History of the Devil, by Paul Carus, , at sacred-texts.com
THE religion of the Teutons was in the main a religion of fighters, and we do not hesitate to say that they, more than any other people on earth, developed the ethics of struggle. War, strife, and competition, are frequently regarded as in themselves detestable and immoral, but the Teutons discovered that life means strife, and that therefore courage is the root of all virtue. Their highest ideal was not to shrink from the unavoidable, but to face it squarely and unflinchingly. Their chief god was the god of war, and their noblest consummation of life was death on the battlefield. They despised the coward who was afraid of wounds and death. They respected and even honored their enemies if they were but brave. They scorned deceit and falsity and would rather be honestly defeated than gain a victory by trickery. And this view did not remain a mere theory with them, but was practised in life. The Teutons were repeatedly defeated by the Romans, by Marius, Cæsar, and others who were less scrupulous in their methods of fighting, but in the long run they remained victorious and built a Teutonic empire upon the debris of Rome.
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HEL, THE GODDESS OF THE NETHER WORLD. (By Johannes Gehrts.)
The idea of evil played an important part in the religion of the Teutons.
Loki, the god of fire, the cunning mischief-maker among the Asas, is believed to have brought sin and evil into the world. In the younger Edda, Loki takes part in the creation of man, whom he endows with the senses, passions, and evil desires. Loki's children are (1) the Fenris wolf, (2) the Jormungander, i. e., the Midgard serpent, and (3) Hel, the queen of Nifelheim, the world of the dead.
Loki induced the gods to build fortifications, for which the architect, who was one of the giants and an enemy of the gods, should, if he finished his work in a stipulated time, receive as remuneration Freyja, the goddess of beauty and love. But when it became apparent that the walls would be soon completed, Loki, true to his treacherous character, assisted the gods in cheating the architect. He further helped the giant Thjasse to steal Idun with her immortality-giving golden apples. Only when the gods threatened to punish him did he become accessory in bringing Idun back again. The worst deed which Loki accomplished was the death of Baldur, the god of light and purity. After that he was outlawed and resided no longer in Asgard. But he came back and mocked the gods when they were assembled at Ægir's banquet. At last he was captured and in punishment for his crimes tied upon three pointed rocks right beneath the mouth of a serpent. Sigyn, Loki's wife, remains with him to catch the dripping venom in a bowl, which from time to time she empties. Whenever the bowl is withdrawn the venom drops into Loki's face
and he writhes with pain, which makes the world tremble in what men call earthquakes.
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RAGNAROK, OR THE DOOMSDAY OF THE TEUTONS (By Johannes Gehrts.)
The most remarkable feature of Teutonic mythology is the conception of doomsday or Ragnarok (the twilight
of the gods), boding a final destruction of the world, including all the gods. At present the powers of evil are fettered and subdued, but the time will come when they will be set loose. Loki, the Fenris wolf, the Midgard serpent, and Hel, with their army of frost giants and other evil beings, will approach; Heimdall, the watchman of the gods, will blow his horn, and the Asas prepare for battle. The combat on the field Vigrid will be internecine, for the Asas are to die while killing the monsters of wickedness whom they encounter, and the flames of Muspil will devour the wrecks of the universe.
The world had a beginning, it therefore must come to an end; but when the world is destroyed a new heaven and a new earth will rise from the wreck of the old one, and the new world will be better than the old one. Leifthraser and his wife Lif (representing the desire for Life and potential Life) remained concealed during the catastrophe in Hodmimer's grove and were not harmed by the flames. They now become the parents of a new race that will inhabit the new abode, called Gimel (the German Himmel), and among them will be found Odhin with his sons, Thor, Baldur, Fro, and all the other Asas.
When Christianity spread over Northern Europe it came into contact with the Teutonic and Celtic nations, who added new ideas to its system and transformed several characteristic features of its world-view. Christianity to-day is essentially a Teutonic religion. The ethics of Christianity, which formerly was expressed in the sentence "Resist not evil," began, in agreement with the
combative spirit of the Teuton race, more and more to emphasise the necessity of struggle. Not only was the figure of Christ conceived after the model of a Teutonic war-king, the son of the emperor, while his disciples became his faithful vassals; not only did the archangels assume the features of the Asas, the great northern gods, Wodan, Donar, Fro, and others; not only were the old pagan feasts changed into Christian festivals; the Yuletide became Christmas and the Ostara feast in the spring was celebrated in commemoration of Christ's resurrection; but the individual features of the evil powers of the North were also transferred to Satan and his host.
