The devil’s coins

Coins bearing a picture of the devil with the inscription “Civitas Diaboli” have been found in churches and museums in Denmark, Norway, and England – products of a hoax that began in 1973.

Jacob de Backer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, this is the 666th regular post on this website – so it’s time to talk about one man and his obsessive desire to make the world a weirder place. This is the story of a hoax that ran for forty years.

Knud Langkow worked in Denmark’s National Gallery, and he liked a good mystery. In the words of his niece, “normality annoyed him […] he did not like ordinary.” So, in 1973, Langkow planted various Satanic-looking paraphernalia around the Danish desert island Anholt: black candles, fragments of bone, brass bells, masks, and so on. A media circus ensued – was this tiny island (current population 145) full of witches? Was it somehow the centre of a Danish black mass? No-one knew, and Langkow certainly wasn’t telling.

Instead, he spent the next thirty years keeping the myth of the Anholt cult alive. He sent letters to priests under pseudonyms like “Alice Mandragora” inviting them to perform Satanic rites; and he hid coins all around Denmark and occasionally further. Not just any coins, though: on one side was inscribed “13 Maj Anholt 1973” in reference to the original hoax, and on the other was a picture of a dancing devil and the words “Civitas Diaboli.”

If you know your St. Augustine, you’ll recognise that phrase. It comes from The City of God, the 5th century book of Christian philosophy, in the following passage:

Eius inimica est ciuitas diaboli Babylon, quae confusio interpretatur.

The City of God

Or, in English:

Her enemy is the city of the devil, Babylon, which means “confusion.”

The devil coins have been found throughout Denmark, in a famous stave church in Norway, and in Bath Abbey in England. Apparently Langkow wasn’t the only one to hide them; other fans of the weird and unsettling had their own made up and followed his example. Langkow died in 2004. It wasn’t until 2013 that a Danish newspaper finally found out the truth.

[Thanks to Ian J. for suggesting this topic.]

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