The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 33


The notion of the Devil and of devilish spirits, which has by degrees acquired so wide a compass and struck such deep root even in the popular religion, was unknown to our heathenism.

It seems a general rule, that a Dualism dividing the Supreme Being into opposites, where it is not [already] based on the earliest profound thought of a system, (such as the Zendic), never gets established at a later period except by abstract philosophizings. To the sensuous mythologies lying in the great middle it is ill-adapted.

An all-pervading idealistic distinction between a good and an evil spirit, Ormuzd and Ahriman, (1) is known neither to the Indian and Greek theologies, nor to the Teutonic. Before the might of the one all-governing God the kakodæmon's power fades away. Then out of this unity there grow up trilogies (Brahma, Vishnu, Siva; Zeus, Poseidon, Pluto; Wuotan, Donar, Frô; Hâr, Iafnhâr, Thriði), dodecalogies, and the plenitude of pantheism. But it is to my mind a fundamental feature of polytheism, that the good and beneficent principle in the Divine preponderates; only some isolated deities, subordinate to the whole, incline to the evil or hurtful, like the Norse Loki, whose nature even then is more on a par with that of Hephæstus (Vulcan) than of the christian Devil. Goodness predominates even in elvish sprites: to the nix, the homesprite, nay the giant, it is but partially that cruelty and malice are attributed. In harmony with this is the mild way in which our antiquity pictures death and the underworld.

But for all that, amid the vast variety of character and colouring in these mythologyies, the Dualistic antagonism need not altogether be silent: it does break out in individual features, without greatly affecting the whole. Under this head come, e.g. the myths of Day and Night, of Elves light and dark (p. 444), of Summer and Winter. (2)

The Jewish monotheism accorded to its Satan only the subordinate part of a tempter and traducer, as is plainly shewn in the book of Job, and confirmed by the Greek term diaboloj which the LXX and New T. use alternately with satan, satanaj (Arabic shaitan) or daimonion (usually for Hebr. shéd). After the Captivity the Jews were more familiar with the idea of Dualism, and in N.T. times their whole demonology had largely expanded; Beelzebub is spoken of as prince of all evil spirits, whom the O.T. knows merely as a heathen idol: so that, even as early as that, false gods come to mean demons or devils.

It pertains to the history of Christianity to explain how there came to be added the notion of Lucifer, (3) a rebel spirit of light who took up arms against God, and with his adherents (in Matth. 25,41 the devil has already 'his angels') was banished into darkness. Luke 10, 18: eqewroun ton satavav wj astraphn ek tou ouranou pesonta, as the lightning darts into the ground, whereas a falling star usually affords a pleasing image (p. 722). At the same time, this revolt of the Devil and his companions must be supposed to have had a higher antiquity. Thus arose the doctrine of a statanic empire in rivalry with the celestial, a doctrine that daily met with more acceptance: the evil spirits may be the weaker side and suffer defeat, but they go about enlisting wicked men, and seek thereby to replenish their host. Compacts are made with the Devil, and he aids his confederates even during their earthly life.

From another side, the conversion of the Heathen itself contributed to expand and diversify the prevailing conception of the Devil's agency. It has been remarked more than once, that the deserted heathen deities were declared vanquished and shorn of their strength, yet not downright powerless: their once kindly benignant sway had turned into a fierce fiendish one. Thus what the Christians believed about the Devil received at the hands of the Heathen a twofold enlargement: heathen gods and spirits already malign and gloomy in themselves readily dropt into the christian category of devilish beings; with greater difficulty and more resistence from public opinion, was effected nevertheless the transmutation of the good gods of old into spectres and demons. In this process names for the most part got suppressed or disguised; myths and stories were not so easily to be abolished.

In not a few cases the Devil may be regarded as a parody or aping of the true God, as the left of wrong-side (taken mildly, the foil p. 515) of the Divine Being (4): he wants to have the same power, enjoy the same honour, and mimic God in everything; but his contrivances miscarry and come to nought. So the idea of a Devil's-mother might have arisen as counterpart to Mary the mother of God, though she had an earlier prototype in the giant's-mother (see Suppl.).

All these influences so diverse in kind have joined to produce such popular notions of the Devil's being and character, as have existed from the N.T. to our own times. The Devil is Jewish, Christian, Heathen, a false god, an elf, a giant, a spectre, all in one. By the addition of him, Christianity could not but receive, just as heathen Polytheism was expiring, a visible bent towards Dualism, which afterwards philosophy tried to resolve into a general principle of good and another of evil. When we compare the cheerful tone of Greek myths with the harshness and grimness imparted to the legends of our Mid. Ages by the intrusion of an all-too positive Devil, we see that the contrast comes out not so much in the original texture of the popular beliefs, which is everywhere the same or similar, as in the colour laid upon it; and therefore our inquiry is entitled to resolve a whole mass of devil-phenomena back into the milder forms of ancient spirits and gods.

