5 Historic Encounters with the Devil

Lucifer, Satan, Iblīs, Beelzebub – these are but some of the many names used to describe the arch-demonic enemy of mankind.

A diabolical Devil-figure appears in history all across the globe. Whether such a monstrously evil being exists is up for debate. However, the hellish mark which the Devil has left on the legends and folklores of mankind is indisputable. Many tales describe encounters with the beast – for the worse and for the better. As such, here are five historic encounters with the devil.  

5 – Richard Cabell

Richard Cabell lived during the 1600s and was the local Squire of Brook Manor, in Devon England. He was regarded as a monstrously evil man: a figure of darkness who local legend records as having beaten and abused his wife, until one night she escaped, fleeing across the moors with her husband in hot pursuit. It is said that he eventually caught up with the unfortunate woman, murdering her and her faithful dog. The ghost of this loyal canine haunted Cabell for the rest of his life. 1

The reason for the squire’s darkness, it was said, lay in a deal he had made with the devil.

Granted immortality by the Beast, Cabell did as he pleased, creating such an infamous legacy that he would later go on to provide the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.

However, eternal life was not to be his. Cabell died on the 5th July 1677 – with some saying that he was hunted to death by a pack of phantom hounds, bent on revenge. 2 On the night of his interment into the family tomb, it is said that this same pack of phantom hounds came baying across the moor to howl at his grave. From then on, on the anniversary of his death, the hellish phantom of Richard Cabell could be seen stalking the moors and the area around his final resting place.

Terrified of the dark figure and his diabolical connection, local people built iron bars around the squire’s tomb and placed a huge slab of stone on top of the grave. However, even after taking such precautions, some still report a strange red glow emanating through the iron bars. Some even claim that, on certain nights, a whole host of demonic creatures gather at his grave, trying to retrieved the promised soul of for their master… 3

4 – St. Dunstan

In the tenth century, the religious fate of England was safeguarded by Dunstan, a pious and charitable clergyman who held many important ecclesiastic positions throughout his life. By the time of his death in 988, Dunstan had served as the Archbishop of Canterbury and had reformed monastic life in England, as well as being a skilled artist, harpist and metalsmith. Not only that, it was said that Dunstan had protected England from the Devil himself.

Initial from the Life of Dunstan, in the Canterbury Passionale, showing St Dunstan grabbing the devil with his blacksmith’s tongs. (Source: British Library’s Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts)

According to legend, Dunstan encountered the devil numerous times. The most famous of these encounters occurred whilst he was living as a hermit in a cell at Glastonbury. A talented metalsmith as he was, Dunstan occasionally accepted commissions. One such commission came from an old man, who appeared at his window asking if Dunstan would make a chalice for him. Agreeing, Dunstan began working on the piece. However, when he looked up from his work, he noticed that his visitor had changed: one moment he was the old man, the next a young boy, then a woman.

It was then that Dunstan realised his visitor was the devil.

Concealing his distress, Dunstan continued to craft the chalice. He picked up his blacksmith’s tongs and moved them to fire. Once they were red-hot, he pulled them from the flames, turned on his heel and seized the devil by the nose with the tongs. Despite the struggling and screams of the devil, Dunstan calmly cast the beast from his cell. 4

On another occasion, Dunstan was sat in his cell playing his harp. As the saint sang his melodious tune, a “tramping vagrant” approached. This was the devil, once again intent on deceiving the holy man. However, Dunstan was a man of cunning. He once again seized the devil, this time grabbing his diabolic hoof. The saint proceeded to shoe the beast, furiously nailing a metal horseshoe to the devil’s hoof. The devil pleaded and cried in pain as Dunstan hammered nail after long nail into him. When he was done, Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and free the devil after he promised he would never pass through a door over which a horseshoe hangs. 5

From then on, the hanging of a horseshoe outside one’s home has been associated with good luck and protection.

The devil fleeing from a doorway protected by a horseshoe. (Illustrated by George Cruikshank, in The Horse Shoe, 1871)

“Over your threshold, on your mast

Be sure the horse-shoe’s well nailed fast” 6

3 – The Devil’s Bridge

Almost every country possesses a legend of a “Devil’s Bridge”. In this respect, the Tyrol region of Austria is no different.

Legend reports that, one day, a village in the valley of Montafon had their bridge swept away by an overwhelming torrent. The villagers were justifiably concerned, for they depended upon that passage to pass to and from Schruns, on the other side of the river, from where they traded and purchased their supplies. Banding together, the villagers applied to the local carpenter, offering him a large sum of money if he would rebuild the vital bridge in three days’ time.

The carpenter was in disbelief. The money being offered would make his large family rich. However, he saw that completing such a great amount of work in just three days was an impossibility. Before making a decision, he begged the villagers for one day of reflection.

All that day, up to midnight, the carpenter studied and pondered, frantically searching of a way to rebuild the bridge in the specified time. Angry and annoyed, he could find no solution. Just when he was about to give up and go to bed, a little man wearing a green hat entered the room. The strange man claimed that he could help the carpenter complete the task in the three days. He did, however, have one condition: once the bridge was finished, the first soul out of the carpenter’s house to pass over the bridge would belong to him.

It was then that the carpenter realised the strange man was the devil.

However, so enticed by the large sum of money was he, the carpenter agreed to the devil’s terms, believing that, when the time came, he could cheat the devil.

Three days afterwards the bridge was complete, and the devil stood in the middle, awaiting his prey. After having remained there for many days, the carpenter at last appeared. Sensing his payment was close at hand, the devil jumped with joy. However, the carpenter was driving one of his goats, and as he approached the bridge, he pushed her on before him, and called out: “There you have the first soul out of my house!”

