The Devil is a lively character in stories of the supernatural that are found in Herefordshire. Indeed, it is noticeable that the evil one is mentioned far more often in Herefordshire than in most English counties. Why this should be so tends to divide people. Those from outside the county are apt to remark that Satan will find his work easier to do in Herefordshire. Those who live here reply that he has to spend more time in the county for precisely the opposite reason - that Herefordshire folk are less likely to sin and so he needs to put in extra effort.
The figure of the Devil is drawn from the Bible. The name means “accuser” in Greek and is thought to refer to the fact that the role of the Devil was to tempt humans to sin so that he could collect evidence with which to accuse them on the Day of Judgement. His other name in the Bible, Satan, is the same word in Hebrew.
Since the Bible was written a whole and hugely complex mythology has grown up about the Devil and his minions. Some of this is sanctioned by some Christian denominations, but much of it is entirely unofficial and has no grounding in theology. The Devil is generally thought to be hugely powerful, but to have no hold over humans or their souls unless the person involves willingly agrees to this. The idea of selling your soul to the Devil in return for worldly power or wealth is an old one. The Devil is widely held to be utterly ruthless and deeply cunning when agreeing to such pacts. He is skilled at twisting words to his meaning and so cheating the human, but he is also likely to make mistakes and to be cheated in his turn.
The Devil is also believed to be able to take on human form. He will usually appear as a rich and successful stranger, mounted on a fine horse - these days presumably he would drive a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari - and be dressed in the costliest fashions. There is usually something wrong about this disguise that can be detected by the more astute, though sometimes not until it is too late. He might, for instance, leave his foot as a cloven hoof.
Nor does the Devil come alone. He has demons and minions to do his bidding. Some of these have names - Beelzebub and Astaroth are among the better known - but others are nameless. These demons are usually thought of as being less powerful than their evil master, but still to be deeply dangerous.
Whatever the truth, it is certain that the Devil features strongly in Herefordshire tales. Some of these seem to be folktales with little, if any, basis in fact. Others are rooted in truth and use the Devil as a personification of evil to explain events. Still more seem to be authentic tales about seemingly supernatural happenings, but that those involved ascribed the events to the Devil rather than to ghosts or spectres.
from Haunted Herefordshire by Rupert Matthews
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