(Editor’s note: Except for a few incidents this article has been published verbatim. The purpose for doing this, as described within the article itself, is to show the thinking of the medieval mind. This was the age when European religious clerics and philosophers concentrated on demons. As the article states, “These discussions which, during the number of successive centuries interested the whole of Christendom, too frequently exercised the talents of the most erudite persons of Europe.” The second purpose for presenting this article is to show the similarities between the demonic or infernal world and the real world in the medieval period. One only has to think of medieval history to realize most European countries had military armies of rank and order of men. As one reads this article he will easily recognize similar military organization in the infernal world or hell.)
Definition and origin
Demonology is described as a branch of magic that deals with malevolent spirits. In religious science it has come to indicate knowledge relating to supernatural spirits not considered deities. But, it is regard to its magical significance only that it falls to be dealt with here. The Greek term Daimon, originally indicated “genius” or “spirit,” but in England it has come to mean a being actively malevolent. Ancient Demonology will be found dealt with in the articles Egypt, Semites, Genius, and Devil-Worship, and savage demonology under the heads of the various countries and races where it had its origin. According to Michael Psellus demons are divided into six great bodies: first, those of the fire; second, those of the air; third, those of the earth; fourth, those inhabiting waters and rivers, and causing tempests and floods; fifth, those who are subterranean that prepare earthquakes and excite volcanic eruptions; sixth, those that are shadows, something of the nature of ghosts.
St. Augustine comprehended all demons under the last category. This classification of Psellus is not unlike that system of the middle ages, which divided all spirits into those belonging to the four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, or salamanders, sylphs, undines, and gnomes.
The medieval idea, or classification, of spirits came directly from the ancient Christian and Gnostic supposition. The Gnostics, imitating Plato’s classification of the different orders of spirits, attempted a similar arrangement with respect to an hierarchy of angels in the following graduation: The first and highest order were the seraphim; the second was the cherubim; the third order was the thrones;
the fourth of the dominions; the fifth, of the virtues; the sixth of the powers; the seventh of principalities; the eighth of archangels; the ninth, and lowest, of angels.
This classification was, in a pointed manner, was censured by the apostles, yet still, strange to say, it almost outlived the pneumatologists of the middle ages. The schoolmasters, in reference to the account that Lucifer rebelled against heaven, and that Michael, the archangel, warred against him, long agitated the momentous question, “What order of angels fell on this occasion?” At length it became the prevailing opinion that Lucifer was of the order of Seraphim. It was also proved after infinite research, that Agares, Belial, and Barbatos, each had great rank, had been of the order of virtues; that Bileth, Focator, and Phoenix had been of the order of thrones; that Goap had been of the order of thrones; and that Purson had been both of the order of virtues and of thrones; and Murmur of thrones and angels. The pretensions of many other noble devils were likewise canvassed, and, in equally satisfactory manner, determined. Afterwards, it became an object of enquiry to learn: “How many fallen angels had been engaged in the contest?” This was a question of vital importance, which gave rise to the most laborious research, and to a variety of discordant opinions. It was next agitated: “Where was the battle fought-in the inferior heaven, in the highest region of the air, in firmament, or in Paradise?” “How long it lasted?-whether during one second, or moment of time (punctum temporis), two, three, or four seconds?” These are queries of very difficult solution, but the notion which ultimately prevailed was, that the engagement concluded in exactly three seconds from the date of its commencement; and that while Lucifer, with a number of his followers, fell into hell, the rest were left in air to tempt man. A still newer question rose out of all of these investigations: “Whether more angels fell with Lucifer, or remaining heaven with Michael?” Learned clerks, however, were inclined to think that the rebel chief had been beaten by a superior force, and that,
consequently, devils of darkness were fewer in number than angels of light.
