USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘devil’
Tales /märchen

The Boy and the Devil

The following informant is a stay at home mom from Upland. Here she is telling a tale her grandmother used to tell her when she was a young girl. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as KA and I am identified as K:

KA: This is a story that I heard from my grandmother, it happened in Mexico and it was about a little boy, that he was out, like in the ranch area and he had… sorry, was walking and he came across this man on a horse! And the boy asked him hey can you give me a ride? and the man said yeah I’ll give you a ride! So he got on the horse, and he started riding on the horse, and then he is talking to the man, and the man starts telling him “oh” … I don’t exactly remember, it’s been a while, but he he just… actually he did not really talk to him too much, but he started noticing that his head was changing like a horse, and his feet were dragging and his legs, well… it was the devil, it was the devil. so, the boy just jumped off and ran. So, it was kind of like, you know, he came close to the devil.

K: how old where you when you heard this story?

KA : um, i must have been maybe like 10,

K: Do you know why she was telling you the story, was there a take away?


KA: Well its saying that because the devil comes in different forms, he could come as anything, he could come as a friend, he could come as like you know a human being, which in the story he was like a human being, and it turned out to be the devil, because the head started to enlarge like a horse and then that is when he noticed that he got all scared and took off. and also like you don’t go with strangers you know

Context: this informant told me this tale while I was at her house, she sat down on the couch and started to tell us a story


I think this is meant to be a cautionary tale, as evidenced by what KA said about don’t go with strangers. I think it could possibly be an appropriate way to address these issues with young children, without introducing them to all of the harsh realities of the world.


The Unaired Night Stalker

The following informant is a stay at home mom from Upland. Here she is describing a legend about the Night Stalker, a serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles in the 80’s. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as KA and I am identified as K:

KA: So there was this family, older man and lady, and he had got into the house, and they did not put this out in the news, but it was um… he had taken their eyes out and with blood wrote on the walls, that is what he had did

K: Do you know what he wrote?

KA: um… some devil, like the star and like devil symbols, like the zodiac symbols you know, but it was the star one, that’s the devil and that was on the wall

K: And this was never broadcasted?

KA: No they never put it in the newspaper, nothing, they did not tell nobody

K: so how did you hear about it

KA: at the salon, where I worked, people talk all the time, and some lady heard it from other people

K: What year was this?

KA: Probably in the 80s cause that was when he was going around

K: Do you think he actually committed this crime?

KA: oh yeah, he terrorized people, it sounds like something he did

Context: She was telling me this as we were sitting on her couch talking about scary stories my mother told me when I was a kid and she remembered this one that she heard.


I am not saying whether I think he did or did not commit this particular crime, however I will comment on the supposed writing of the devil zodiac sign. I think that is a particular interesting piece of information, especially because it sounds identical to the Zodiac Killer, which is a completely different case. And maybe the Night Stalker did commit this crime, but it is interesting to see how despite terrorize the community, he persona has become a topic of urban legends.


Bridge Devil

Informant: Liz is a 24-year-old student born and raised in Southern California. Her mother is from a town near Guadalajara, Mexico.

Main Piece: “When I was maybe like…8 or 10, my mom, she shared with my sister and I, she shared that at the ranch where her grandmother lived, there was a bridge nearby. But sometimes at night, when you went to cross the bridge, the devil would appear. And he had the…head of a pig, legs of a rooster, and some other part of a goat. He would ask questions and try to hurt you. Now, she never saw the devil, but she had a friend who did. And the friend was lucky because she got away before the devil got to her.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant was deeply affected by this piece as a child. She was afraid of leaving the house after dark, even though she did not live near the bridge in Guadalajara.

Context of Performance: This piece was performed by the informant’s mother when her children were acting irresponsibly.

Thoughts: I find it interesting how similar this piece is to stories about bridge trolls, especially given that the devil would ask questions.

Folk Beliefs

Brandon’s Satan worship

So he started studying like he started reading books about Satanism, he was just… he was just really interested in it and it was like probably about a month that he was really into it like buying books and like reading into it and I was like “You need to stop this, like this is creepy, I don’t like it.” So I was against it but, so during that month some weird things were happening. So there were umm… a bunch of flies that would just come into his… just his room, only his room and they would I don’t know where they would come in from but they were just like everywhere in his room. And then one night we were asleep and in the middle of the night like dead silent his guitar just like knocks over and it woke us up because it like you know it made the guitar noise, that was creepy. And the whole month we both had really creepy dreams, in our dreams it was always something about the room, like something was getting us. It was really creepy.

My informant lived through these strange events. She told me this story after the topic of Satan and devil worshippers came up. I found this story interesting because my informant was telling this story about Brandon, an ex-boyfriend who cheated on her. Hearing these strange things about him made me wonder if this was part of the reason for their break-up or part of her method of rationalizing the break-up, as folklore often does with things we do not understand.


