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Icelandic folk-tale: The Devil Takes a Wife

Stories of people who have made a deal with and then beaten the devil exist all over Christendom and even in literature. Here is a typical one:

Once upon a time there were a mother and daughter who lived together. They were rich and the daughter was considered a great catch and had many suitors, but she accepted no-one and it was the opinion of many that she intended to stay celebrate and serve God, being a very devout  woman.

The devil didn’t like this at all and took on the form of a young man and proposed to the girl, intending to seduce her over to his side little by little. He insinuated himself into her good graces and charmed her so thoroughly that she accepted his suit and they were betrothed and eventually married.

But when the time came for him to enter the marriage bed the girl was so pure and innocent that he couldn’t go near her. He excused himself by saying that he couldn’t sleep and needed a bath in order to go to sleep. A bath was prepared for him and in he went and stayed there all night.

The next day he got out of the bath and wandered outside the house, deep in thought as to how he could get himself out of this mess. He met a man in passing and made a deal with him that he should take his place and have the woman fro his wife. The devil then gave the man his disguise and in return the man promised to pay him back by giving him his oldest child when it reached the age of seven, leaving it in the same place they had met. 

The man then went to the woman, who believed him to be her husband and they had a good marriage from then on. They had one son whom they loved dearly. But when the boy reached his seventh year his father became very depressed and quiet. His wife wanted to know the reason for this and asked him why he was so sad, and he told her the whole story. She said that this had been hidden for too long, but she had an idea of how things could be set right and the boy saved. 

On the boy’s seventh birthday his father took him to the appointed meeting-place and made a circle around him, consecrating it by singing psalms. He stayed with the boy until night-fall and then left him, telling him that whatever he saw that night he should not exit the circle except to go with the person who could reach into the circle and give him his hand in the name of Jesus. 

When the boy’s father was gone the boy first saw various of his friends and acquaintances who tried to tempt him to exit the circle by offering him sweets; then he saw his parents who alternatively cajoled and ordered him to come to them. Next he saw children who were playing with all kinds of toys and asking him to join them. But the boy was steadfast because none of these people would reach into the circle and offer him their hand in the name of Jesus. Now he started to see sparks and flames, horrible visions and strange sights which frightened him very much, but he still stayed within the circle. 

At dawn his parents came for him and reached into the circle and spoke the name of Jesus, and so the devil lost his prize. 

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.


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