Before I attempt to isolate so much of these traditions as is due to our Teutonic paganism, or at least that of our next neighbours, it is even more than usually necessary to make sure of the various names employed.

The word teufel, devil, is un-Teutonic, being simply diaboloj retained. (5) Ulphilas, following the Greek text, distinguishes diabaúlus, satana and unhulþô, translating daimonion by the last, to which I shall have to come back. In OHG. satanas is kept unaltered, but the diabolus of the Vulgate is cut down to tiubil, tieval, or to diuval (T.), diufal (O. ii. 4, 101), neut. pl. diufilir (iii. 14, 53), which likewise renders the Lat. daemonium (Fragm. theot. ii. 14). By this extension of meaning and contraction of form, we see that the word was getting naturalized and gradually driving the others out of the field: MHG. tievel, tiuvel, tivel, our teufel; AS. deofol, Eng. devil; M. Nethl. duvel, now duivel; Icel. djöfull, Sw. djefvul, Dan. djävel. It spread through nearly all Europe: It. diavolo, Sp. diablo, Fr. diable, O. Fr. deable; Pol. djabel, Boh. d'abel, Russ. diavol, Serv. diavo; the Lettish and Finnish nations, the last to be converted, have alone forborne the appellation. And, as in the case of God (p. 15), there occur euphemisms: HG. deichel, deixl, deigel, deiker, deuker, (6) Swiss dyggeli, tüggeli (Stald. 1, 325); Nethl. duker; Swed. djäkul, knäkul, knäfvel (Ihre's Prov. lex 93a), also Westph. knüvel for düvel; Fr. diacre, Pol. djachel, djasek, djablko and many more. (7) Noticeable is N. ps. 90, 13: 'urtiefel, chuninch anderro tiefelo,'diab. rex daemoniorum. (8) Satan is used rarely in MHG., very often in modern German; in the Anegenge 218b and in Stricker I find 'der satanât,' the later MLG. Zeno often repeats satanas. O. Fr. goufre de satenie, saternie, Ren. 20224, 28429, the last form stretching out a hand to Saturn (p. 249, and Suppl.).

All other names for the Devil can be brought under three points of view, according as they are drawn from his Character, his Figure, or his place of Abode. And to these may be added Disguised forms of name.

