You know how it works. Want to be a millionaire, Take Over the World, gain infinite power, or just get back at that obnoxious Jerk Jock? Well, mosey on down to those crossroads and Mr. S will guarantee your wildest dreams, if you just sign on the dotted line with your own blood. This trope is Older Than Dirt, and does not even require the Abrahamic Devil; any trickster, demon, or evil deity roughly equivalent to Satan can be used. It reached its current version in the 16th-century legend of Faust selling his soul to Mephistopheles (who technically isn't quite exactly Satan, but still a high-ranking demon). The basic story is far, far older, however, with Sanskrit and Sumerian tales of craftsmen making deals with demons for superlative skill, making this Older Than Dirt.
This trope includes both literal Magically Binding Contracts with a literal devil, and crooked deals between any corrupt exploiter (the Mephistopheles role) and a desperate pawn (the Faust role). The exploiter can be offering anything from some shiny new Applied Phlebotinum to making a high school nerd popular, to saving your life moments before death. Sometimes it has no practical value whatsoever. But whatever the service, whatever the offer, there is always a price. This price can be anything — the Faust's soul, their conscience, their firstborn, their loved ones, their voice, their eternal servitude, or even something that seems completely innocent — but whatever the price, it's something that will render the Faust a lot worse off when it is paid, if not bring them to complete ruin.
Note that actual devils will always follow through with their end, even if their end is a sinister bastardization of the terms. Thus always remember to Read the Fine Print and have an experience in law with you if you try to do this. We never see Mephistopheles simply take the soul and run like an amateur scammer; he gave his word, narrated the fine print, put his name on the dotted line and made the wish come true. As icing on the cake, the Mephistopheles sometimes makes sure or just shows in reality that the gift is, in itself, detrimental to the life of the Faust and others around him in the first place — especially if there's a chance at irony, where lacking their "soul", the element they gave up as payment, ultimately makes the gift worthless. The character who offers the deal is often, though not always, The Corrupter (and not all Corrupters use this as a tactic).
An alternate form is a deal where the Mephistopheles offers the Faust exactly what he wants, if not more, but to get it, he has to undergo an Impossible Task that Mephistopheles obviously does not think the Faust can complete, with the Faust's soul as the penalty if he fails. In such occasions they can escape the Devil's trap. Alternately, the deal truly has no strings attached, as it's a Xanatos Gambit where the Faust's good fortune or success will deliver the soul of another to Mephistopheles.
Deal With The Devil plots can overlap with What an Idiot!, as smart and rational people know to stay well the hell away from deals like these. Some writers try to defend the Faust by turning the deal into a Leonine Contract - either the deal was made when the Faust was in desperate straits or under some kind of duress, or the Mephistopheles made the offer when the victim had no time to think (e.g., offering to save him from the Death Trap in return for something nasty). Others make the contract so long, complex and filled with Latin-esque legal jargon that no one will Read the Fine Print (Sloth is a very undervalued sin). Also expect Exact Words and You Didn't Ask to be employed against the Faust.
If you should find yourself suckered into a Deal With The Devil, The Power of Love may be your best bet at defeating the infernal contract. Or you can try your luck (literally) with a Jury of the Damned. Some Guile Heroes can make it into a Meaningless Villain Victory. With enough power, a Faustian Rebellion is possible.
Common solutions (which often cause a Wishplosion) are:
- Ask the devil for something he can't do (like worship God) or that destroys him, which makes the entire deal pointless.
- Make a Logic Bomb, infinite loop, Loophole Abuse, etc. For example, if the devil asks to give him your soul after death, you can wish for immortality. In the case of immortality, however, beware — a truly crafty devil might pull a Jackass Genie on you, either by conveniently forgetting about the "eternal youth" part or by turning you into an undead abomination. It may also turn into a case of Who Wants to Live Forever?, even without the devil's manipulations.
- It may be possible to gain enough power through the deal to prevent the devil from forcing you to keep your promise—or just kill him. See Faustian Rebellion.
- Use your new power to annoy the underworld so much that your deal gets nullified simply to get rid of you.
- Conversely, impress or entertain the devil so much that taking your soul would seem like a waste.
- If the wish is already wasted, then someone else is required to fight fire with fire by engaging into a new contract and defeating the devil.
