Do some people really sell their souls to the Devil?

Some folks, especially artists and musicians, are believed to have sold their souls to achieve fame and wealth in exchange for which certain gifts may be artificially bestowed upon them by demonic forces.

The theme of soul-selling in popular culture traces back to the German legend of Faust, about a successful scholar who is dissatisfied with his life, and makes a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge.

It has been the subject of poetry, novels, plays, music and virtually every form of entertainment and literature. Perhaps the most famous literary examples are Christopher Marlowe’s play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1604), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust (1806), Franz Liszt’s Faust Symphony (1854) and Thomas Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus (1947). The most ridiculous example would be Frank Zappa’s song Titties and Beer, in which a drummer sells his soul in exchange for his favorite alcoholic beverage and some female breasts.

With the idea of selling your soul so deeply ingrained in our culture, it’s not surprising that is it so widely believed to be true.

In the 18th century, the Italian musician Paganini was widely believed to be Satanic due to his incredible prowess on the violin.  In the 20th century, Bob Dylan confessed in a 60 Minutes interview that his soul had been sold.

Perhaps the most famous case in modern times is that of the mysterious blues guitarist and singer Robert Johnson, who made all of his records over a period of two days in the 1930s, and then vanished forever – his recordings discovered decades later, revealing him to be one of the greatest musicians of all time. Legend has it that he was just an average talent until selling his soul to the Devil at the intersection of Highways 49 and 61 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, an event immortalized in Eric Clapton’s famous song “Crossroads,” and a movie of the same name.[1]

Sometimes, demonic deals are believed to take the form of prophetic messages.  John Denver’s song Rhymes and Reasons, for example, prophecies: “Though the cities start to crumble, and the towers fall around us, the sun is slowly fading and it’s colder than the sea. …” Is this merely an unwitting prophecy of 9-11 which he did not live to see? Or was his ability to forecast the future a result of signing a contract with Mephistopheles?

Furthermore, was Denver’s fatal plane crash truly accidental, or was he sacrificed as so many are purported to have been, like Michael Jackson[2] and Whitney Houston?[3] Or perhaps, like Amy Winehouse,[4] who claimed to have turned down a deal with the Devil, he was assassinated for refusing to make a Faustian deal.

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