From his intrinsic nature the Devil is called the evil, hostile, unlovely (unholde), as antithesis to the good gracious God. The thought is often expressed in roundabout phrases or in adjectives, often enshrined in appropriate appellatives: 'der nie guot geriet,' who never counselled good, Dietr. 40a; 'der ie tugende stôrte,' ever thwarted virtue, Kolocz. 254; like the Edda's 'sâ er flestu illu ræðr' of Loki, Sn. 46, or the epic periphrase in Reinh. xxxii. xxxvi to describe the fox and wolf as beasts of devilish nature. 'dich hât niht guotes ûz gelân,' 'twas nothing good (= the devil) that left us you, Dietr. 8347; as we still say 'I have looked for him like nothing good.' der übele tiuvel, Iw. 4676. Nib. 215, 4. 426, 4. 1892, 4. Ms. 1, 59b der übel vîent, Gregor 2849. The evil foe, evil spirit, evil one; der ubile geist, Fundgr. 102, 34. 105, 2. der bôse geist 105, 7. Nethl. de booze vyand. 'The crooked devils' in Kinderm. 1, 422 means the unrighteous, evil ones. A sermon in MHG. has 'der ubile bûman der tivel,' Griefshaber 277. It is remarkable that in ON. we even come upon 'hinn illi Oðinn,' Fornm. sög. 5, 172. 10, 171. The O. Fr. poets often put maufez, malfez, maufes (pl. maufé, malfé) for devil; later maufais, maufaiteur, which leaves no doubt as to the sense of being evildoer, evildoing. (9) As early as 585 we have adversarius boni operis (Pertz 3, 3), It. aversiera, (10) O. Fr. aversiers, devil. OS the balowîso, malus, dirus, Hel. 33, 2; conf. ON bölvîs, Sæm. 77b. 93a (bölvîsar konor 197b are witches); Goth. balvavêsei, i.e. balvaveisei kakia, 1 Cor. 5, 8; but our pilwiz on p. 472 can hardly be connected. Then OS the lêdo, invisus, dirus, Hel. 33, 9, lêda wihti, maligni spiritus 48, 14; M. Nethl. de lede duvel (11); OHG. der leidige tiefal, Diut. 3, 59; AS se lâða. Again, OS the hatola, odiosus, Hel. 110, 9; hetteand herugrim 142, 12, cruel hater and persecutor. AS se hetteand herugrim 142, 12, cruel hater and persecutor. AS se grimma gœst, M. Nethl. lede gast, Rein. 2841. Of special importance here are names denoting a hostile being, resisting God and persecuting men. The Latin Fathers favour the use of the term antiquus hostis (Greg. Magni opp., ed. Bened. Paris 1705. 1, 1019; his Moral. 31, 50 and Dial. 2, 30. Bonif. epist. 6, anni 723. Jonas Bobbiens. p. 5; Vita S. Romani 744a. Capitulare in Georgisch 795, and many later records, e.g. one of 1121 in Kremer's Beitr. 3, no. 24). And this our OHG authorities imitate: alt-fîant (Muspilli 49); fîant entrisk (Hymn 24, 9), but here we cannot help thinking of the AS for giant, ent (p. 524), as giants in general are supposed to be old, stone-old (p. 529). AS se ealda deofol, se ealda, Cædm. 267, 5. So 'then altan satanâsan wilit er gifâhan (he wants to catch)', O. i. 5, 52. der satanâs altist, Musp. 25. In MHG: der alte, Geo. 3376-85; der elteste 3368. In N. Friesland to this day 'de ual (old) düivel,' Geizh. p. 112; in England 'old Nick, old Davy;' in Denmark 'gammel Erich' (Holberg's Uden hoved og hale, sc. 5), which it would be allowable to trace back even to the divine Erik of heathen times (p. 361); Norweg. gammel Sjur (Hallager 102a); ON kölski, both senex and diabolus. In the same way God called the old (p. 21). Beside 'antiquus hostis' we also find persequutor antiquus, Vita S. Rom. 743, and callidus hostis, Jon. Bobb. p. 5. hostis generis humani (fîant mannaskînes chunnes), Hymn 24, 3. A simple hostis I find but rarely used, and the Goth. fijands is never anything but ecqroj: in OHG., fîant by itself can be devil; so AS feond (of Grendel), Beow. 202. 1444-89; MHG vîent, En. 2525; M. Nethl. vîant, Huyd. op St. 3, 38; O.Fr. ennemi; OS craftag fîund, Hel. 142, 12, unhiuri fîund 32, 1. 164, 14; MHG der leidige vîent, Fundgr. 66, 4. der bœse vîent, Geo. 345, like our böse feind [while Engl. fiend is nothing but devil]. gêrfîund, Hel. 32, 2 seems to be a strengthened form (ger = jaculum, hasta). Out of the ON fiandi, taken in the sense of devil, arose the Dan. fanden, Sw. fanen, fan (12); but in ON itself andskoti was both hostis and diabolus. A word whose meaning approaches that of hostis is the OHG scado (homo nocivus, latro), which in earlier times was also applied in a good sense to heroes (p. 342). AS sceaða, OS skatho, not standing alone, but in such compounds as AS hellsceaða, Cædm. 56, 24. Thorpe's Anal. 126, 28, leodsceaða, Cædm. 56, 24, þeodsceaða, Beow. 4550, uhtsceaða 4536, mânsceaða 1417-68, and OS. mênscado, Hel. 32, 1. 33, 15. 142, 15, wamscado 31, 17. 164, 4, liudscado 32, 14. thiodscado 33,1, it designates the Devil. Now this hostile, hating, harmfl being the Goths named the 'unhold,' ungracious one, by which Ulphilas translates, not as a rule diaboloj, but daimoniou, yet with a vacillation of gender that claims attention. A masc. unhulþa stands for daimoniou, daimwn in Luke 4, 35. 8, 29. 9, 42; for satanaj, in Mk. 7, 26ö9. 30. Lu. 4, 33. 7, 33. John 7, 20. 8, 48-9. 52. 10, 20-1. The plur. daimonia is only once rendered by masc. unhulþans, Lu. 8, 33, and everywhere else by fem. unhulþôns, Mat. 7, 22. 9, 34. Mk. 1, 32-4-9. 3, 15. 5, 12, 6, 13. 9, 38. 16, 9. Lu. 4, 41. 8, 27. 30-5-8. 9,1. 49. The inference is, that the notion of female demons was the favourite one with the Goths, and very likely with other Germans, for in Hymn. 24, 3 the word for diabolus is the OHG. fem. unholdâ. (13) If as heathens they had worshipped a goddess Holdâ, how natural, in contrast with her mildness, to regard a malignant being as a female unholdâ!¨ Thus Ulphilas's preference for the term goes far to prove a Gothic worship of Hulþô; and the translation of Diana by Holdâ and unholdâ (p. 267) is worth nothing.---Again, the notion of malice and ill-will carries with it that of fierceness and wrath: so the Devil is in AS. 'se wrâða,' Cædm. 39, 24, in OS. 'the wrêtha,' Hel. 106, 3. 164, 4; AS. 'se rêða' (trux, saevus), Cædm. 271, 12, the OS. would be 'the ruodho'; AS. 'se grama,' OS. 'the gramo,' Hel. 32, 16; also prob. AS. 'se môdega,' OS. 'the muodago,' conf. 'muodaga wihti' for evil spirits in Hel. 120, 9; and all four of these epithets denote the wrathful, furious. (14) It should not be overlooked, first, that they are found only in Saxon poets, never in OHG. writers; secondly, that they express, especially in the plural, more the idea of demonic spirits than of the Devil: gromra (gramra), Cod. Exon. 6 (dira numina) are the Parcae: gromra (gramra), Cod. Exon. 49, 5 = diabolorum; gramôno hêm (daemonum habitatio) in Hel. 103, 10 stands for hell. Of Judas at the Last Supper receiving the sop and taking it into his mouth, the Hel. 141, 11 says; 'sô afgaf ina thô thiu Godes craft, gramon in-gewitun an thene lîchamon, lêda wihti,' so forsook him then the strength of God, demons and devils lodged themselves in his body; (15) 'gramon habdun thes mannes hugi undergripan,' demons had got the mastery over his mind 157, 19; 'gramo(no) barn, fîundo barn' are the devils' household 161, 23. 157, 18; 'gramôno' or 'wrêtharo willio,' devils' will and pleasure 106, 3; 'môdaga wihti' are unholdâ 120, 8, conf. môdage 157, 18.