In a fit of rage at having being so deceived and humiliated, the devil seized the goat by the tail and dragged her across the bridge. So hard did the devil handle the creature that her tail came out. Laughed at and mocked by all who saw him with the goat, the devil took off.

It is said that since the day the carpenter outsmarted the devil, all goats have had short tails. 7

2 – Robert Johnson

This studio portrait (c. 1935) is one of only two or three verified photographs of Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson was an American blues singer-songwriter and musician. It was his guitar-playing ability for which he is most remembered, and is still considered to be amongst the greatest guitarists of all-time. 8

Strangely, playing the guitar was not a skill which he was ever known for as a child. The story goes that, although he played it avidly in high school, he was not reported as having any real talent for it. However, at the age of 18, Johnson displayed a mastery of guitar that seemed to come from nowhere. His rapid knowledge of the instrument was inexplicable: he played it with such intimate finesse that the only explanation for it was devilry.

According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Johnson greatly desired to become a great blues musician. This desire was so great, he took his guitar to a nearby crossroads. There he was met by the devil, who took his guitar and retuned it. Upon handing it back, Johnson was given mastery of the instrument – for the small price of his soul.

In the years that followed, Johnson became an itinerant musician, moving from place to place playing his guitar for tips on street corners. He later went on to record several songs.

Some say that allusions to Johnson’s diabolical pact can be found in several of his own songs, including Cross Road Blues, and Me and the Devil.

Somewhat ominously, Johnson died under mysterious circumstances in 1938 at the young age of 27. One theory suggests that he was poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman he had flirted with. Another theorises that he died of syphilis. Ultimately, no one knows. Not only that, Johnson’s gravesite is a mystery – with at least three different locations having been marked out as possible sites.

With Johnson’s music now enshrined in the Blues’ hall of fame, one can only wonder if the devil came and collected his fee as agreed. After all, Johnson died at the legendary, and possibly cursed, age of 27, meaning that he joins other great musicians in the infamous 27 club, including Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison.

1 – The Possession of George Lukins

On Saturday 31st May, 1788, the Reverend Joseph Easterbrook was alerted to the strange case of George Lukins, a man who claimed to be possessed by the devil.

It was one of the Reverend’s parishioners, Mrs. Sarah Barber, who told him of Lukins’ affliction.

Upon visiting the village of Yatton in Somerset, a place where she used to live, Mrs. Barber had been disturbed to find a man she once knew in a state of extraordinary illness. George Lukins, a tailor and common carrier by profession, had been a child of “good character”, who “constantly attended the church and sacrament”. However, for the last eighteen years, his demeanor had shifted – his nature changed.

During her stay in the village, she told the Reverend, she witnessed the unfortunate man have fits multiple times a day, during which he “he sang and screamed in various sounds, some of which did not resemble a human voice”.

George had been placed under the care of Mr. Smith, an eminent surgeon. Many other medical gentlemen had also lent their help to Mr. Smith and his patient. All was in vain. No cure could be found for the mysterious malady, with George himself declaring – in the middle of his fits – that no doctor could do him service.

Many of the people of the village were convinced the man was “bewitched”. George himself “declared that he was possessed of seven devils”.

Upon hearing Mrs. Barber’s recollections, Rev. Easterbrook requested George Lukins visit him.

In the Reverend’s notes, he described how George made “the most horrible noises” as his body convulsed. Experiencing as many as nine fits a day, the man was weak and emaciated. He was also unable to hear religious expressions without writhing in pain.

Another witness, who published a letter in the local newspaper at the time, described how George would declare “in a roaring voice that he is the devil”, before singing a hunting song, in a “hoarse” and “frightful” voice. They even detailed how, “At certain periods of the fit, he is so violent, that an assistant is always obliged to be at hand, to restrain him from committing some injury on himself.”

Christ dispossessing a believer, shown on a section of the abstinence cloth in the Cathedral of Gurk, Carinthia, Austria. (Image credit: Meister Konrad von Friesach via Wiki Commons)

On 13th June, Rev. Easterbrook and several of his friends and colleagues met with George in the vestry-room of the church. They began by singing hymns, which immediately caused George to convulse in agitation. His fit became more violent, until he spoke in “deep, hoarse, hollow voice”. The voice declared that it would “never quit” its hold of George, and that any attempt to help the man would cause him to suffer torment “a thousand times worse”. The voice then starting singing in its usual manner, boasting of its power, blaspheming and vowing vengeance on both the unfortunate George and all those who dared to oppose him.

As the session continued, other voices manifested, all refusing to release George and warning against any and all attempts to help him. At one point, a voice possessed the man and declared: “I am the great Devil”, before causing George to have such violent convulsions that two men had to restrain him.

When the voice thought to be the devil was asked why he tormented George, it answered: “That I may show my power amongst men.” All the while, George continued to suffer violent convulsions, despite his small size and weakened body.

As the session reached its climax, one of the clergymen commanded, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the evil spirit to depart from the man. Prayers for his deliverance were offered, and the clergyman’s command repeated. George’s convulsions and agonies grew stronger. He was, by now, crying out – howling – in miserable pain.

Then, he was delivered. The convulsions stopped – the devil, seemingly, departed. George Lukins, previously declared by medical men as incurable, was cured. 9

MORE: 5 Chilling Cases for the Existence of the Devil

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About Laura 15 Articles
Falling more strongly on the side of scepticism, Laura's passion is for the details. Much of the website's footnoting is the result of her fact-checking. Laura is fascinated by the culture implications and the psychology of strange phenomena. Besides being the voice of The Paranormal Scholar, she also enjoys researching historical topics, especially Medieval and Renaissance periods.