The Black Spider

The Black Spider
Jeremias Gotthelf

I wonder when deals with the devil became common in pop culture. Was the Faust legend where they got their start? For such stories to gain traction you need to have a society where there is a basic comprehension of the law of contracts, because otherwise any deal struck with the devil would by definition be immoral or unconscionable. The villagers in The Black Spider are mostly good, god-fearing souls, but for some reason they feel bound by a bad bargain, their collective suffering justified not by the letter of the law but by a shady sort of agreement sealed with a kiss rather than a handshake or signature in blood. Sure it’s an allegory for the infection of evil and the way it spreads through a community already weakened by exploitation, economic hardship, and moral backsliding, but it’s interesting that the rule of God is less of a presence than the corruption of the flesh and the hand of the devil. For all we know, God is dead in 1842. But clearly that spider is still a force waiting to be awakened.