The Devil in the Wall

Okay I was really upset about something maybe it was something that happened in school or dance, I don’t know but I was like crying in my room, it was when we had the bunk beds and I was on your bed crying, crying, crying umm… for like an hour or something and you know how we used to have that umm.. The wall used to have like some sort of texture to it. What is that called? Oh no that was the ceiling but it was the wall. The wall had a crack and I was crying, crying, crying and I looked to my right and I swear, it was the lighting and there was a crack in the wall and it looked like the devil’s face like for sure and I told dad and he, I mean you saw it too right? And it was creepy because I had never seen it before, I had never noticed it before until that moment and then uhh… so he ended up just knocking a hole in it and then like re-plastering it to get rid of the creepy devil face.

My informant experienced this piece of folklore and traumatized her to this day. She informed me about this story as everyone was talking about weird ghost stories or satanic stories over dinner. This piece of folklore scared me when I heard it because the informant was talking about the room I used to sleep in every night and I had no idea about the crack in the wall.

Folk speech

Mexican Elderly Idiom

“The second one is, umm… More knows the devil, because he’s old, than to be a devil. Do you want me to tell you in Spanish? ‘Mas el diablo por viejo que por diablo.’ ”


And in what context would you say that? Like, what would you say that in reference to?


“Umm, that, uhh, we need to pay attention to the old people. That the old people is, is they know the way and we need to listen to them.”


Analysis: Another short and sweet proverb, this one celebrates old age in a very tongue-in-cheek sort of way. The proverb proclaims that the Devil knows more about being the Devil from simply living into old age than by being the Devil in the first place. In other words, this proverb would seem to reveal that, in rural Mexican culture, learned wisdom gleaned through experience is superior to natural-born intellect. This would suggest a deference to rural elders and a suspicion of up-and-comer types in the informant’s culture.

Folk speech

Devil in Angel’s Clothing

Informant Tahereh Behshid is 78 years old and recalled a proverb she was taught as a young child.

I wanted to know if you could possibly talk about some proverbs you might have used when you were a child in Iran, and the context that you would use those proverbs in. So… do you have an example for me?

“Yes, my name is Tahereh Behshid, and the thing we usually heard from parents, it was [speaking in Farsi] ‘shaytan delah baseh fereshte.’ The devil in angel’s clothing. That means you watch out for the people, they come to you, around you. When they act very nice to you, you have to see what their intention is. So… that’s what it was.”

Analysis: Like many proverbs passed from parent to child, this one deals with imparting a valuable life lesson in very few words. Tahereh grew up as a poor woman in a rapidly modernizing urban area of Iran’s capital, and so with the influx of strangers to her hometown, this advice was likely to be especially valuable. She taught the same lessons, albeit in English, to her own children in the United States, who then passed them on to their children.


The Devil at the Dance

Informant KJ is a sophomore studying cinematic art at the University of Southern California. He is of French-Canadian descent from the region of Quebec. Here, he discusses traditional Canadian folklore that has been known in his family for several generations:

KJ: “So there’s this other French-Canadian legend called “The Devil at the Dance” and it’s about this young couple who fall in love with each other, but they have opposing religious beliefs and the girl’s parents refuse their daughter to be involved with him because he is a Christian and they’re not. The daughter professes her love for the Christian boy, but her parents refuse to accept their daughter’s claims. The mother even says that she would rather have her daughter associated with the devil himself rather than a boy like hi. Then one day, the devil knocked on the family’s door. The family was so afraid that they asked a priest to convert them to Christianity. Once the family and the daughter were officially converted, the Christian boy and the young girl got married, both now as official members of Christianity.”

How did you learn about this legend?

KJ: “It’s just another French-Canadian tale that I’ve heard over the years from my grandparents.”

In what context would you share this legend?

KJ: “Well, my grandparents would share this story with me and other cousins mostly when I was younger and it was usually at our family gatherings.”

Does this legend have any significance to you?

KJ: “Um ya kind of because it was something that was always told from older members of my family like my grandparents and they made it fun, so ya it does.”


This French-Canadian tale exhibits the influence the devil had in the reinforcement of Christian ideals by scaring the non-believing family into converting into Christianity. The image and representation of the devil is quite common among French-Canadian tales, as he is known to make deals and to trick people. The devil is a prominent ancestral fixture in French-Canadian folklore and continues to be in modern society.



Honduran Family Legend

Legend- Honduras


Nationality- Honduras

Primary Language- Spanish

Occupation- Factory Worker

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 3/11/16

One night when it was raining, a few days after your uncle marisio was born, your grandmother heard a strong knocking on the door. Your grandpa was still out working so she was uncertain if she should open the door. The baby was sound asleep and the knocking did not sleep so she decided to go see who it was. When she looked out a window, she saw a tall man with a black hoodie and coat getting soaked outside right in front of the door. When she went around to ask who it was, the man said “Let me see you baby”. Your grandma became frightened and said “No!”. The man then said that if she did not let him see the baby, in 18 years she would pay severely. The man kept knocking harder and then Marisio began to cry. Your grandma made sure the door was locked and ran to comfort Marisio. He would not stop crying and the man would not stop knocking. After a few minutes your grandma heard a horse hooves walking around the house. After half an hour of circling the house with a horse, the noise was gone and the baby stopped crying. 18 years later, your brother became mentally ill and has never recovered since then.

