No one wants to run into the Devil, right? What with him leading people into temptation, and making bargains for their immortal souls, it’s just too risky. But it works out fine for Colonel Philip Lightfoot, an arrogant Colonial Virginian who is challenged to a dancing contest by Satan himself. His tale is recounted by Mary Quattlebaum in Sparks Fly High: The Legend of Dancing Point. Fortunately for Colonel Lightfoot, he realizes the error of his ways in time to mend them, and beats the Devil at his own game.
But what if you are not light-footed, but two-left-footed and you encounter the Prince of Darkness? As usual, fairy tales provide some useful suggestions. Number one: be clean (spiritually and physically). In The Handless Maiden, the maiden’s father promises his daughter to the Devil (in his defense, he thinks he’s giving up his old apple tree, not his daughter). When the Devil comes to claim the girl, he cannot, because she is not only morally clean, but has just bathed. She is forbidden to wash anymore, but when the Devil returns, her hands are still clean, because she has wept on them. It is then that her father is ordered to cut off her hands. (In his defense, the Devil does make him do it.) But even then, her tears keep her clean, and the Devil cannot touch her. He continues to plague her though, and it is because of her purity of soul that she always receives the help she needs.
|Head of the Demon, by Mikhail Vrubel (1891)|
But sometimes being clean and smart just isn’t enough. The third option: it’s not what you know, but who you know. In The Devil and His Grandmother, our hero, another soldier, confesses his situation to the Devil’s Grandmother. The obliging old lady takes pity on him and hides him while she ferrets out the answer to the riddle he must answer. In The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs, the Grandmother even risks her grandson’s ire by yanking out his golden hairs. So if you meet Old Scratch, take heart—there is hope. Be pure, be smart, or use your connections. Or maybe just brush up on your dancing.
Lissa has been a guest blogger on Enchanted Conversation, and contributed a poem to the Little Red Riding Hood issue. Despite many years of lessons, she would definitely not bet her soul on her dancing ability.