1. The genuine forms are Ahurômazdâo and Agrômainyus, but the former is often called Cpentômainyus, agaqoj daimwn, in contrast to Agrômainyus the kakoj daimwn. Burnouf's Comm. sur le Yacna pp. 90. 92. Back

2. The old faith of the Slavs set up a white and a black god: Bèlbogh and Chernibogh. But this dualism seems to me neither thoroughgoing nor primitive. Back

3. It arose out of Isa. 44, 12: 'how art thou fallen from heaven, fair Morning star!' But it appears first in Eusebius (Demonstr. evang. 4, 9), not in Tertullian, nor Irenæus nor Lactantius. Even Jerome and Augustine never call the devil Lucifer. Back

4. Gotfried of Viterbo 1, 23 propounds the query: 'Quare creavit Deus diabolum, cum sciret eum malum esse futurum? Respondeo, quia propter operis sui ornatum, sicut pictor nigrum colorem substernit, ut albus apparentior fiat, sic per praevaricationem malorum justi clariorus fiunt.' Back

5. So is our engel, angel borrowed both name and thing. Mone, who thinks 'teufel' is unborrowed, and identifies both it and diabolus with Dionysus (Anz. 6, 354. 8, 449), will hardly boggle over the Germanness of 'engel' either. It is true diaboloj (the slanderer), which the LXX does not yet have, might in the N.T. spring out of an Oriental word allied to Pers. div and Lat. divus (p. 161). Back

6. And even 'der deutscher,' as the Poles say Niemiaszek (=German) of the Devil, which may really go back to the Slav deity Nemisa? Back

7. Zabulus, zabolon, which Mid. Age dictionaries and glosses give for diabolus, and render 'contrarius, arena,' is the same word, 'zabulônes buoch,' Ms. 2, 13. Back

8. Notker's interpretations of diabolus, 'niderrîs, niderfal, chuning widerfluzze,' turn upon the fall, the down-rush, of the devils, Gramm. 2, 763. Back

9. Here belongs particularly the Slav. biès, bès (devil), from which even OHG pôsi, O.Fris. bâse seems to have come, being unknown to other Teut. tongues; and Slav. zli, zly, zlo (evil), Boh. zley-duch (evil spirit), Slovèn. slôdi (zlodi, Glagolita xxxix), slo-déy (evil doer), slom, slomik, to which again our schlimm (OGH. slimb, Graff 6, 793 obliquus) may be allied; Slovèn. hudizh, hudir (from hud, malus, Pol. chudy, miser), &c. &c. [Are not two roots confounded here: zol, zlo = bad, and s-lom, iz-lóm, raz-lóm = dis-ruptio, from lomíti, to break? And is zlódi conn. with Goth. sleidja fierce, sleiþjan to hurt?] Back

10. Muratori's Antiq. 2, 1090, and la Versiera in Pulci 5, 42. 21, 27 (Vocab. della Crusca sub v.), arusaria Biondelli 249. Back

11. Rein. 1280 intslêts duvels name = in des lêts (leden) duvels. Back

12. Conf. p. 916 dôlgr for spectre, devilish spirit. Back

13. O. Slav. nepriyèzn' (fem.) the ungracious = diabolus; even Sotonà himself occurs as a fem. Back

14. Our MHG. poets never give their Tiuvel the epithets 'grimm, grimmig,' these they reserve for Death (p. 849). But in AS. I find Grendel called 'se grimma gâst,' Beow. 204. Back

15. ´Aftar themo muase, sô kleib er Satanâse,' O. iv. 12, 39. Back

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