Teutonic legends and fairy tales frequently mention the Devil, and there he possesses many features that remind us of Loki. In addition, the ice giants of the Norsemen, the Nifelheim of the Saxons, the Nether-world of the Irish, all contributed their share to the popular notions of the Christian demonology of the Middle Ages. The very name "hell" is a Teutonic word which originally signified a hollow space or a cave underground, and denotes the realm of Hel, Loki's daughter. The weird and terrible appearances of the gods, too, were retained for the adornment of demoniacal legends; and Odhin as storm-god became "the wild hunter."
Dr. Ernst Krause, who is best known under his nom de plume of Carus Sterne, has undertaken the work of proving the Northern influence upon Southern fairy tales and legends. 1 He finds that all the myths which symbolise the death and resurrection of the sun, giving
rise to the idea of immortality, doomsday, and the final restoration of the world, have originated in Northern countries where on Christmas day the sun that seemed lost returns spreading again light and life. Our philologists believe that the Nibelungenlied contains features of Homer's great epics; but, according to Dr. Krause, it would seem that the original source of the Nibelungenlied is older than Homer, and that the theme of the Völuspa, the first song of the Edda, being a vision that proclaims the final destruction and degeneration of heaven and earth, antedates Christ's prophecies of the coming judgment. (Matt., 24.) Christianity comes to us from the Orient, but the idea that a God will die and be resurrected is of Northern origin.
Dr. Krause proceeds to prove that the conception of hell as depicted in Dante's Divina Comedia, which may be regarded as the classical conception of Roman Catholic Christianity, is in all its essential elements the product of a Northern imagination. 1 Dante followed closely Teutonic traditions, which in his time had become a common possession in the Christian world through the writings of Saxo Grammaticus, Beda Venerabilis, Albericus, Caedmon, Caesarius of Heisterbach, and others. It is specially noteworthy that the deepest hell of Dante's Inferno is not, as Southern people are accustomed to describe the place of torture, a burning sulphur lake, but the wintry desolation of an ice-palace. That this ice hell can be traced back to the days of Gnosticism would only prove that this Northern influence may, in many of its most characteristic features, date back to a prehistoric age.
Dante's vision is by no means the product of his own imagination. It embodies a great number of old traditions. Dante reproduced in his description of Satan and hell the mythological views of the North so popular in his days. His cantos not only remind us of Ulysses's and Virgil's journey to the Nether-world, but also and mainly of Knight Owain's descent into St. Patrick's Purgatory
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DANTE'S ICE HELL. (By Gustave Doré.)
in Ireland, and of the vision of hell as described by Beda, Albericus, and Chevalier Tundalus. In the last song of the Inferno, Dante describes the residence of the sovereign of hell, which is surrounded by a thick fog, so as to make it necessary for the poet to be led by the hand of his guide. There the ice-palace stands almost inaccessible through the cold blizzards that blow about it; and
there the ruler of hell and his most cursed fellows stand with their bodies partly frozen in the transparent ice.
Dante's portraiture of the evil demon whom he calls "Dis" agrees exactly with the appearance of the principal Northern deity of evil, as he was commonly revered among the Celts, the Teutons, and the Slavs. Dis has three faces: one in front, and one on each side. The middle face is red, that on the right side whitish-yellow, that on the left side, black. Thus the trinity idea was transferred to Satan on account of the ill-shaped idols of the crude art of Northern civilisation. Dante's description of Dis reminds us not only of the three-headed hoar-giant of the Edda, Hrim-Grimnir, who lives at the door of death, but also of the trinity of various pagan gods, especially of Triglaf, the triune deity of the Slavs.
