Maybe it’s a leftover of my Catholic childhood, but there’s little I find scarier than the idea of a pact with the devil. Logically, I don’t know why the Source of All Evil would respect a contractual obligation in the first place, but I still don’t even joke about selling my soul to the devil… because what if it’s real? Many braver men and women, though, have made that famous deal, trading eternal damnation for a variety of worldly rewards. Below are five prominent people who are said to have made unholy pacts with Satan.
In recent years, Satan seems to has moved beyond heavy metal musicians. Pop star Katy Perry is said to have made the ultimate unholy bargain, and so has rapper Jay-Z. While Perry seems to have been joking around with a journalist, Hova’s bargain with the Forces of Darkness is more interesting. Rumors that began more than a decade ago say that Jay-Z pledged his allegiance to The Illuminati. In exchange for his soul, the evil secret society supposedly provided Jay-Z with his stratospheric success, as well as access to world leaders like Barack Obama. The whispers, tweets and blog-posts are completely racist, of course, with the unspoken subtext being that a black man couldn’t possibly become as successful as Jay-Z without the help of a shady secret society and the devil. But the rapper’s reaction to the stories is interesting: In interviews, Jay-Z has pointed out that the members of the global elite wouldn’t even let him in their country clubs, so why would they let him into the elite leadership of the New World Order?
But it’s not as simple as that… because Jay-Z has written songs specifically about Lucifer. He sprinkles his videos with overt references to the occult, including wearing clothing with the Satanic catchphrase “Do What Thou Wilt,” and throwing up a hand sign said to reference the Illuminati. He sells clothing emblazoned with esoteric symbolism like pentagrams and the all-seeing-eye of Horus.
So is Jay-Z really a member of the Illuminati, or is making money by turning racism back on itself, using esoteric symbolism to add a dark spiritual gravitas to his music? Who knows, but either way, you should listen to “Lucifer” right now because it rules.
Johann Georg Faust
Variations on the story of the devil’s bargain have been told by everyone from Goethe in FAUST to Hank Williams Jr. in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but it begins in 1587 with HISTORIA & TALE OF DOCTOR JOHANNES FAUSTUS. According to the book, Faustus was a German scholar who “loved what ought not be loved.” In pursuit of forbidden knowledge, he traveled to a crossroads in a Germanic forest and summoned the devil. From inside a protective circle, Faustus performed an unholy ritual and before long, lightning appeared in the sky and the entire forest was laid waste.
Demons emerged in three forms: First as a dragon, then as a man made of fire, and finally as Mephistopheles, an old monk. After lengthy negotiations, Faust agreed to trade his soul so that his every question would be answered and “every lust in his heart” fulfilled for 24 years. He reasoned that the “Devil might not be so black as they use to paint him, nor Hell so hot as the people say.” Faustus turned out to be very, very wrong — he joined the sinners in Hell who spend eternity “moaning in their throats, terror in their ears, trembling in their hands and feet,” and wishing for death, but finding that “death will flee from him.” Oops.
Before he became the father of the Delta blues, Robert Johnson lived on a plantation in Mississippi. As the story goes, Johnson had a burning desire to play guitar better than anyone alive. Rather than practice, he brought his guitar to a local crossroads, and waited at that desolate juncture of two country roads. At midnight, a large, black man appeared and tuned Johnson’s instrument. He showed Johnson a few licks too, before disappearing into the night.
While he never got famous, Johnson was apparently more interested in influence: He went on to create the seminal style that influenced everyone from Led Zeppelin to Imagine Dragons. Johnson’s obscurity during his lifetime means no one ever asked him about the tale, so it’s impossible to determine if the soul-selling actually, but his life and music proved some evidence: Johnson’s biography reports that he and mentor Ike Zinneman would practice their guitars while sitting on tombstones in a local boneyard, and his songs seem to drop diabolical hints has well. The amazing and creepy “Me and the Devil Blues” includes lyrics like “When you knocked upon my door, And I said ‘hello Satan I believe it’s time to go’.”
Brigadier General Jonathan Moulton did many notable things — from helping the U.S. win the revolutionary war to popularizing painting your house Colonial White. He also tried to beat the devil.
Known as “The Yankee Faust,” Moulton apparently believed in the old adage that it’s no sin to cheat the devil. Even though he was extremely wealthy, Moulton wanted more. One night, sitting before the fireplace, Moulton said out loud that he’d sell his soul to the devil to be the richest man in the province. The eavesdropping devil appeared from the flames and made him an offer: In exchange for Moulton’s soul, the Devil would fill Moulton’s boots with gold coins every month.
For a while, Mouton enjoyed his foot-gold, but eventually he needed more, and hatched a plot. He cut the bottoms out of his boots and put them on the chimney. The devil filled the boots as scheduled, but soon noticed that the shoes never filled. All that lucre was pouring down the chimney and into the kitchen, where Mouton was swimming around in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. Enraged, Satan took back all the gold he’d given Moulton, burned down his house, and didn’t even return his soul.
Years after his death, Moulton’s grave was opened. They say that instead of a skeleton, it contained only a coffin filled with gold. While there is a cenotaph to commemorate his death, it really does mark an empty grave; no one knows what became of Moulton’s remains.
While the scratchy-voiced singer is well known for going through a “Christian phase” in the late 1970s and releasing the worst records of his long career, he also may have sold his soul to Satan.
Dylan’s career began with a string of socially conscious folk songs aimed at bringing justice to the oppressed. His style is so heavily influenced by Woody Guthrie, it’s practically an imitation. But suddenly, around 1965, Dylan did a musical 180, leaving well-meaning protest marches behind in favor of plugging in an electric guitar and making demented, drug-addled rock n’ roll with no regard to decency, social justice or the causes of folkies and other weak-ass hippies.
Did Dylan travel to Robert Johnson’s legendary crossroads in the early 1960s and trade his soul in exchange for becoming the greatest songwriter of his generation? Who can say, but some think the following exchange from a 2009 episode of 60 MINUTES is evidence of Dylan’s demonic pact:
Ed Bradley: Why do you still do it? Why are you still out here?
Dylan: It goes back to that destiny thing. I made a bargain with it a long time ago, and I’m holding up my end.
Bradley: What was your bargain?
Dylan: To get where I am now.
Bradley: Should I ask whom you made the bargain with?
Dylan: With the chief commander.
Bradley: On this earth?
Dylan: (laughing) On this earth and the world we can’t see.”
It bears mentioning that Dylan looks a lot like Vincent Price now, which I assume was part of the deal.