The story of an ambitious man selling his soul to the Devil to gain wealth and power in his mortal life is a popular one, which has captured our imagination throughout history. The most famous example of this story is the legend of Dr Faust, and I highly recommend to anyone to read Christopher Marlowe’s play Faustus because it is excellent and captures the legend really well.
Although the story is rooted in Christian ideals, it’s still very much on the folk spectrum of Christianity (selling one’s soul to the Devil isn’t an idea expressed in the Bible), that particular brand of Christianity that merges very much with Paganism. More to the point, I think it contains a message of exceptional importance to people of all cultures, even Pagans, as I think it can be interpreted as a message for “Green,” sustainable living.
The Devil in the Details (of modern society)
In many versions of this legend, a man learns forbidden and arcane arts to summon the Devil, to whom he then pledges his soul in the afterlife in exchange for material wealth and power now. He does this in full knowledge that the Devil will condemn him to eternal torment, yet he either falls into self-denial or thinks that he can use his ingenuity to trick the Devil somehow into releasing him. But the man is of course foolish, and right at the end, the Devil comes to claim him and there is nothing he can do.
Although the original message of the story was probably intended to be one about keeping Christian morals, I see some disturbing parallels between this story and how we live as a species today.
Take oil, for example. Without a doubt, civilisation would not be where it was today without it. It’s cheap, releases a huge amount of energy, and can also be used to produce really useful materials such as plastic. If we had stuck to using renewable energy, such as wood, we would never have been able to achieve some of the incredible things we have achieved in science, technology and social development in such a short space of time.
But ultimately, oil will be our downfall. One day, it will run out. It’s not a case of if, but when. And when it does, if we haven’t figured out a suitable alternative, it will leave chaos, war and starvation in its wake. What’s more, burning oil is devastating our environment, making it harder and harder for most species to survive in the changing conditions – the destruction caused by oil might wipe us out before it runs out!
In this way, oil is the Devil, and our future is damnation. We have sold ourselves to the cheap convenience of oil, in the full knowledge that our children’s children will be the ones to suffer. We may not have sold our souls literally, but we have sold our future.
Unfortunately, this metaphor doesn’t end with oil. It can also be applied to the economy.
Currency – the root of all evil?
Much of the public is unaware of this, but “money” as we know it hasn’t existed in a long time. In the past, bank notes represented actual gold reserves that the banks kept safe for you, and at any time you could exchange a note for the appropriate amount of gold. Gold, as we know, is always valuable, because only a certain amount (and a small amount at that) exists in the world which cannot increase or decrease.
But those days are a distant memory. There are no gold reserves behind our money now. Our “money” (or currency, as it should properly be called since there is no gold behind it) simply represents debt that’s exchanged from bank to bank – a debt that grows and grows over time. This is unsustainable because it’s just creating a larger and larger debt in the future that our children will not be able to pay off, and it will probably result in world financial collapse. This video explains this in greater detail.
I think it is the case that like oil, without the system of fiat currency we probably wouldn’t have been able to develop our civilization as quickly as we have done, because the money to build expensive rockets and particle accelerators and medical treatment and so on simply wouldn’t exist. But once again, in using fiat currency, I believe we have sold our souls – or rather, our future – to the Devil. We have created, and keep on creating, a phenomenal debt that our children will not be able to pay, which could result in everyone losing everything.
How to get our soul back
It’s interesting that modern interpretations of the Devil, or Satan, often see him as representing knowledge and enlightenment in opposition to the suppressive dogma of state religion. Selling one’s soul to him can representing using our knowledge and technology to “cheat” – to submit to our greed and impatience by creating problems for the future so we can all have a more pleasant existence now – rather than to apply it wisely to create a better world for the future.
I think all Pagans believe in a “Green” lifestyle, and for me, a “Green” lifestyle is one that always considers our future in all decisions we make now. While I’m not saying that we should abandon progress entirely (I would never suggest such a thing because I love science too much!), I am saying that we should consider working within our means – which may mean slowing things down a little – perhaps going along the lines of the Slow Life movement. And of course, investing our money more wisely so it goes into developing renewable energy resources, for example, rather than warfare. If we really want our future generations to survive, we seriously need to think about changing how we live now. In most versions of the selling the soul legend, the man who sells his soul is often given multiple warnings and opportunities to repent. We too have been given warnings by scientific and economic experts, and we really need to start listening.