A deal with the devil, compact or pact with the devil is a cultural motif, best exemplified by the legend of Faust and the figure of Mephistopheles, but elemental to many Christian folktales. According to traditional Christian belief about witchcraft, the pact is between a person and Satan or a lesser demon. The person offers his or her soul in exchange for diabolical favours. Those favours vary by the tale, but tend to include youth, knowledge, wealth, fame, and/or power.
It was also believed that some persons made this type of pact just as a sign of recognizing the devil as their master, in exchange for nothing. Nevertheless, the bargain is considered a dangerous one, as the price of the Fiend's service is the wagerer's soul. The tale may have a moralizing end, with eternal damnation for the foolhardy venturer. Conversely, it may have a comic twist, in which a wily peasant outwits the devil, characteristically on a technical point. The person making the pact sometimes tries to outwit the devil, but loses in the end (e.g., man sells his soul for eternal life because he will never die to pay his end of the bargain. Immune to the death penalty, he commits murder, but is sentenced to life in prison).
Great achievements might be credited to a pact with the devil, from the numerous European Devil's Bridges to the violin virtuosity of Niccolò Paganini to the "crossroad" myth associated with Robert Johnson.
It was usually thought that the person who had made a pact also promised the demon to kill children or consecrate them to the devil at the moment of birth (many midwives were accused of this, due to the number of children who died at birth in the Middle Ages and Renaissance), take part in Sabbaths, have sexual relations with demons, and sometimes engender children from a succubus, or an incubus in the case of women.
The pact can be oral or written. An oral pact is made by means of invocations, conjurations, or rituals to attract the demon; once the conjurer thinks the demon is present, he/she asks for the wanted favour and offers his/her soul in exchange, and no evidence is left of the pact; but according to some witch trials and inquisitions that were performed, even the oral pact left evidence, namely the diabolical mark, an indelible mark where the marked person had been touched by the devil to seal the pact. The mark could be used as a proof to determine that the pact was made. It was also believed that on the spot where the mark was left, the marked person could feel no pain. A written pact consists in the same forms of attracting the demon, but includes a written act, usually signed with the conjurer's blood (although sometimes was also alleged that the whole act had to be written with blood, meanwhile some demonologists defended the idea of using red ink instead of blood and others suggested the use of animal blood instead of human blood). Forms of these include contracts or simply signing your name into Satan's Red Book.
These acts were presented often as a proof of diabolical pacts, though critics claim there is no proof of whether they were authentic, written by insane persons believing they were actually dealing with a demon, or just were fake acts presented by the tribunals of the Inquisition. Usually the acts included strange characters that were said to be the signature of a demon, and each one had his own signature or seal. Books like The Lesser Key of Solomon (also known as Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis) give a detailed list of these signs, known as diabolical signatures.
The Malleus Maleficarum discusses several alleged instances of pacts with the Devil, especially concerning women. It was considered that all witches and warlocks had made a pact with some demon, especially with Satan.
According to demonology, there is a specific month, day of the week, and hour to call each demon, so the invocation for a pact has to be done at the right time. Also, as each demon has a specific function, a certain demon is invoked depending on what the conjurer is going to ask.
In the narrative of the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is offered a series of bargains by the devil, in which he is promised worldly riches and glory in exchange for serving the devil rather than God. After Jesus rejects the devil's offers, he embarks on his travels as the Messiah (see Temptations of Christ).
The predecessor of Faustus in Christian mythology is Theophilus ("Friend of God" or "Beloved of god") the unhappy and despairing cleric, disappointed in his worldly career by his bishop, who sells his soul to the devil but is redeemed by the Virgin Mary. His story appears in a Greek version of the sixth century written by a "Eutychianus" who claims to have been a member of the household in question.
A ninth-century Miraculum Sancte Marie de Theophilo penitente inserts a Virgin as intermediary with diabolus, his "patron", providing the prototype of a closely linked series in the Latin literature of the West.
In the tenth century, the poet nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim adapted the text of Paulus Diaconus for a narrative poem that elaborates Theophilus' essential goodness and internalizes the seduction of good and evil, in which the devil is magus, a necromancer. As in her model, Theophilus receives back his contract from the devil, displays it to the congregation, and soon dies.
A long poem on the subject by Gautier de Coincy (1177/8-1236), entitled Le miracle de Théophile: ou comment Théophile vint à la pénitence provided material for a thirteenth-century play by Rutebeuf, Le Miracle de Théophile, where Theophilus is the central pivot in a frieze of five characters, the Virgin and the bishop flanking him on the side of good, the Jew and the devil on the side of evil.
Notable supposed deals with the devil were struck between the 15th and 18th centuries. The motif lives on among musicians until the 20th century.
The term "a pact with the devil" is also used metaphorically to condemn a person or persons perceived as having collaborated with an evil person or regime. An example of this is the still-controversial case of Rudolf Kastner in Israel, in which the term was used in reference to Kastner's collaboration with Adolf Eichmann during the Holocaust in 1944 Hungary. According to some, the term served to inflame public hatred against Kastner, culminating in his assassination.