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On 29th August 1677, Christoph Haizmann was found on the floor convulsing violently whilst he was working in a small castle in Potterbrun, Austria. The authorities took him in for questioning, initially believing him to be bewitched and that he himself was possibly a witch. 1 There was a reason for the authorities’ paranoia. This was the age of witch hunts. In nearby Salzburg, such inquests were commonplace, and would continue to be until 1690, claiming more than a hundred lives in the process. 2 Haizmann was initially in very real danger. Yet, the story that he told the authorities quickly made them reassess the situation.
He claimed that he was not bewitched, but rather that he had made a deal with the devil and was now demonically possessed.
Christoph Haizmann’s deal with the devil
Haizmann explained that nine years ago the devil appeared to him whilst he was an impoverished painter. The devil tempted him repeatedly, hounded him, offering him money, power and women, until, finally, he succumbed on the ninth temptation. The reason he finally agreed to strike a deal was because the devil promised to cure his depression, which he had suffered since the recent loss his father. Two pacts were then supposedly signed between him and the devil: one in ink, the other in blood. Haizmann pledged in those agreements that in return he would give himself, body and soul, to the devil in nine years’ time, on 24th September. At the time of his arrest, this was only a few weeks away. 3
Haizmann undergoes exorcism
When the local Catholic priest, Leopold Braun, heard Haizmann’s story, he took pity on him, describing him as a “miserable man”. The priest wrote to the abbey of Mariazell and asked them to assist him. They in due course accepted Haizmann and the monks there started to perform severe exorcisms.
Haizmann was a dutiful penitent and did everything the monks told him. Yet, at midnight on 8th September, he met the devil again. The monks attested that, whilst holding him in a state of agony, Haizmann freed himself and ran to their chapel, only to return with a piece of paper some time later. Haizman claimed that the piece of paper was the contract written in blood many years ago. He said that he had snatched the accursed pact from the very claws of the devil, who appeared to him in the form of a winged dragon. 4
The monastery popularised his case as a miracle. However, it was not to last.
By 11th October Haizmann’s convulsions were back. Not only that, they were worse than ever, sometimes leaving him entirely paralysed. During these episodes, he kept a diary and testified to being tormented not only by the devil but by the Virgin Mary and Christ, the devil with his customary temptations, and Christ and Mary demanding he renounce worldly possessions and become a man of God. Again, Haizmann underwent exorcisms. In 1678 he supposedly retrieved the pact he had made in ink from the devil.
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Some time after this Haizmann joined a monastery in Bohemia and became a Brother Hospitaller. There, he completed several paintings of the devil in his different incarnations, including an especially grand piece in which he painted the Virgin Mary helping him get the pact written in ink from the devil.
The torments, however, never stopped. They would plague Haizmann for the rest of his life until he died in the year 1700, “peaceful and of good comfort”.5
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