“Probably the toughest time in anyone’s life is when you have to murder a loved one because they’re the devil” – Emo Philips
Folks often ask me for insights on how to wriggle out of an infernal compact with the ruler of the hoary netherworld, should they trip and find themselves making a wager for their eternal soul. I don’t take it personally, as it seems a reasonable question. Beyond a cocky attitude and superior fiddling skills, people have found a number of ways to con his Satanic Majesty, but I thought I would offer up one tried and true method. You see, the Devil may be the architect of all evil, but an actual architect he is not. We have ample evidence that he can’t read blueprints, suggesting (much to my surprise) a lack of a rounded curriculum in Hell’s educational institutions. And yes, I assume Hell has schools, as what better example do we have of “Hell on Earth” than our hallowed halls in most of their manifestations. Can I get an Amen?
So, let’s say you have a hankering to excel at necromancy, but sadly find you don’t have a natural aptitude for dealing with the deceased. Your best recourse is no doubt an appeal to the only guy who can confer a degree in the Black Arts. Of course, the tuition is your soul, and few financial institutions will take on that student loan. You’re going to need an out, presuming you are not a psychopath looking forward to a plum position poking people with a pitchfork in the underworld. One exceedingly useful contractual loophole to exploit is the Devil’s lack of architectural expertise, and this method has been used with great panache over the years.
Around 1350 A.D., The first recorded Vicar of the Church of Tremeirchion, in Denbighshire, North Wales, Dafydd Ddu Hiraddug, had the misfortune of dying. The little village of Denbighshire rose to notability at the end of the 19th Century due to the discovery of dinosaur bones in the area. And everyone knows the Devil buries dinosaur bones just to confuse us and make us believe in evolution. So we know he was capering about the region hawking his nefarious goods. Dafydd Ddu Hiraddug happened to also be a celebrated poet, necromancer and grammarian. On necromancy I waffle, but I’ve always had my suspicions about the malevolence of grammarians, thus his discourse with evil makes perfect sense.
In the north wall of the church of Tremeirchion, North Wales , has long been shown the tomb of a former vicar, who was also celebrated as a necromancer, flourishing in the middle of the fourteenth century. It is reported that he proved himself more clever than the Wicked One himself. A bargain was made between them that the vicar should practice the black art with impunity during his life, but that the devil should possess his body after death, whether he were buried within or without the church (Dyer, 1895, p165).
Exploiting both his superlative grammatical skills and vicarish knowledge of church architecture, he crafted his satanic pact to fool the Devil and retain his soul, focusing with lawyer-like precision on the phrase “within or without the church”. Thus, “the worthy vicar cheated his ally of his bargain by being buried within the church wall itself” (Dyer, 1891, p144). Silly Devil, tricks are for kids.
Similarly, in the parish of Tolleshunt Knights, near the Essex marshes, lays Barn Hall, and at some distance from the local manor house, an uncultivated plot of land. The existence of the community of Barn Hall was recorded in King William the Conqueror’s “Domesday Book”, essentially a survey of his territory in England and Wales as of 1086 A.D. The empty acreage is said to be the desired location of the first Barn Hall manor. Unfortunately, the Devil had other ideas, and as construction commenced, he arrived each night to spitefully disassemble the day’s work. The residents of Barn Hall were clearly dismayed, and a knight with two dogs was dispatched to guard the work site overnight. Like clockwork, the Prince of Darkness made an appearance, hell-bent on his mischievous errand. A tussle ensued, and the brave knight managed to get the upper hand. Bad luck for the knight. Satan is the archetypal sore loser.
The irritated demon thereupon snatched a beam from the building and hurled it through the darkness, exclaiming—“Where so ever this beam shall fall, There shall stand Barn Hall”. The Devil further declared that on the good knight’s death he would have him, whether he was buried in church or out of it. To avoid the penal fires thus threatened, the valiant warrior was buried in the wall, half in and half out (Axon, 1888, p216).
That’s the downside of being a knight. You’re expected to deal with some unsavory characters as part of your job description, regardless of weight class, while wearing 80 pounds of armor. Oh, and the poor hygiene. Dismemberment. Crusades. Crazy kings. All those rules of feudalism and chivalry. Okay, so there were a lot of downsides to being a knight. Nonetheless, it beats being a medieval peasant. Or any kind of peasant, really.
As illustrated by these examples, the Devil has only a cursory familiarity with the nuances of Tort Law, and even less awareness of common architectural dodges. Should you be interested in the quick path to worldly wealth, temporal fame, or just want to brush up on your necromancy, I recommend this artful subterfuge, but you’ve got to play to the Devil’s weaknesses when drafting the contract. He thinks he’s smarter than he appears to be. As Ezra Taft Benson once said, “Was it not through pride that the devil became the devil?”
Axon, William E. A. (William Edward Armytage), 1846-1913. Stray Chapters in Literature, Folk-lore, And Archaeology. Manchester: J. Heywood, 1888.
Dyer, T. F. Thiselton (Thomas Firminger Thiselton), b. 1848. Church-lore Gleanings. London: A. D. Innes & co., 1891.
Dyer, T. F. Thiselton, 1848-. Strange Pages from Family Papers. London: S. Low, Marston & Company limited, 1895.