When Bishop Otto of Bamberg converted the Pomeranians to Christianity, he broke, in 1124, the three-headed Triglaf idol in the temple of Stettin and sent its head to Pope Honorius II. at Rome. Dr. Krause suggests that since Dante, who as an ambassador of Florence visited Rome in 1301, must have seen with his own eyes the head of the Pomeranian Triglaf, it is by no means impossible that he used it as a prototype for the description of his trinitarian Satan.
It is interesting to observe the transformation of the old Teutonic giants who were plain personifications of the crude forces of nature, into Christian devils. Northern mythology represents the giants, be they mountain-giants, storm-giants, frost-giants, fog-giants, or what not,
as stupid, and they are frequently conquered by the wisdom of the gods, or by human cunning and invention. There are innumerable legends which preserve the old conception and simply replace the names of giants by devils; and we can observe that all the conquests of man over nature are, in the old sense of the Teutonic mythology, described as instances in which giants or devils are outwitted in one way or another.
Tile giants, as representatives of mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, and the soil of the earth, are always bent on collecting the rent that is due to the owner of the land, for men are merely tenants of the earth, which by right belongs to the giants. The giants envy men their comfort and try to destroy their work. Thus the fog-giant Grendel appears at night-time in the hall of King Hrodhgar and devours at each visit thirty men. Beowulf, the sun-hero, fights with him and cuts off his arm; he then encounters Grendel's mother, the giantess of the marsh whence the fog rises, and finally succeeds in killing both Grendel and his mother.
The parades of giant families which form an important feature of Dutch and Flemish carnivals may be a relic of older customs representing visits of the lords of the ground collecting their rents, which is given in refreshments while the people sing the giant-song 1 with the refrain:
The privilege of collecting rent which the forces of nature, be they gods, demons, or giants, and later on in their stead, the Devil, were supposed to possess, led to the idea of offering sacrifices in payment of the debt due to the powerful and evil-minded landlords, the owners of the soil. And this notion resulted in the superstition of burying alive either human beings or animals, a practice which at a certain stage of civilisation probably was all but universal and received even the sanction of the God of Israel. 1
Grimm says (Mythology, p. 109):
"Frequently it was regarded as necessary to entomb within the foundation of a building living creatures and even men, an act which was regarded as a sacrifice to the soil which had to endure the weight of the structure. By this cruel custom people hoped to attain permanence and stability for great buildings."
There are innumerable stories which preserve records of this barbaric custom, and there can be no doubt that many of them are historical and that the practice continued until a comparatively recent time. We read in Thiele (Dänische Volkssagen, I., 3) that the walls of Copenhagen always sank down again and again, although they were constantly rebuilt, until the people took an innocent little girl, placed her on a chair before a table, gave her toys and sweets, and while she merrily played, twelve masons covered the vault and finished the wall, which since that time remained stable. Scutari is said to have
been built in a similar way. A ghost appeared while the fortress was in the process of building, and demanded that the wife of one of the three kings who should bring the food to the masons on the next day should be entombed in the foundation. Being a young mother, she was permitted to nurse her baby, and a hole was left for that purpose which was closed as soon as the child was weaned.
We read in F. Nork's Sitten und Gebräuche (Das Kloster, Vol. XII.) that when in 1813 the ice broke the dam of the river Elbe and the engineers had great trouble in repairing it, an old man addressed the dike-inspector, saying: "You will never repair the dike unless you bury in it an innocent little child," and Grimm adduces even a more modern instance (Sagen, p. 1095) which dates from the year 1843. "When the new bridge in Halle was built," Grimm tells us, "the people talked of a child which should be buried in its foundations."
So long did these superstitions continue after the cruel rite had been abandoned; and they were held, not only in spite of the higher morality which Christianity taught, but even in the name of Christianity. In Tommaseo's Canti Populari an instance is quoted of the voice of an archangel from heaven bidding the builders of a wall entomb the wife of the architect in its foundation. The practice is here regarded as Christian and it is apparent that there are instances in which Christian authorities were sufficiently ignorant to sanction it, for even the erection of churches was supposed to require the same cruel sacrifice; and there were cases in which, according to the special sanctity of the place, it was deemed
necessary to bury a priest, because children or women were not regarded as sufficient. In Günther's Sagenbuch des Deutschen Volkes (Vol. I., p. 33 ff.) we read that the Strassburg cathedral required the sacrifice of two human lives, and that two brothers lie buried in its foundation.
