Dragon Rouge (Paris, 1521), together with an illustration of the Magic Circle of Pacts. Urbain Grandier, the infamous priest of Loudon, supposedly made a pact, a copy of which is in the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris. In 1545, when only twelve years of age, Magdalene de la Croix, the Abbess of Cordova, made a pact "for the space of thirty years," according to the Pleasant Treatise of Witches of 1673.