These discussions which, during the number of successive centuries interested the whole of Christendom, too frequently exercised the talents of the most erudite persons of Europe. The last object of demonologists was to collect, in some degree of order, Lucifer’s routed forces, and to recognize them under a decided form of subordination or government. Hence, extensive districts were given to certain chiefs who fought under this general. There was Zimimar, “the lordly monarch of the north,” as Shakespeare styles him, who had his district province of devils; there was Gorson, the King of the South; Amaymon, the King of the East; and Goap, the Prince of the West. These sovereigns had many noble spirits subordinate to them, whose various ranks were settled with all the preciseness of heraldic distinction; there were Devil Dukes, Devil Marquises, Devil Counts, Devil Earls, Devil Knights, Devil Presidents, and Devil Prelates. The armed force under Lucifer seems to have comprised nearly twenty-four hundred legions, of which each demon of rank commanded a certain number. Thus, Beleth, whom Scott described as “a great king and terrible, on a pale horse, before whom goes trumpets and all melodious music,” commanded eighty-five legions; Agares, the first duke under the power of the East, commanded thirty-one legions; Leraie, a great marquis, commanded thirty legions; Morax, a great earl and a president, thirty-six legions; Furcas, a knight, twenty legions; and, after the same manner, the forces of the other devil chieftains were enumerated.
Such were the notions once entertained regarding the history, nature, and ranks of devils. The next objective will be to show that, with respect to their strange and hideous forms of apparitions connected with the popular belief on this subject, were derived from the descriptive writings of such demonologists, as either maintained that demons possessed a decided corporeal form, and were mortal, or that, like Milton’s spirits, they could assume any sex, and take any shape they chose.
When, in the middle ages, conjuration was regularly practiced in Europe, devils of rank were supposed to appear under decided form, by which they were as well recognized as the head of any ancient family would be by his crest and armorial bearings. Along with their names and characters were registers the shapes that they were accustomed to adopt. A devil would appear, either like an angel seated in a fiery chariot, or riding on an infernal dragon, and carrying in his right hand a viper; or assuming a lion’s head, a goose’s feet, and a hare’s tail; or putting on a raven’s head, and mounted on a strong wolf. Other forms made use of by demons were those of a fierce warrior, or of an old man riding upon a crocodile with a hawk in his hand. A human figure would arise having wings of a griffin; or sprouting three hands, two of them being like those of a toad or of a cat; or defended with huge teeth and horns, and armed with a sword; or displaying a dog’s teeth and a raven’s head; or mounted upon a pale horse, and exhibiting a serpent’s tail; or gloriously crowned, and riding upon a dromedary; or presenting the face of a lion; or bestriding a bear, and grasping a viper.
There are also such shapes as those of an archer, or a Zenophilus. A demonical king would ride upon a pale horse; or assume a leopard’s face and griffin’s wings; or put on the three heads of a bull, a man, and a ram, with a serpent’s tail, and the feet of a goose; and, in his attire bestride a dragon, and bear in his hand a lance and a flag; or, instead of being thus employed, goad the flanks of a furious beast, and carry in his fist a hawk. Other forms were those of a goodly knight, or one who bore lance, ensigns, and even a scepter; or, a soldier, either riding a black horse, and surrounded by a flame of fire, or wearing on his head a duke’s crown, and mounted on a crocodile or assuming a lion’s face, and, with fiery eyes, spurring on a gigantic charger; or, with the same frightful pale horse; or clad from head to foot in crimson raiment, wearing on his bold front a crown, and sallying alone on a red stead. Some infernal duke would appear in his proper character, quietly seated on a griffin, another spirit of similar rank would display the three heads of a serpent, a man, and a cat; he would also bestride a viper, and carry in his hand a firebrand. Another of the same type would appear as a duchess, encircled with a fiery zone, and mounted on a camel; a fourth, would wear the aspect of a boy, and amuse himself on the back of a two-headed dragon. A few spirits, however, would be content with the simple garbs of a horse, a leopard, a lion, an unicorn, a night raven, a stork, a peacock, or a dromedary, the latter animal speaking fluently the Egyptian language. Others would assume the more complex forms of a lion or a dog, with griffin wings attached to each of their shoulders, distinguished by the singular feature of a man’s face; or a crow clothed with human flesh; or a hart with a fiery tail. To certain other noble devils were assigned such shapes as those of a dragon with three heads, one of these being human; of a wolf with a serpent’s tail, breathing forth flames of fire; of a she-wolf exhibiting the same caudal appendage together with the griffin wings, and ejecting from her mouth hideous matter. A lion would appear, either with the head of a branded thief, or astride upon a black horse, and playing with a viper, or adorned with the tail of a snake, or grasping in his paws two hissing serpents.