The Power of Evil Outwitted.
The presence of all the big bowlders that lie scattered in the low lands of Germany is attributed either to giants or to the devils; they are sometimes said to be sand-grains which giants removed from their shoes, or they were thrown down in anger when they found themselves cheated out of their own by the wit of mortals.
There is a Märchen of a farmer who undertook to till heretofore uncultivated ground and the Devil (that is to say, the giant who owned the land and had seen nothing except sterile rocks and desolate deserts) gazed with astonishment at the green plants that sprang from the earth. He demanded half the crop, and the farmer left him his choice whether he would take the upper or the lower half. When the Devil chose the lower half, the farmer planted wheat, and when the upper half, he planted turnips, leaving him now the stubble and now the useless turnip tops. Whichever way the Devil turned he was outwitted. 1
The story came in its migration south to Arabia, where it was discovered by Friedrich Rückert, who retold it in his poem "The Devil Outwitted," 2 which Mr. E.
[paragraph continues] F. L. Gauss, of Chicago, has kindly translated for the special purpose of quotation in this connection:
"The Arabs said, for they are sly,
'The lower half we'll give to thee,'
But the Devil, always aiming high,
Replied: 'It shall the upper be!'
"They turnips sowed all o'er their field,
And when he came to share the crop,
The Arabs took the subsoil yield,
And the Devil got the turnip tops.
"And when another year came round
The Devil spoke in wrathful scorn:
'To have the lower half I'm bound!'
The Arabs then sowed wheat and corn,
"When came the time again to share,
The Arabs took the sheaves pell-mell,
The Devil took the stubbles bare
And fed with them the fire of hell."
There are innumerable other legends of stupid devils. A miller of the Devil-mill in Kleinbautzen tied the Devil to the water-wheel. 1 A smith who for his hospitality once had a wish granted by Christ, bewitched the Devil and placed Lucifer, the chief of devils, on his anvil, which frightened him so much that the smith, when he died, was not admitted to hell. 2 And there is a humorous German folk-song of a tailor, which begins:
The tailor, on arriving in hell, maltreated all the devils with his tailor utensils in the attempt at dressing
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ST. DUNSTAN AND THE DEVIL. (Reproduced from Scheible.)
them, and they swore that they would never again allow a tailor to come near them, even though he might have stolen ever so much cloth. 1
Another comical story is told of Dunstan, abbot of Glaston, later archbishop of Canterbury. While busily
engaged in the fabrication of a Eucharist cup, the Devil suddenly appeared to him. But the saint was not afraid; he took the pincers out of the fire and seized the nose of Satan, who ran off with a howl and never again dared to molest him. The event is commemorated in an old rhyme, thus:
An act of bravery is told of St. Cuthbert. Sir Guy Le Scoope (as Thomas Ingoldsby tells us, closely following the chronicle of Bolton) expected company, but finding at the appointed hour the banquet hall empty, because the guests had been kept away through a bad joke of the inviting messenger, he called on the Devil and ten thousand fiends to eat the dinner and take all that was there with them to the infernal regions. The Devil came with his devilish company and all the folk of Sir Guy fled, leaving the little heir behind, who was at once seized by Black Jim, the leader of the fiendish company. In his anxiety Sir Guy cried to St. Cuthbert of Bolton, who actually made his appearance in the shape of ail old palmer and forced the demoniac crowd to surrender the child, but he generously allowed them to remain as the guests of Sir Guy, adding:
Walk away, like respectable Devils, in peace,
And don't "lark" with the watch or annoy the police!
Having thus said his say, That Palmer grey
Took up little Le Scoope and walk'd coolly away,
While the Demons all set up a 'Hip! hip! hurray!'
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THE LEGEND OF ST. CUTHBERT. (From the Ingoldsby Legends.)
Still another story of saintly courage is told of St. Medard, who while once promenading on the shore of
the Red Sea in Egypt, saw Old Nick carrying in a bag a number of lost sinners. The saint took compassion on the poor souls and slit Satan's bag open, whereupon Old Nick's prisoners escaped.
