Ol' Scratch and Easter
April 16, 2006 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Why was the Devil associated with Easter?

My husband was looking through some old Life magazines from the turn of the last century (when Life was still an illustrated humor rag), and he found that a surprisingly large number of cartoons from the Easter issues contained a dapper version of the devil interacting with church goers. I assume this might've been a comment on the end of Lent and renewed temptation for the pious, but I'm wondering if there was also some popular folklore attached to these sorts of images. Was Ol' Scratch traditionally part of the spring harvest festival, maybe? I should also note that that Life from this period seemed very Protestant, and that the Devil imagery appeared to die out in the years leading up to WWI.
Oh, and Happy Springtime, everybody!
posted by maryh to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total)
Easter is actually more derived from an old pre christian European pagan celebration than from the death and resurrection of christ. Since for most of history christians have equated paganism with the devil, that may be where the correlation comes from.
posted by ChazB at 1:55 PM on April 16, 2006

Best answer: Some religious branches regard Easter as the defeat of the devil. Here is one random quote I googled up:

The wonder worked by God which we celebrate with joy and awe on this day of Pascha is one of ultimate victory; namely, the total reversal of the devil's claim upon the fate of human beings, which was secured by the descent of Christ into Hades and His Resurrection from the dead."

Maybe this belief was more widespread in the US around 1900.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:55 PM on April 16, 2006

Best answer: What MonkeySaltedNuts said. Easter is Jesus' victory over Satan, with more or less details depending on which version of the story you read. See also the Harrowing of Hell.

Although, if you want the meaning behind specific cartoons it might help to know what they're about.
posted by magodesky at 2:17 PM on April 16, 2006

Also, if they're all from the same magazine, it could just be a particular artist's gimmick that they found to be successful. Lots of cartoons have such recurring characters.
posted by magodesky at 2:29 PM on April 16, 2006

In the Catholic tradition, the privations of Lent- the forty days before Easter- commemorate Jesus' fast in the desert before his temptation by the devil. My impression was that Easter celebrates both Jesus' ressurection, as well as his triumph over the temptations of the devil- a triumph presumably shared by all believers who resisted temptation by depriving themselves of candy, porterhouse steaks, Red Bull, etc. during Lent.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:08 PM on April 16, 2006

Response by poster: It's a variety of cartoonists over a period of years, magodesky. (He's looking at issues from 1891 - 1915 at the moment.) But I think MonkeySaltedNuts is onto something. The gags seem to often show the Devil trumping people in a variety of ways at the end of Lent. I think it might be sort of a tongue in cheek reversal; for urbane sophisticates, the Devil is the real victor of the Lenten season. One cartoon implies that the devil is welcome back in church at the end of Lent, another that he was only napping for 40 days. But there are others that have him barking for "Easter Sales and Bargains", or hawking Easter fashions to women. I can see the connection, but there's just so damn many of them- I guess I'm wondering why these devil gags were so popular (to the point of cliche, apparently).
posted by maryh at 3:11 PM on April 16, 2006

Best answer: Man, you totally piqued my curiosity! I did some googling and I have two possibilities to suggest.

First, according to some random website there's a Finnish/Nordic legend that witches consort with the devil on the Friday and Saturday before Easter Sunday, because Jesus has yet to rise. (Sorry if I've got those details wrong; can you tell I'm Jewish?)

Second, Krampus is a devil-like character associated with Christmas -- like the fiip side of Santa Claus. Could he also be associated with Easter? Do these images of Krampus bear some resemblance to the Life cartoons?
posted by miriam at 5:22 PM on April 16, 2006

Jeez! If even Jesus went to hell, I may as well give up now. I had no idea the standards were so high. I think I'll start whoring and enjoying myself.
posted by kookoobirdz at 6:53 PM on April 16, 2006

I agree with Miriam and foxy hedgehog.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:46 PM on April 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the great links, miriam! He's portrayed as very Krampus-like, but better dressed. He's actually very appealing in a lot of the gags, which makes me wonder if the 'good luck demon' idea was widely accepted lore around 1900.
My husband blogged a few of the cartoons here (they're the first three), and this site has a bunch of Easter covers featuring the Lord o' Darkness getting busy with some Easter belles. (Warning: horrible music; scroll down and click on "LIFE Magazine's "Easter" Gallery".) I love this imagery- it's so not chicks and bunnies. But I'm still wondering why there was so much of it, and why the 'Devil at Easter' images disappeared so thoroughly. Makes me want to start a movement to Put The Devil Back in Eastertime- Think I can get O'Reilly on board for next year?
posted by maryh at 10:22 PM on April 16, 2006

I don't think this has anything to do with popular folklore. It's a standard image of the Devil which goes back to French Romantic fiction of the mid-nineteenth century. Jeffrey Burton Russell, in his book Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World, traces it back to the French writer Théophile Gautier:

Irony, parody and whimsy were the dominant treatments of the Devil throughout the nineteenth century. The greatest master of irony was Théophile Gautier .. [whose] description of the Devil is so perfect a picture of the ironic Mephistopheles that it has become a stock figure in art, opera, literature and cartoons: a young, handsome man with regular, sardonic features; a red imperial and mustache; green eyes; thin, pale, ironic lips; and a knowing look. The perfect dandy, he wears a black coat, red waistcoat, white gloves and golden spectacles; on one long, delicate finger he sports a large ruby. He instills not fear or hatred but ironic laughter. He is, in effect, cynical, valueless modern man looking at himself in a mirror.

The Devil as a sophisticated, fashionable man of the world: a perfect image for a magazine like Life. Indeed, the frequency of these images makes me wonder whether, just as Punch had Mr Punch and the New Yorker had its man-with-a-monocle, so Life had adopted Mephistopheles as its mascot -- part of its 'brand identity', if you like.

And why Easter? Again, I don't think it has anything to do with popular folklore. I think it's connected with the fashion season, and the fact that dressmakers would introduce their new spring fashions soon after Easter. So again, it reflects a distinctive phenomenon of the late nineteenth century: the mass-marketing of fashion, and the emergence of middle- and upper-class women as major consumers of luxury goods.
posted by verstegan at 11:35 AM on April 19, 2006

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