These were the varied shapes assumed by devils of rank. “It would, therefore,” says Hibbert, “betray too much of the aristocratical spirit to omit noticing the forms which the lower orders of such beings displayed. In an ancient Latin poem, describing the lamentable visions of a devoted hermit, and supposed to have been written by St. Bernard in the year 1238, those spirits, who had no more important business on earth than to carry away condemned souls, were described blacker than pitch; as having teeth like lions, nails on their fingers like those of a wild-boar, on their fore-heads horns, through the extremities of which poison was emitted, having wide ears flowing with corruption, and discharging serpents from their nostrils. The devoted writer of these verses has even accompanied them from drawings, in which the addition of the cloven feet is not omitted. But this appendage, as Sir Thomas Brown has learnedly proved, is a mistake, which has arisen from the devil frequently appearing to the Jews in the shape of a rough and hairy goat, this animal being the emblem of sin-offering.”
It is worthy of further remark, that the form of the demons described by St. Bernard differs little from that which is no less carefully portrayed by Reginald Scot, three hundred and fifty years later, and perhaps, by the demonologists of the present day. “In our childhood,” says he, “our mothers’ maids have so treated us with an ouglie divell havin horns on his head, fier in his mouth, and a tail on his breech, eiers like a bason, fangs like a dog, clawes like a beare, a skin like a niger, and
a voice like a roaring lion-whereby we start and are afraid when we hear one cry bough.”
With the view of illustrating other accounts of apparitions, we must advert to the doctrines of demonology which were once taught. Although the leading tenets of this occult science may be traced to the Jews and early Christians, yet they were matured by our early communication with the Moors of Spain, who were the chief philosophers of the dark ages, and between whom the natives of France and Italy much communication subsisted. Toledo, Serville, and Salamanca, became great schools of magic. At the latter city, perfections on the black art were, from a consistent regard to the solemnity of the subject, delivered within the walls of a vast and gloomy cavern. The schoolmen taught that all knowledge and power might be obtained from the assistance of the fallen angels. They were skilled in the abstract sciences, in the knowledge of precious stones, in alchemy, in the various languages of mankind and of the lower animals, in the belles letters, in moral philosophy, in pneumatology, divinity, magic, history, and prophecy. They could control the winds, the waters, and influence the stars; they could raise earthquakes, induce diseases, or cure them, accomplish all vaster mechanical understandings, and release souls out of purgatory. They could influence the passions of the mind, procure the reconciliation of friends or foes, engender mutual discords, induce mania and melancholy, or direct the force and objects of sexual affection. According to Wierus, demons are divided into a great many classes, and into regular kingdom and principalities, nobles and commoners.
Satan is by no means the great sovereign of this monarchy, but his place is taken by Beelzebub. Satan is alluded to by Wierus as a dethroned monarch, and Chief of the Opposition; Moloch, Chief of the Army; and Pluto, Prince of Fire; and Leonard, Grand Master of the Sphere. The masters of these infernal courts are: Adramelech, Grand Chancellor; Astraoth, Grand Treasurer; and Negral, Chief of the Secret Police; and Baal, Chief of the Satanic Army. According to this authority, each state in Europe has also its infernal ambassadors. Belphegor is thus accredited to France, Mammon to England, Belial to Turkey, Rimmon to Russia, Thamuz to Spain, Hutjin to Italy, and Martinet to Switzerland. Berbiguier, writing in 1821, has given a sketch of the Infernal Court. He says, “The court ha representatives on earth.
These mandatories are innumerable. I give nomenclature and degree of power of each: Moreau, magician and sorcerer of Paris, represents Beelzebub; Pinel, a doctor of Salpetriere, represents Satan; Bouge, represents Pluto; Nicholas, a doctor of Avigum, represents Moloch; and so on.” “Altogether,” says Wierus, “there are in the infernal regions 6666 legions, each composed of the same number of devils.” A.G.H.
Source: 81, 118.-120.
In this section are descriptions of Demonology and beliefs and topics related to its practice. (Some of the subjects fit into other Topics also.)
The following articles are presented: