correfoc, cossiers, demonology, diable d'argent, dimoni, Henri Lefebvre, HFT, High Frequency Trading, mallorca, money, Money Devil, Norman O Brown, performative research, Pope Francis, Sophia Deboick, the devil, trickster
In a very entertaining essay first published in French in the 1960s, Henri Lefebvre outlined a project for a Marxist history of the devil. Although as far as I am aware he never got round to writing the book-length version – to be called The Metamorphoses of the Devil – the chapter in his Introduction to Modernity is still a significant contrbution to understanding the meaning of this curious entity. Among its more provocative conclusions is that (following two leading French theologians), “Apparently God is dead, but the devil is still alive” (p.62).
This is important because, as Lefebvre points out, unlike any God (which tend to remain the same and, frankly, rather bland) the devil is constantly reinvented. As he puts it, “Right up to the present day, every era, every people, every class […] has had its devil, has seen it, conjured it up, made it, lived it, pursued and immolated it, only to resuscitate it in order to kill it anew.” (p.58)
No surprise, perhaps, that we should still be actively reinventing this most useful of demons.
First, an interesting article in today’s Guardian by historian of religion Sophia Deboick outlines the ways in which Pope Francis (along with other senior members of the Catholic hierarchy) has been actively reasserting the reality of the devil. Partly because of this renewed emphasis on the present danger of the devil the Vatican, Deboick reports, recently ran a course on exorcism attended by 200 priests. Echoing George W Bush’s, ‘you’re either with us or against us’ rhetoric with respect to the ‘War on Terror’, so Francis’ asserts that secularism itself is the work of the devil. In his first papal homily, Francis quoted Leon Bloy’s claim that, “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil”. Charming.
Second, my old friend the Money Devil seems to be reappearing left right and centre. Not only are there a number of books about the financial crises of 2008 and beyond that allude to the demonic nature of bankers (e.g. McLean & Nocera’s 2010 ‘All the Devils are Here’), but new images have started to pop up.
This one (which I have been unable to track down the author of – please advise if you know so I can give proper attribution) conjures up some very old fears about the protean nature of money with respect to High Frequency Trading (HFT). HFT seems to greatly enhance money’s capacity to do the ‘god thing’ and to create more money out of nothing – a feature of money that has had it compared to the devil – as the ‘ape of god’ – for centuries.
Finally (for the moment) I’m about to start some preliminary research into the resurgence of ‘Devil festivals’ (Dimoni, Correfoc, etc.) in the Catalan regions of Spain and France, though particularly on Mallorca. These festivals have existed for centuries and take various forms, but in all cases the devil appears in a ritual dance in which he his defeated by a group of ‘cossiers’ – a group of local men led by ‘mama’ (also usually male). A great deal of shouting, running at small children, whipping people and throwing fireworks about the place are involved to varying degrees depending on the way in which the festival has developed locally. In all cases there seem to be considerable overlaps with such ‘folk’ traditions as the morris, fool societies, rural youth societies, trickster tales and other traditional ways of exposing, exploring and defeating ‘evil’. The Catalan devil festivals seem to have gone through a long period of decline, only to be strongly reasserted in recent years. My assumption is that this is at least partly connected to resurgent Catalan nationalism and secessionism. However, I will reserve judgement until I can figure out what exactly it is that the devil ‘does’ for modern Catalans. Below is the devil confronting the cossiers in the 2013 festival held at Monturi, Mallorca.
Whatever the Catalan dimoni do, their function will inevitably be evolving as they are brought into new contexts. As Lefebvre concluded, “As people are always against before being for anything (and to a greater and more effective extent more against than for), this pursuit of the real and imaginary monster has always been of the utmost importance”. (p.58). Long live the devil, it seems.