March 30, 2013 in Editorial
Typically, one’s immortal soul is considered to be of infinite value to its original owner, as possession of it is widely thought to allow access to some sort of eternal reward and/or avoidance of eternal damnation. But what if you are in a really tight spot, and don’t have any other assets to sell at that moment?
Maybe it’s time to consider entering the eternally hot market of soul trading.
Before signing any contract however, you should probably have a firm grasp of what exactly the commodity being traded is typically worth, so read on.
Unfortunately for the potential soul-seller, there seem to be rather few credible soul purchasers on the market. Certainly there are quite a few soul consumers, such as Yog-sothoth1, the Erlking2, Nyarlathotep3, etc. but according to most sources they often either merely seize the soul in question without negotiation or bargain in rather bad faith.
Yog-sothoth: not much of a negotiator when it comes to souls
The only entity that appears to regularly purchase souls is the Satan of the Abrahamic faiths and his agents, such as Mephistopheles.
The Prince of Lies: Most Honest and Reliable Soul Dealer in the Cosmos Since 5,500 BCE!
Given his position as the dominant soul purchaser in the market and the high fragmentation of soul sellers, Satan has a great deal of bargaining leverage.
On the bright side, at least for purposes of this analysis, Lucifer’s position means that his offers can be considered the standards of the market, allowing us to relatively easily determine the market value of a soul based upon Satan’s traits and prior transactions.
The first thing to consider is Satan’s motivations for purchasing souls, from which we might derive his level of demand. While his game is somewhat puzzling, it would seem that his primary objectives are political and/or personal, revolving around his adversarial relationship with the Abrahamic God. Given that this conflict is projected to persist until Armageddon, and that humans (and their souls) appear to be one of the major strategic focuses of this conflict, we can anticipate that his demand will persist for the foreseeable future.
As for Satan’s supply of capital to exchange in these transactions, this man of wealth and taste is frequently considered to have dominion over the entire Earth (primarily based on his being referred to as “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, NRSV)), and indeed in Matthew 4:8-9 Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the Earth in exchange for Jesus worshipping him. From this we can derive that Satan’s asset base for soul transactions is not only huge, but will keep perfect pace with global GDP,4 and effectively render him immune from the time-value of money (as he’s already invested in everything.)
“It’s a great up-and-coming neighborhood.”
So, how much has the Prince of Darkness been historically willing to offer for a typical mortal soul? While there are many accounts of these transactions, most of them either are settled with wagers, which upsets calculating market value as it is difficult to reconstruct the probability calculations used by the participants, or they involve intangible components such as love, good fortune, fame, knowledge, political power, or sorcerous powers of ambiguous scale and versatility, which are difficult to quantify in terms of pure financial value. Fortunately, there is the case of 18th century New Hampshire General Jonathan Moulton.
Thinly veiled as “General Hampton” in Samuel Drake’s 1882 travelogue The Heart of the White Mountains, Jonathan Moulton sells his soul in exchange for having his boots filled with guineas every month. Naturally, Moulton soon found the largest pair of boots in the village so that he could maximize his income from the bargain, which Satan apparently considered acceptable as “the devil does not stand upon trifles.” However, when Moulton tried to push his luck further by cutting out the soles of the boots so that the devil would fill the boots endlessly, Satan apparently considered this a breach of contract and decided to sue in a trial by fire—as in, he burned down Moulton’s house.
On top of paying damages in terms of the damage to his house, Moulton also lost all of the guineas, which he had been stuffing into the rafters of his house, and still had to give up custody of his soul, based on the fact that supposedly when he was exhumed his coffin was found empty.
Extrapolating from a reference to a 1769 Boston Chronicle article, we can date the conflagration of Jonathan Moulton’s house to March 15th, 1769, which is useful useful information for determining the value of the transaction, which you can see here.
Volume of two largest boots available:
Volume of one guinea:
Number of guineas in two boots:
Wage of an English farmer (1769):
17.38 guineas per year
Converting economic values from this time period and earlier to that of today is a hotly debated matter by economic historians considering the lack benchmarks that persist across them, but if we scale the income of a 1769 English farmer to the average U.S. wage today, then the compensation for the soul would be worth approximately $29 million per month or $348.5 million per year, over two and a half times the total income of the highest paid CEO of 2012, who was paid $137.2 million for the entire year.
Alternatively, we could calculate Moulton’s income based on the modern value of the gold in the coins. Each guinea minted during that period contained 7.7 grams of gold (out of 8.4 grams in the coins total.) This works out to 90.7 kilograms of gold each month, which would be worth $5 million on today’s market.
So, assuming that souls are moderately fungible, and the devil has been giving his dues in keeping up with modern income expectations, the typical Faustian bargain can net a substantial short-term upside, albeit with a high rate of seller’s remorse.
-Centives would like to thank our guest writer Gregory Maus of strategic consulting firm Maus Publicity and Consulting for getting in touch and contributing this article.
1 While Yog-sothoth, as presented in Illuminatus!, seems to be open to some forms of negotiation to devour the souls of others, but the entity in question is rather fickle in its soul consumption, taking the souls of those who summon it if not properly restrained. Furthermore, because Yog-sothoth devours the souls of others, rather than that of the negotiator, the resulting moral hazard means that that which is given in exchange cannot be considered a fair market price. In any case, the account in Illuminatus! seems to be the only instance of an entity known as Yog-sothoth trafficking in souls, per se, and indeed it seems to differ in quite number of respects from the Yog-sothoth featured elsewhere in the Lovecraft mythos.
2 The closest that the Erlking seems to come to a soul purchase is in Goethe’s Der Erlkönig, in which he does originally promise the boy involved in the soul transaction the opportunity to join him in his halls for a variety of merriments, but this cannot be considered a good-faith offer as the Erlking A. never informs the boy of the price of the offer or really any terms thereof, and B. steals the boy’s soul when negotiations break down, demonstrating that negotiations involved unfair leverage and coercive elements (which is also suggested by the boy’s verbal expressions of fear throughout the poem.) While there other folkloric instances of individuals making unusual transactions with various fey (involving such bargaining chips as marriage, one’s children, or one’s memories), they never seem to involve the mortal’s own soul.
3 As the soul and messenger of the Outer Gods, Nyarlathotep is naturally involved with a variety of transactions with mortals, such as signing one’s name in Azathoth’s book in Dreams in the Witch House, but it is ambiguous as to whether these transactions involved the mortal bargainer’s soul and even if they do, the one transaction featured in the story is laced with coercive elements (chiefly repeated insanity-inducing harassment by Brown Jenkin and Keziah Mason) and suggestions that alleged book signer Walter Gilman may not have been in a sufficiently sound state of mind to properly consent to such an exchange (if indeed it did occur, which is ambiguous.) Nyarlathotep (and various other Lovecraftian entities) may also receive the souls of his various cultists throughout the cosmos, but this likely cannot be properly considered a good-faith bargain either, given Nyarlathotep’s inherent conflict of interest as perceived deity of said cultists (a role it could utilize to counsel his followers to offer their souls to it for less than fair market value.)
4 The conclusion that Satan’s assets to exchange for souls will keep pace with Earth’s GDP does rely on the implicit assumption that Satan does not commonly utilize substantial assets decoupled from and out of step with Earth’s economy for these transactions,
5 These calculations assume that any bulge in the boots from the weight of the guineas is roughly canceled out by the inefficient space utilization by the coins.
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