- In comical versions, if the devil is female — usually some apprentice demon who always fails — of course she will be insanely sexy or cute (according to Evil Is Cool, Evil Is Sexy, Horny Devils and Cute Monster Girl rule), so why not ask her to become your girlfriend or wife? Of course, Most Writers Are Male, so it's extremely rare to see a female protagonist do this with a male devil.
- Seem a little too anxious to sell your soul. (See the Frank Zappa example below)
- Turn to religion. While rarely used in fiction due to it being too quick a solution, there are many cases when a saint or mystic claimed they (or someone they knew) sold their soul to the devil and were saved by Jesus or the Virgin Mary. In these cases, you merely consecrate yourself to him; the demon only literally gets the soul after death.
- Prove you'd already sold or given your soul to someone else, a la Homer Simpson and Mr. Krabs.
- Manipulate some tiny, arcane loophole or hire some Rules Lawyer to render the contract null and void. (Rarely successful, as Hell is full of lawyers after all.)
- Use the power you gain from the contract to change the entire system, sometimes even retroactively.
Of course, the devil has been in this business since day seven. Therefore, the only way the villain of the piece can expect to get out of the "accounts receivable" column is by getting moved into the "owner's equity" column.
Sometimes this trope is played with by having the devil-analogue purchase something other than the seller's soul, such as a term of service (indentured or otherwise), their youth, their creativity, etc.
What exactly the Supernatural party does with all the souls they buy may or may not be elaborated on.
Compare Bargain with Heaven, which this trope originated as an Inversion of, but which is largely forgotten in the mainstream, but still very much in use in some contexts. Compare also Reasoning with God. For the occasions when the Devil comes out behind, see Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?. See also Evil Is Not a Toy, which this trope overlaps with.
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- Gypsy Tales: In "The Gypsy Woman and the Devil", the devil offers to save Vunida from poverty in exchange for Vunida marrying him. She refuses but he lures her into captivity in his disguise as a rich young man.
- The protagonist of Priest, Ivan Isaacs, makes a deal with the demon Bethael/Belial which involves giving up half his soul.
- Satan claimed responsibility for QT Marshall's Ring of Honor employment at A Night Of Hoopla.
- Matt Tremont justified working with Drew Blood by explaining that he had scene a ladder leading up to heaven through a light Blood had told him to look at and came to the realization that there was no God, that the closest thing to God was himself because he was the savior of CZWbut that the devil was in fact real because he realized in the same moment it was Blood.
- In NWA Houston and Lonestar Championship Wrestling, Prince Kanu has a reputation for duping and manipulating wrestlers into signing one sided contracts and taking unnecessary wagers. Read the fine print!
- Bill Hicks had a notorious comedy routine in which he accused bands that endorsed anti-drug messages of doing this. Sort of. "SUCK SATAN'S COCK!"
- Contract Demon: Kamilla's job is to make these, although she's put off by how many people want to have sex with demons.
- The story of TOME begins with one in the form of Alpha making a deal with the Forbidden Power, which comes back to bite him in a huge way later and becomes the main conflict of the series. Interestingly, during the Final Battle, Alpha convinces the Forbidden Power to make a deal with him when it's about to be deleted, which gives Alpha the edge in the fight against the Big Bad and ultimately lets the good guys win in the end. The trope also applies in TOME's predecessor series, Tv Tome Adventures.
- In Hazbin Hotel, Alastor, one of Hell's most powerful demons, offers a deal to Charlie, the hotel's owner, complete with the outstretched hand and ominous music and lighting. Subverted in that Charlie is the daughter of Lucifer himself and if she learned anything from her old man, it's not to take deals. She subsequently uses her position as Princess of Hell to officially 'command' Alastor to help her for as long as he feels like it, which Alastor considers 'fair enough' without the handshake.
- In the first episode of Helluva Boss, "Murder Family", Blitzo unintentionally agrees to a deal with Stolas while he's busy being shot at. Since Stolas owns the magic book the imps use to enter the living world, and Stolas needs it sparingly for his own duties, Blitzo has to bring the book back to Stolas once a month on the full moon. Not only that, but during that night Blitzo has to sleep with Stolas to maintain the arrangement.
- While reliable evidence that Satan has ever actually bought anyone's soul is not available, some Theistic Satanists may claim to have sold their souls to him, or to have given themselves over to him.