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THE LEGEND OF ST. MEDARD. (From the Ingoldsby Legends.)
Away went the nice little Cardinal's Niece,
And the pretty Grisettes, and the Dons from Spain,
And the Corsair's crew, And the coin-clipping Jew,
And they scamper'd, like lamplighters, over the plain!p. 259
Old Nick is a black-looking fellow at best,
Ay, e’en when he's pleased; but never before
Had he looked so black As on seeing his sack
Thus cut into slits on the Red Sea shore."
Old Nick took up a stone and threw it at the saint.
The stone recoiled.
It smashed his shin, and it smash’d his hoof,
Notwithstanding his stout Orthopedical shoe
And this is the way That, from that same day,
Old Nick became what the French call Boiteux!"
One of the oldest triumphs of human skill in bridge-building gave rise to the Märchen of the Devil's Bridge which boldly overspans the yawning gorge of the Reuss where the mountain road passes up to the furca of the St. Gotthard. A new bridge has been built by engineers of the nineteenth century right above the old one; but the old one remained for a long time in its place, until it broke down in recent years. The legend goes that a shepherd-lad engaged the Devil to build the bridge on the condition that the soul of the first living creature that crossed it should be forfeited. When the work was finished the lad drove a chamois over the bridge, which, seeing that he was cheated out of the price he had expected, the Devil wrathfully tore into pieces. 1
All these stories are Christianised pagan notions of evil conquered either through cleverness and wit or by divine assistance; and even the church doctrines of sin
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THE DEVIL'S BRIDGE OVER THE REUSS.
and salvation are based upon pre-Christian conceptions ultimately dating back to human sacrifices and the mystic rites of cannibalism in which man hoped to partake of
divinity and immortality by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of his incarnated God or his representative.
The Christian scheme of salvation may be briefly called the vicarious atonement of man's sin through the blood of Christ. God's wrath upon the guilty human race is purified through the sufferings and death of the innocent god-man. Divine Justice is satisfied by the sacrifice of Divine Love.
The mystery of this doctrine and also of the doctrine of original sin, which in its literal sense can hardly be regarded as commendable, has a deep sense which appears when we consider the organic unity of the human race. We not only inherit the evil consequences of our ancestors' evil deeds, but we actually consist of their evil dispositions themselves. Thus the sin of our fathers is our curse because it is our own, and, in the same way, the merit of our brothers becomes, or may become, our own blessing. We can easily share in the benefit that will accrue from inventions or other advances made by one man if we are only willing to accept the lesson which his example teaches.
The idea of a salvation through vicarious atonement has grown dimmer of late. The old interpretation reminding us of the bloody sacrifices of savages is beginning to wane, although it can scarcely be regarded as entirely abandoned; it is not surrendered but merely transformed, and may now be called the idea of salvation through sacrifice.
246:1 Die Trojaburgen Nord-Europas. Glogau, Carl Flemming, 1893.
247:1 Vossische Zeitung, 1896, Feb. 2, 9, 10; Sonntagsbeilagen.
250:1 Floegel's Geschichte des Grotesk-Komischen, by Ebeling, p. 286, quotes the giant-song as sung in Ypern.
251:1 I Book of Kings, xvi. 34.
253:1 Grimm, Märchen, No. 189. Deutsche Mythologie, No. 981. Müllenhoff. No. 377. Thiele, Dänische Sagen, No. 122.
253:2 Der betrogene Teufel.
254:1 Preusker, Blicke in die vaterländische Vorzeit, I., p. 182.
254:2 Mentioned in Grimm's Märchen.
255:1 Translated by the author. The song may be found in various collections of German folk-songs. Its first verse runs:
Es wollt ein Schneider wandern,
Des Montags in der Fruh.
Begegnet ihm der Teufel,
Hat weder Weider noch Schuh.
He, he, du Schneidergesöll,
Du musst mit mir zur Höll,
Du sollst die Teufel kleiden,
Es koste was es wöll."
259:1 Grimm, Deutsche Sagen, 336, and Tobler, Appenzeller Sprachschatz, 214.