Faustian Pacts: The Devil and the Doctor

The People of Longdendale

According to tradition there has always been a high interest in the magic arts among the dwellers of Longdendale. There is an old saying referring to the people of Longendale as being too bad for Heaven and too clever for Hell. The following is a retelling of a folktale from Legends of Longdendale, a collection of folktales from the area, by Thomas C. Middleton, that allegedly explains its origin. 

A Conjuror of High Degree

A rhyme by an unknown author tells a little of one such dweller,

“Long years ago, so runs the tale,

A doctor dwelt in Longdendale;”

“Well versed in mystic lore was he—

A conjuror of high degree;

He read the stars that deck the sky,

And told their rede of mystery.” (1)

From the verse we see that the dweller was a doctor who was skilled in magic, mysticism and astrology.  He was able to predict and understand the mysteries of the movements of the stars and how they would affect us here on Earth.  In his day he was someone who possessed great knowledge and power and these attributes are great gifts if used wisely and for the benefit of humanity.  

To be fair he did use his skills to the benefit of humankind. However,  power corrupts and even those with great knowledge and wisdom there can arise the desire to increase their blessings.  This is exactly what happened to our good doctor.  He began to yearn for more power and deeper knowledge of the secrets of the universe to enable him to do more good in the world.  

Power Corrupts

To begin with he put  aside this desire realizing that there are some things that are best left unknown.  However, once the tiniest yearning for power manifests in a person without the utmost care it can grow silently inside until it takes over the reason.  Again, this is exactly what happened to our good doctor and it drove him to take a daring chance and make a deal with the Devil.

He had delved into  books of ancient lore in search of the secret of increasing his abilities.  After many years of long, lonely study and dark and dangerous research he came to the conclusion there was but one way he could achieve his dream. He knew others had tried it and each one failed and  forced to suffer the most appalling consequences.   Nevertheless, he was hooked and  could not put  aside the temptation and at last he decided he must take the terrible chance. 

The Ultimate Test 

Therefore, he prepared himself for the ultimate test of his power and knowledge which would be to raise the Devil.   He had thought long and hard about it and put it off time and time again but it was the only way.  No one else could give him the power and knowledge he craved.  He knew the price Satan would demand but did not want to pay it.  Nevertheless, the craving for power made him think he could reach a more amicable agreement with the devil and he decided it was worth a try.Therefore he set about making  his preparations. He learnt the right spell.  Collected all the materials he required and readied his equipment in preparation.  

The Midnight Hour

With everything prepared and the approach of the midnight hour the doctor entered his chamber of magical experimentation.  After making special signs and uttering a brief incantation he set  up a lamp  upon the table and over a flame he hung a small cauldron.  Into the cauldron he poured certain liquids of dark properties and dropped various powders and items of dubious qualities.  Some of these items were too gruesome to name.  The powders and liquids were of undoubtedly odious origin possibly even human but he alone knew the true source of these materials.

Raising the Devil

With his brew bubbling he then uttered further incantations.  He continued to repeat the spell over and over while beseeching the powers of darkness for their attention.   He continued like this for over an hour with no sign any dark power or spirit had heard.  However, he persisted and at last his persistence was rewarded. 

The flame beneath the cauldron sprang and flared red then extinguished but the mixture within the cauldron continued to bubble.  Soon a vile vapor rose thick and fast and spread rapidly throughout the chamber.  In the center of the chamber there hovered a thick and unwholesome fog which was darker and denser than the rest.

The Devil’s Answer

Inside the fog the vapors were whirling and twisting forming a dark terrifying figure.  From that form there came a terrible voice that spoke in whispers that cut through the fabric of reality shaking and terrifying the doctor. “Who dares summon Satan from Hell? Step forward and speak. Tell me thy heart’s desire!”

The doctor was almost overcome with fear and awe but managing to master himself stepped boldly forward and said, “It is I that has summoned you for, I would have certain powers that you and only you, can endow.”

The Devil looked into his eyes and knew immediately what powers he yearned for.  

The Price

“Indeed, I can  bestow thee with these powers but you know there is a price to be paid.  Are you willing to pay it?” sneered the Devil.

The doctor faltered and quailed for a moment but quickly mastered himself and asked,  “Name your price and we shall see!”

“Ha! You know the price!” whispered the Devil, “There is only one price and the terms are not negotiable.  Agree that price and I will grant you the powers of your heart’s desire.  Be warned I shall return seven years from today and call upon you to deliver up your very soul to me.  Do you agree?”

The Contract

“Surely that is too high a price,” replied the doctor.

“It is the only price and the terms are not negotiable.  What do you say?” demanded the Devil.

The doctor hesitated realizing trying to bargain with him was hopeless  and said, “Then I must pay that price. I agree to the contract and the price!”

The Devil produced two sheets of paper.  With his long, sharp fingernail, he slit the wrist of the doctor causing blood to seep forth. Dipping his quill into the oozing wound he wrote the contract out on both pages using the doctor’s blood for ink.  With that same quill and ink the doctor signed.  With a look of extreme satisfaction, Satan placed the contract in his cloak and declared,  “Thy wish is granted, enjoy to the full what time you have left it will not be long enough.  Be sure seven years from now I shall return for my fee!”

There was a peal of thunder and a flash of lightning and the Devil was gone.  All that was left behind was the doctor’s copy of the  contract written and signed  in his own blood and the mocking echo of the Devil’s laughter.

Repentance

The Devil was true to his word and from the beginning of the agreement the doctor received all the powers he had yearned for.  He used them to further his own knowledge and skills but instead  of using them to benefit humankind he used it for his own pleasure and leisure.  His life was everything he wanted it to be with power, knowledge, riches and great acclaim.

