Many people have a preconceived notion of the devil as a red beast with horns, or a hairy creature with a goat’s head. Some may even believe the devil looks like Voldemort from Harry Potter. While these are all fitting description of the prince of darkness, no description of the devil is as stylish and hip as the devil sighted in Baroque Germany. These depictions of the devil wearing the finest clothes and sporting the sharpest hats were prevalent in the late 16th century and early 17th century.
The devil’s appearance gained him the name “Federle” or “Federlin,” meaning “little feather,” as the lord of the fallen always wore a hat adorned with a feather. The following descriptions of the devil come from interrogations of accused witches documented in Lyndal Roper’s book, Witch Craze. The devil was a smooth talker, promising marriage and loyalty to the women he targeted, then demanding diabolical obedience after they were seduced. Common motifs in the accounts of the devil from this period included impersonation of love interests, the appearance of goat’s feet (after the devil revealed himself), having a cold ‘member,’ and last but not least, flatulence. Yet, the devil’s choice of clothing was the most consistent recurrence among the accounts.
If clothing makes the man, the devil was a man of substance. In 1586, Ursula Bayer told of her encounter with the devil wearing “black clothes, with a black satin hat, black feather on it….” Barbara Weis confessed in 1590 that the devil “came in the form of a craftsman, dressed in black clothes, a feather on his hat, and with a cloven foot.” The 1602 account from Barbara Herpolt claims the devil looked “like a servant man, a red face and a red beret, smooth trousers and stockings, a hat with black and white feathers….” In 1617, the devil added more color to his clothing. Margaret Schreyer, in her 1617 testimony, claimed that the devil appeared to her “in red clothes and a black hat.” The Würzburg trials added green to the devil’s wardrobe. The devil was described as “a beautiful young man with a black beard, red clothing, green stockings and black hat, with a red feather upon it.” Barbara Schluchter also claimed to have seen the devil in 1617, “he had a green tunic, a high hat and a feather.” Even men had to be wary of women in feathered hats. Conrad Schreyer, an accused male witch from Marchtal, claimed to have been seduced by the devil in the form of a black-clad woman wearing a hat with feathers. In total, the accounts from Lyndal Roper’s Witch Craze that were perused for this article contained five instances of the devil wearing black clothing, four instances of a black hat, two depictions of green clothing, two accounts of red clothing, and a unique occurrence of a red hat. The feather was always present, though its color and quantity varied.
So, next time you encounter a devilishly good-looking person wearing fine tailored clothing and a hat with a feather, beware, it may be the devil. The colors black, red and green are to be especially suspected. Beware the Lucifer in Ralph Lauren and the dark prince in Prada.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
This article was originally published on April 7, 2016, but has been edited since that date.
Picture Attribution: (“The Devil as the Witch’s Lover,” woodcut c. 1490, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Lyndal Roper. Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.