This whole Christmas thing is a bit one-sided. And since the opposition is so much more interesting I feel obliged to redress the balance a bit. Not that I am the only one. At this time of year in many parts of Germany, the tradition is to send greetings from the Krampus. No robins, sleighs or sparkly stuff here, but a foul, horned, hairy, long-tongued demon intended to give German kids a graphic reminder of what’s coming for them if they’ve been bad this year. Festive parenting as it ought to be.
Krampus seems to be a hangover from some very old devil/trickster tales, but his endurance is probably due to the Germans’ exceptional predilection for devils and demons. This reached its highest point in the early to mid-16th century after Martin Luther had launched his campaign against the corruption of the church. Luther, like many before and since, associated money with the devil and thus attributed the sale of papal indulgences (controlled by the Fugger banking family of Augsburg) to the workings of Satan. Indeed Luther was obsessed by devils, claiming always to be accompanied by at least one and reporting in gleeful detail how he used to drive them off with thrown ink or shit or by farting at them.
Luther’s revival of interest in the Devil fell on particularly fertile ground because in addition to Satan himself (the Hoffartteuffel – the Proud Devil), German folk tradition had a host of ‘Spezialteufeln’ (special devils), to whom were attributed all manner of bad things. Taking their lead from Luther, it became the fashion for Protestant pastors to write ‘Teufelbüchen’ (Devil books) which recounted the workings of Satan and listed hundreds of individual devils and their attributes. Teufelbüchen were produced in huge numbers and many editions: an early publishing sensation.
Some of the devils they recounted were predictably associated with well-known sins: Hasseteuffel (hate), Fraszteuffel (gluttony), Mordteuffel (murder), Lügenteuffel (lying/falsehood), Neidteuffel (envy), Zornteuffel (anger). Others were a bit more specific. The Sauffteuffel (the devil of drink) was a particular favourite for abstemious pastors looking to keep their parishioners on the straight and narrow. Many others were associated with lesser sins: Traurteuffel (sadness), Hohnteuffel (scorn), Schmachteuffel (shame), Geitzeteuffel (meanness), Diebsteuffel (thieving) and Melancholischerteuffel (melancholy).
Women – very sinful, obviously – had a whole bunch of devils to themselves. Fluchtteuffel (escape from marriage), Hurenteuffel (whoring), Lasterbalckteuffel (gossip), Haderteuffel (grumbling/discontent) and Frauenzornteuffel (wife’s anger) covered the basics, but others were very particular. Vanity in general was covered by the Eitelkeitsteuffel, but backed up by such important specialists as the Spiegelglanzteuffel (the devil of the shining mirror), the Schmuckteuffel (jewellery), Machatanzteuffel, (the devil who made you dance – a serious moral issue of the day).
German men may not have had quite so many demons devoted to them, but nor did they escape untempted. They were under constant threat from, among others, Eheteuffel (male marital infidelity), Ehrsucherteuffel (respect-seeking), Blendelustteuffel (blind passion), Blutdurstmacherteuffel (bloodthirsty making), Fürsthetzerteuffel (prime agitator) Bullenteuffel (bad temper) and the Jagteuffel (a generalist who covered a range of sins associated with hunting). Male vanity was also an issue in the form of the Hosenteuffel who encouraged the widespread wearing of Dutch-inspired Pludehosen – baggy pants/trousers – a sure sign of declining moral standards then and now.
A bunch of less gender-specific devils dealt with excessive and/or false religious practice. The Sabbathsteuffel was a useful catch-all covering anything that prevented proper observation of the Sabbath. Similarly open-ended was the Eydteuffel who caused people to make false or ‘light-hearted’ oaths or to commit perjury. There were devils for churches (Kirchenteuffel), pilgrimage (Wallfahrtsteuffel), indulgence (Ablassteuffel), dogmatism (Christlich-Dogmatischeteuffel), magic (Zauberteuffel) and magic spells (Bannteuffel).
Finally, given early Protestantism’s strong anti-capitalist tendencies, there were devils for economic sins. The Spekulationischerteuffel tempted financial investors, the Geltkratzerteuffel was the money-grubber and the Wucherteuffel promoted profiteering – currently a particularly busy devil.
And there were many more. In addition to the many hundreds specifically described in the Teufelbüche, one author, Martin Borrhaus, confidently gave the number as 2,665,866,746,664.
So there you go, Happy Christmas. But just watch out for any gluttony, drinking, dancing, shiny mirrors or, most especially, baggy trousers. They are all the work of the devil.
[All the above devils come from Keith L Roos wonderful but a bit obscure book: The Devil in 16th Century German Literature: The Teufelbücher, 1972, Herbert Lang Bern/Peter Lang Frankfurt/M.]