However, time passed and after a couple of years he still thought he had a long time to enjoy his powers.  Three years passed and then four and he realized that time was passing too quickly.  Five years passed and then six and he was now getting nervous.  Despite his power and knowledge he knew he could not hold or alter time.   Therefore he began to repent his contract with the Devil realizing he had been foolish and selfish and searched for ways of avoiding paying the price.  Seven years passed and he knew he had to come up with something quick but could not think what.   

A Crazy Chance

At last he came up with something, it was but a glimmer of a crazy chance yet it was a crazy chance that might just work.  He consulted his books on astrology and charted the movement of the stars and came to the conclusion it could work.  That afternoon he purchased the fastest and best horse in Longdendale. That evening, as he knew would, Satan appeared before him in his chamber of magic. Satan duly arrived with his usual theatrics but the doctor remained calm as he faced him.

“Are you ready to fulfill the contract,” demanded the Devil.

“Indeed I am, but I am wondering if you are not open to a little wager first?” he asked nonchalantly knowing the Devil loved to gamble.

“Hmm, now just what have you in mind?” asked the Devil his interest aroused.

“I thought maybe a race on horseback to the crossroads. It is one mile to the crossroads and the first to pass the center wins.  If you win you take my soul.  If I win I keep it and you leave me in peace.  But … perhaps, you are not up to such a gamble and I have the fastest horse in Longdendale,” taunted the doctor gently.

Indeed, Satan had a fine black horse that was faster and stronger than any ordinary horse. He loved to race it and he loved to gamble, though it never really was a gamble because he would always win.  He would lay any odds on his horse winning against any challenger.

“A race it is, be outside on horseback in 30 minutes and the race will begin!”  cried the devil excited at the prospect.

The Challenge

The doctor saddled his new horse and waited on the road. Thirty minutes later the Devil appeared by his side mounted on a magnificent black stallion the like never before had been seen on earth. 

“Ah! A truly magnificent steed, but surely you are breaking the spirit of our race by riding an unearthly steed.  No earthly horse could surely match one born and bred in your realm, the challenge cannot go ahead.  You best take my soul here and now!” said the doctor.

The Devil had been looking forward to the race and was disappointed.  He could rightly have taken the doctor’s soul there and then but believed he would have it after the race anyway.  He so loved to race and gamble but rarely got the chance and his face dropped.

The doctor, seeing the look of disappointment on his adversary’s face said,  “Tell you what! How about if you give me a half mile start?”

To begin with  the Devil was not having it.  After some very subtle provocation and a play to his vanity from the doctor he accepted.

“You realize, it is not my normal practice to allow the terms of the contract to be changed, especially when I can rightfully claim payment?  Never before have I given a single minute’s grace when collecting my payment, let alone listen to further proposals to extend the period in the hope of saving their souls.  I have never before accepted any change in terms or payment.  Still, today I fancy some sport and will make an exception in this case.  Therefore, I accept. Let the race begin as soon as you are ready.  The signal shall be a thunderbolt!” said the Devil.

Race With the Devil

So while the Devil remained at the start line the doctor trotted a half mile ahead.  As soon as the Devil saw the doctor had reached the half mile he let fly a thunderbolt that flashed and crashed mightily and the race began.

The Devil spurred his mount forward using all speed while the doctor, determined not to be complacent by the half mile start, spurred his own horse on.  This was just as well for the Devil set off at unbelievable speed and was fast gaining on the doctor.  He reached the half mile point with the doctor not quite making the three quarter of a mile point.  

The Devil was now excited and enjoying himself. Uttering wild shouts and cries he spurred his horse forward, second by second gaining on the doctor.  His opponent, his face grim and set and ever looking over his shoulder encouraged his own steed forward.

With less than a quarter of a mile to go the Devil was but a few yards behind and whooping wildly while the doctor, casting anxious glances back, continued to press his own steed. He desperately wanted to beat the Devil to the ford where a fast flowing stream of water flowed over the road but the chances of this were now slim. 

As the Devil came up fast behind the doctor’s mount he reached forward laughing with glee and grabbed the tail of the doctor’s horse giving it a viscous twist.  The terrified horse cried out in shock and pain and  surged forward.  

Running Water

The Devil kept a grip on the poor beast’s tail trying with all his might to hold it back.  They were approaching the ford where a stream of running water flowed over the road.  Had he seen this, things might have turned out different, but the Devil, being intent on holding on to his challenger’s horse’s tail did not see it.  The terrified beast surged forward again and its tail broke and the horse free from the Devil’s grip took one mighty leap clear over the running steam of water.

The Laws of Magic

The Devil was forced to pull up abruptly.  By the laws of magic and sorcery which even the Devil is obliged to adhere to he could not cross running water in pursuit of a victim.   This law applies to all witches, evil spirits and the like and it must be obeyed.  The doctor raced on to the crossroads to win the race and keep his soul.

In mockery of the Devil the doctor turned and waved joyously at his adversary who was fuming with rage. He now saw how the doctor had tricked and goaded him into the race with this outcome in mind.  He howled with rage at his own gullibility and the doctor’s cleverness.

Too Bad For Heaven, Too Clever For Hell!

Nevertheless, despite his anger there was nothing he could do except ride off on the wings of a storm back to Hell in disgust.  He swore an oath that no mortal from Longdendale would ever again be allowed inside his domain for they were too bad for Heaven and too clever  for Hell! 

© 17/12/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright December 17th, zteve t evans

12 thoughts on “Faustian Pacts: The Devil and the Doctor

  1. Aha! I wondered about the specifics of the running-water rule. Interesting that it is specifically in pursuit of a victim. I’ve seen that tactic of crossing running water used in many stories, though often it gets simplified to such beings can’t cross running water at all. Then again, since the rule is usually invoked when someone’s trying to escape said beings, it really amounts to the same thing.

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