October 28, 2018

Devil at Hallowe'en?

        This wonderful, strange little woodcut is thought to represent the Devil dressed as a bird catcher.  Perhaps the Devil decided to dress as a bird catcher for Hallowe’en in the year 1525?  Theologically it is presumably illustrating Satan’s stratagems for ensnaring souls, but setting that aside, I find this a wonderfully goofy image.  First of all, is that bird catcher get-up for real?  Did hunters really dress as a haystack with a bird decoy and thus successfully catch birds?  What kinds of birds?  In this case, clearly holy birds, as the Devil’s decoy has a halo.  Like most haystack costumes, it’s presumably more convincing if you crouch down and keep still, but with his horned head popping out the top and his clawed feet popping out the bottom, it’s pretty easy to see through the Devil’s disguise.  If he came trick-or-treating to your door, would you make him pick up a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup with his tongs, or would you give it to the bird?

[Picture: The devil as a bird catcher, wood block print perhaps designed by Hans Beham, from Beschwerung der alten Teüflischen Schlangen mit dem Götlichen wort, 1525 (Image from Penn Libraries).]

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