In the early hours of a Friday, on the 9th of February 1855, in the Devon of England, people woke up to find something peculiar, interesting, and morbid. The fresh snow was covered in long, spidery hoofprints.
Single sets of hoofprints went up drainpipes and traversed through the nearby streets. As the townsfolk woke up, however, they realized that this was a significant event. The hoofprints even went across the rooftops. Soon, it was known throughout Devon that some inhumane, otherworldly creature had visited the idle town of Devon on the evening of February 8th. Stranger still, no one saw a thing as the event transpired.
A Significant Event
Before long, the incident got the attention of the priest of Devon, who quickly arrived on the scene. He took some time to survey the land and the hoofprints, ranting about the devil and the decline of faith, the entire time. The hoofprints were made by a being that should be weighing roughly like a normal human. The indents weren’t superficial, they bore into the snow deep and true. To the priest, the culprit was the devil himself. There was no other way.
The hooved fiend had circled homes, haunted rooftops, and camped inside barns. The local vicar, Reverend G. M. Musgrove, wasted no time in writing a letter to his friend, Reverend H. T. Ellacombe, addressing the grave tidings. The Illustrated London News was also updated, and it was specifically warned that the letters were “not for publication”.
The letters were archived and remained so until an article on the incident was published by Devonshire Association in 1950. As they were researching, they learned about the letters and reached out to the Illustrated London News, requesting more information on the phenomenon. This inquest led to further findings. A Bells’ Life Magazine from Sydney had detailed accounts of the incident, and it was successfully recovered. Mike Dash, a researcher renowned in his field, took a great interest in the topic and researched it extensively. He published “The Devil’s Hoofmarks: Source Material on the Great Devon Mystery of 1855” in 1994 with all his findings. He summarized and pondered over what the people of Devon could have done, for the Devil himself to spook them out on that cold morning in February.
Theories and Explanations
Even today, there are many who believe that the footprints found in Devon were those of the Devil. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t skepticism surrounding the incident. As reinforced by Joe Nickell, a paranormal investigator and skeptic, there has been no visual evidence, and the eyewitnesses’ accounts do not tally with each other, either. This led to skeptics coming up with their own theories. Mike Dash, for instance, argued that the prints were made by hopping mice. Richard Owen, an English anatomist, concluded that badgers were the culprit. However, one of the most plausible explanations comes from author Geoffrey Household. He writes that while he was researching the case, a certain Major Carter informed him of an experiment conducted in Devonport. Major Carter had gotten this story from his grandfather, who had witnessed the experiment. For studying weather patterns, a weather balloon had been set off; unfortunately, the balloon got entangled in the bushes and left a trail of prints. The army didn’t want to claim responsibility for the blunder, so the devil was a welcome explanation and they laid low so that the entire thing could blow over. However, there are many who believe that the prints were too tidy and too precise for them to be caused by a rogue weather balloon.
At the time, (and even now), the community dismissed the idea of the weather balloon for being far too outlandish. They seemed quite content with the theory about a rogue kangaroo or the devil. Rev. G. M. Musgrave, as it would seem, had popularized the belief that the prints were made by a kangaroo on loose, which the parishioners happily agreed to. So, the “mystery” of the Devil’s Footprints was never solved.
Pan Of the Greek Or Devil Of The Bible?
This obsession with the devil and the eagerness to connect the incident to the Dark Lord piqued the interest of Christians across England at the time. The jarring detail is why the townsfolk were quick to point to the devil when the devil was never portrayed as having goat-like, or hoofed legs. On the contrary, the devil in Christian religious tests is described as a stunning angel, going by the name Lucifer, the Light-bearer. In fact, the popular portrayal of the cloven foot devil comes from Stephan King novels and James Wan movies.
The man who popularized the idea of a cloven-foot devil is Daniel Defoe, who wrote “of the Devil, and particularly of the cloven foot” in one of his essays. However, looking at other cultures like Jewism and the Greek-Roman mythologies, one can easily see a wide array of beings, ranging from fairies to satyrs. The concept of the cloven foot devil is believed to have been popularized when the religion was traveling across the world and mingling with different cultures, perceiving a new Satan that now had the form of the god Pan, a goat-like god of the Greeks, and the god of the wild that indulged in detestable practices and was ruling hell like Hades. This was made popular in the movie Pan’s Labyrinth.
Commonly used in Satanism and its other sects, the pentagram of Pan is used to depict the same union. This is cited as the main reason why pagan and other natural religions like Wicca shy away from the popular religious symbol.
Other Fiendish Sightings
Described as a bat-like creature with hooves, the New Jersey Devil is believed to be a distant cousin of the Devon Devil. In the legend of the New Jersey Devil, Mother Leeds, a supposed witch, gave birth to a hideous creature that flew into the pine woods on a stormy night in 1735. A similar incident much like the Devon mystery occurred in Scotland, where a set of footprints were found in a single file. Reappearing each year, the devil’s footprints were also discovered every year on Sand Hill, Poland.
If you love mysteries, check out the case of Bobby Dunbar, a kid who disappeared and was replaced, or about Year 536, the worst year to be alive.
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