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The devil in the details

BEYOND THE LEGEND: A section of the Roman-era aqueduct system in Segovia, Spain, linked to a satanic fable.  

Recently I came across a news article about the Spanish city of Segovia, whose local council commissioned a statue of the devil, commemorating the legend that the Roman aqueduct in the city was built by the devil himself overnight. The statue was intended just to make the lesser-visited areas of the city more popular among tourists, but was challenged in court by a local group. It did so on the ground that the apparently funny figurine of satan was ‘insufficiently repulsive’. It expressed fears that the city might become a ‘satanic tourism’ centre. Incidentally, the plea was dismissed by the court.

Segovia is an ancient city in the Castile region of Spain, and apart from the ‘satanic’ aqueduct, it hosts the Alcazar de Segovia, said to have inspired the Cinderella castle in Disneyland.

According to local folklore, a young girl, tired of walking all the way up the hill to fetch a pail of water, prayed to the devil to solve her problem.

The devil answered but asked for her soul in return if he should finish the job before the cock crows at sunrise. The devil started building the aqueduct with alacrity but the cock crowed before he placed the last stone and the girl just cocked a snook at him.

The poor old devil was well outside the popular consciousness until the medieval ages when, Christians, after years of oppression and suffering, were never more eager and aggressive to spread their religion in Europe and nature-worshippers or ‘pagans’ as they were called (initially because they were mostly country-dwellers in the times of Christianised Roman Empire and later, as a pejorative term for non-Christians) wouldn’t give away so easily. It is said that a pictorial representation of the devil was not made until the late 9th century A.D., when the devil took the horns from Pan, the pitchfork from Poseidon and wings from Bes — all ‘pagan’.

It was indeed a clever plan to incorporate pagan deities and symbolism into the devil, an embodiment of all things evil according to Christians, and thereby creating an illusion that pagans are evil too. This turned a substantial number of people around, and those who stood stiff were branded as witches, tried at kangaroo courts and brutally murdered publicly to create fear and intimidation among members of the public. Since then, the devil, who now was not only the embodiment of all things evil but also appointed as the god to pagans went underground, and only popped up rarely, in shady paintings and statues, the likes of Vosper’s ‘Salem’ (1908) and now, in Segovia.

With pagan-god-inspired superheroes, Gothic subculture and the rise of neopaganism in today’s world, a statue of the devil may as well draw the attention of men and women who are eager to break free from the constructed limits of traditional Abrahamic religions. Many of them would want to dig deeper back to a more traditional and ancient paganism due to the pagan features applied to this embodiment of evil, though with ulterior motives in the past.

This makes ‘satanic tourism’ something that is not impossible as dismissed by a Segovian counsellor.

Apart from all the effigies and symbols associated with it, paganism brings with it the spirit of superiority of nature to human beings on contrary to the Abrahamic notion of human paramountcy, which aligns with the modern realisation that an unexploited and respected nature is crucial to human survival.

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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 10:57:37 AM |

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