- There have been a few attempts of people selling their souls on eBay. Known examples include electronic musician Moby, who put his up as a Take That! to critics who felt he "sold out".
- So did the atheist activist Hemant Mehta, who later wrote a book I Sold My Soul on eBay. Note that what he was actually selling was the right to have him attend a church of the winner's choice for a year. The soul thing was a gimmick.
- eBay has, perhaps unsurprisingly, banned this practice, prohibiting the sale of items whose existence cannot be verified and deleting such listings as soon as they're discovered.
"If the soul does not exist, eBay could not allow the auctioning of the soul because there would be nothing to sell. However, if the soul does exist then, in accordance with eBay's policy on human parts and remains, we would not allow the auctioning of human souls."
- Somebody got around the ban by instead selling an autographed card of himself - the card being, naturally, a deed to the seller's soul.
- In Latvia, a country hard hit by the 2007-9 economic crisis, the Kontora loan office is lending people money at high interest rates if they agree to use their souls as collateral. So far, about 200 people have taken Viktor Mirosiichenko up on his offer. They don't employ any debt collectors either...
Mirosiichenko: "If they don't give [the money] back, what can you do? They won't have a soul, that's all."
- British game retailer GameStation decided to make a point about online Terms & Conditions and how nobody ever reads them, by inserting a clause that the user gives up his soul to them. They later e-mailed all those who had agreed to the terms assuring them that they would be immediately nullifying any claim they had on their customers' souls. This happened on April Fools' Day, incidentally.
- At least in the US and most other Common Law countries, this type of contract has a legal remedy because it's well-known no one reads them. Imagine what a pain it would be if you had to read these every time you rented a car, bought a cell phone, and so on. Now imagine the headache if a company did slip some truly odious language into the fine print somewhere, say, a $10,000 USD cancellation fee for your cell phone contract. This type of contract is called a standard-form contract, a contract of adhesion or a boilerplate contract, and a court reserves the right to throw out any clauses in it which are deemed unreasonable or too odious. This is a rare exception to the general principle of, "Your signature means you read it all, understood it all, and accepted it." To date, there aren't known instances of someone challenging the Devil on the grounds that his contracts are boilerplate with unreasonable terms.
- Usury, aka taking loans. The lender and borrower will pledge into well, a Loan Contract. The lender will lend his money at first so you can immediately use it, but some time in the future force the borrower to pay back more. Interest is where the debt multiplies over time. If the borrowers can no longer pay back the interest, then bad things (bankruptcy, seizing your bankrupt assets as collateral, or even debt slavery) happen. For a more profound example, taking a desperate loan out from the mafia, a Morally Bankrupt Banker, or comparable organization of Loan Sharks. You can get a huge loan, no questions asked, or even access to something else you need... but you'll will be forced to pay back a LOT more than you otherwise would, sometimes with your possessions, life, organs, or forced service.
- A similar practice is done by espionage agencies. They will tempt the mark into a "small" treason (such as releasing records on the number of pens needed to write embassy reports) that would not in itself hurt the country betrayed. Once that is done the handler will use that treason as a blackmail device. Another similar means is the infamous Honey Trap. If you ever are a marine guard at an embassy and see a dazzlingly beautiful woman leaping on you for no apparent reason, take a chill pill. It is probably not because you are irresistibly handsome.
- Drug addiction. Somebody offers you a great pleasurable experience beyond normal human sensations. It is also a great opportunity to capitalize in for profit. The catch is, once you are in, you can't get out and will probably suffer long-term psychological and/or physical deterioration if you dare to deviate from the "contract", sometimes forced to do tricks for him, with death being the only apparent exit. There's a reason why "wiser" drug dealers don't get high on their own supply.
- General rule of thumb, making a deal with organized crime (commonly The Mafia) is basically this.
- The first page quote spoofs the fact that end-user licence agreements do make you click "I Agree" to a lot of legal Techno Babble that most people don't bother reading and most who try don't understandnote . Subverted in that, for this exact reason, there's doubt over whether they're actually legally binding.
- Babe Ruth said that he would give a year of his life to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. Sure enough, he hit the home run. One has to wonder...
- Technically a subversion, but when Marlene Dietrich still lived in Germany, some high ranking Nazi officials offered her a whopping amount of money to star in their propaganda films. Thankfully, she turned them down, and eventually immigrated to the US, where she helped work against the Nazis.