The person who told me this story was my mother. She is from Honduras and currently resides in Los Angeles. She learned this story from my grandmother who told her because she says it actually happened to her. Her brother has been ill ever since he turned 18. She believes that a reason he is “sick” is because it has something to do with the devil. Either because of this event or another possible reason that has to do with witchcraft. This is important to her because it taught her how evil and powerful the devil is and to always confide in God because he is where all good resides. She also learned that she should not ever open the door to any stranger, to always look through the window first, because you never know ehn the devil may be knocking. To my mother, it is an answer to an unknow. When my family in Honduras did not know why or how this happened to Marisio, they simply blamed it on the devil and realized it was a sane answer. She has had several spiritual rituals performed on him but to no avail, making her think that it is too late and the devil it too powerful.

The context of the story was serious, mysterious, but calm. Her tone was not with an intent to be ominous or scary because that was not the point of the story. She told me in broad daylight, in our living room when i asked her how did my uncle get sick. Her objective was to tell a story and give me a lesson, not just to scare me.

When my mother first told me the story, I was frightened. I was only 10 years old and the thought of the devil almost coming in contact with my family was crazy. I made sure to never open the door unless I knew who it was or if it was safe to do so. It also made me fear the devil and what he could do. When I turned 13, my mother was so cautious because of what happened that she gave me pills that would smoothen out my puberty process. She believed that it may help me and prevent anything similar to what happened to Marisio happen to me. Of course back when I turned 13 i thought that her methods were unorthodox but i could not really debate against her since she was my mother. Nothing terrible happened to me but it made me realize how religion and faith could really affect someone’s thoughts. I realized that with a lack of knowledge, people can become very afraid of the unknown and turn to their religion or God for answers. In Honduran culture, people believe that the devil rides with a horse and has unbelievable power and that anyone who is sick or evil is under the control or influence of the devil. Stories like these increase their beliefs because sometimes they have nothing else to believe in.


Folk Beliefs

Devil in Disguise

I collected this piece of folklore from my dad while he was visiting. We ended up just sitting in the car in a parking lot while he shared some more Chilean folklore with me.

Dad: “When we were little, my mom and my dad were very busy, so they left the Nana with us. The empleada.

Me: “Yeah.”

Dad: “And she used to sit with us and tell us all these scary happenings, like, she used to say there were sometimes babies abandoned in the middle of the road at night, and you walk and you hear this noise, a crying baby, and if you hold the baby, the baby is so sweet, and you get, ‘Oh! Poor little baby!’ But in reality, it was the Diablo (devil). The Diablo, who became a baby, to catch your attention and get out goodness out of you, and you feel compassion and then, a lot of bad things start happen to you if you hold that baby. Then the baby disappear and you cannot explain what happened, and then in one way, the baby choose, make you fall down in that trap, and because you became good with the baby, but the baby was bad. Then a lot of bad things start happen to you like, you can lose your job, your income, some relative dies, you know, all of this stuffs.”

Me: “It’s a bad omen. Can you reverse the omen?”

Dad: “The omen?”

Me: “Can you reverse the bad luck?”

Dad: “Ah, I guess, you know, the religious mentality show you that if you carry a cross with you, you are free of this devil, bad things that can happen to you.”

Me: “Oh, so the point is to try to get everyone to wear crosses.” (laugh)

Dad: “Exactly, well that is the idea.” (laugh) “Kind of. So in reality, a lot of Chileans without education, well even with education, you believe that a cross, that mean Jesus Christ, keep all this bad energy far away from you.”

Me: “So it’s to keep people in the religion?”

Dad: “Yeah, well, it’s probably an idea to keep everyone scared, and then if it doesn’t happen…”

Background and Analysis

My dad was raised in Rancagua, Chile, which is a city outside of Santiago in the 1950s and early 1960s. Back then and still today, religion has a very strong presence in Chile. When he was a young boy, my dad’s Nana would tell him and his brothers these stories, and at that age they believed it all, of course.

Going off of the legend, my dad also describes how, as a child, he was always told that when anything bad happened, if you just wore a cross or made a cross, everything would be okay. But to him, it’s all mostly psychological. This is very true, in that if you believe in something, it probably will happen. If you envision bad things happening, they will happen to you. If you envision good things happening, they can occur as well. What the legend is pushing is that religion can save you, even from the devil, but the mind is just as powerful a weapon.