A Diabolical Correspondence


I recognize this is your first assignment, so I will try to be gentle. According to your file, your man is young, carnal, baptized, but with a Christian religiosity that is no more developed now than it was a decade ago. You complain that the shame he feels over recurring sins is as stale a pleasure for you as the pornography is for him. You want more of a challenge, do you?

The reason we assign novice tempters to weak souls is a tactical necessity, I’m afraid. Has it not occurred to you what chance this soul would stand if he were placed under an advanced tempter? He would be so fast in our grip, he might never break free. You might wonder, then, why we don’t pair strong tempters with weak souls to increase the odds of securing them forever. In the first order, our best tempters have their hands full with the Enemy’s strongest. Allowing those to walk about unchecked, letting their light shimmer to the ground like snow, threatens us far more than raking up these “easy pickings” benefits us.

In the second, our priority isn’t purely acquisitional. We have no real interest in cramming cages with the maximum number of sinners. Contrary to popular human depictions of us, we are not “in the business of souls.” Our business is bringing low what is high. Our metric is elevations, not quantities. These go together, but do you see the distinction? Undoing the Enemy’s work—that is our real priority. Uncreating. This means we aren’t trying to hurt humans, exactly. Let me explain. Uncreating humans is incidental: their Maker is our real opponent, and gnawing on His little dirt-images is the closest we can come to doing real violence to the Enemy.

Still, in the past, it has aided our cause for some humans (those who believed in our existence) to think that we thought greatly of their souls. Picture two suitors fawning over a maiden, and you get their notion of their position in the war between heaven and hell. Cultivating this self-importance happens to be my specialty. I managed to convince a man (I spoke of this case at your commencement, do you recall?) to think so highly of his soul that he supposed he could tempt us tempters with it! All I had to do was play the eager buyer, and he believed he was mine: in return for his soul, he asked for scientific knowledge and abundant luxuries—both of which were easy to procure and quick to expire. If ever I sensed he was questioning the legitimacy of our contract, I would remind him firmly that we had struck a deal and that I had upheld my end. This appealed enough to his sense of justice, which was purely commercial at this point, to march him back into line. What consequences would follow a breach of contract that would be worse than damnation I had to keep far from his mind with a steady succession of pleasures, insights into the machinations of the material world, and other distractions. The bargain was pure fiction, of course, and he could have repented at any time. Today, I keep him rolled up in a cabinet. There is no need to cage him. He believes he is contractually obligated to be there, and that I must gain something from it, somehow.

The reality is I neither lost nor gained anything by our “deal” except the satisfaction of spite. As you know, we do not tempt souls because it benefit us. (What, exactly, would that benefit be, I wonder?) We have no motivation but spite. If we have a soul, then the Enemy doesn’t, and this is reason enough to seize it. Even so, if we manage to smear all sorts of stinking sins over it, we can never completely mask the aroma of that image. Occasionally, I get a whiff of the soul in my cabinet. How it infuriates me! How could the Enemy in His glory lavish such a distinction on muck? Let every trace of it remind you of the dangerous mini-Enemy your man was meant to be and could still become!

The corollary to bringing high things low is keeping low things low. This is your task for now, Grubgall. Assigning your man to a novice like yourself accords with the optimal distribution of resources. As you advance in your descent to our Father Below, you will find yourself contorted by wrath into more clever and useful diabolicisms, but you would stand little chance against a sanctified soul at your current level, and your complaint is proof enough that you are not ready for a new assignment. The degree of a tempter’s satisfaction in its work corresponds with the purity of its spite, so do not blame the condition of the soul in your charge for your boredom. Your dissatisfaction suggests to me that you are deficiently invidious, and invidiosity is the true measure of a tempter, its food, its solitary pleasure.

Your Infernal Mentor,


1. In this essay, I use the “diabolical correspondence” device to explore the doctrine of spiritual powers (i.e., demonology and angelology) as such, which is not how C.S. Lewis used it in The Screwtape Letters. The basic thesis is that demons gain nothing from tempting and captivating souls. Their sole motivation is spite, and sharing hell is torture for them as well as for us. The concept for this letter was conceived while reading Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth-century Christian monk and ascetic, who wrote that as Christians grow in sanctification, there is a corresponding rise in the strength of the demons who tempt them (Praktikos, §59). Conversely, God will not allow inexperienced Christians to be tempted by demons too powerful for them.

2. “Diabolicism” is my own coinage.

3. Mephistophilis is a name for the devil in Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy, Doctor Faustus. Faustus is the “crummy soul” folded in the letter writer’s cabinet. Unlike Goethe’s later play, Faust, Marlowe’s protagonist is damned in the end, not redeemed at the last moment.

4. Grubgall is a transliteration, of sorts, of Wormwood. In Scripture, wormwood and gall are often paired (e.g., Lam. 3:19), so I started by replacing wood with gall. After this, I added grub, which is a sort of worm, to retain the alliterative character of Wormwood.

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