Devil


Devil
   In folk traditions, the Devil is sometimes a powerfully evil tempter and destroyer, sometimes a stupid enemy whose plans fail through his own clumsiness, or because he is outwitted by ordinary humans. Broadly speaking, the stupid Devil is found in *local legends where he hurls rocks, builds bridges, digs hills, etc., but is thwarted; in stories about magicians who obtain his services but elude his power; and in comic tales where he is tricked, or loses a wager. The powerful Devil features in moralistic tales; in traditions about * witchcraft; and in accounts of sinister and inexplicable events like the apparition of the *Mowing Devil or the *Black Dog at Bungay. By bringing sinners to a bad end he is the instrument of God's ^judgements. His name should not be mentioned - 'Talk of the Devil and he'll appear' has been proverbial since the 17th century. He may appear as a *black dog or a black cock; if in human form, he wears black clothes.
   Though contradictory, both ideas spring from medieval Christianity, which taught that though the Devil constantly attacked the individual with temptations, his overall strategy was ultimately futile, since Christ had already defeated him. Stories on the pattern of the *Devil's Arrows may have been meant to teach this lesson through concrete imagery, since the planned destruction of a church invariably fails, and nobody is harmed by it. Landscape features ascribed to the Devil are unproductive ones (tracts of stony or sandy soil, ravines, rocky mountains, large boulders), for all good things come from God. Many minor place-names, and some names of animals and plants, involve the Devil, generally indicating that the place or creature is ugly, unfit for cultivation or for human consumption, or eerie (Wright, 1913: 203-4). Briggs, 1970-1: B. i. 43-155.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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