Folklore and Superstition
When the devil appeared to Cuvier, the great man looked at him nonchalantly and asked curtly: “What do you wish of me?” “I’ve come to eat you !” said the devil. But the great anatomist’s shrewd eye had already examined him. “Horns and hoofs !” he retorted, “granivorous. You can’t do it!” Whereupon, outfaced by science, Satan departed.
Plinius Secundus remembers a house at Athens which Athenodorus, the philosopher, hired, and which no man durst inhabit, for fear of the haunting devils. Hesperius, the tribune’s house, at Zubeda, near the city of Hippos, was also thus haunted; and he was so much vexed with these demons and ghosts that he could not rest.
Vasari, the Italian painter and biographer (d. 1574), tells the following strange tale of Spinello of Arezzo. When this artist had painted, in his famous fresco of the fall of the rebellious angels, the devil as a hideous demon and with seven heads about his body, the fiend came to him in the very bodily form he had conceived him, and asked the artist where he had seen him so, and why he had portrayed him in such a manner and put such a shame upon him? When Spinello came out of the vision, he was in a state of terror, and falling into a melancholy, soon died.
A mythical personage who originated in German folklore, was Friar Rusk. He was a fiendish looking creature who was really a devil, and kept monks and friars from leading a religious life. He was probably at one time a good natured imp like Robin Goodfellow, but under the influence of Christian superstition, he became the typical emissary from Satan who played tricks among men calculated to set them by the ears, and who sought by various devices, always amusing, to fit them for residence in his master’s dominions. (Tuckerman, “History of Prose Fiction.”)
Freischiitz, the free shooter, is a name given to a legendary huntsman who, by entering into a compact with the devil, procures balls six of which infallibly hit, however great the distance, while the seventh, or according to some of the versions, one of the seven, belongs to the devil, who directs it at his pleasure. Legends of this nature were rife among the troopers of Germany in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and during the Thirty Years’ War. The story first appeared in Apel’s “Ghost Book,” and was made known to all civilized countries by Weber’s opera in 1821. Continue reading