Spirits in the Library – Asmodeus

This is my first post in the new Spirits in the Library series, in which we examine eight different books on devils and demons to see how they cover particular topics.  You can find all the bibliographic information for these books in the link above.

Today, we’re going to look at Asmodeus, also known as Asmoday and any number of similar names.  The origin of his name is lost in Persian mythology, and he is perhaps best known for being chased away from some woman by burning fish guts in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit.  He also briefly speaks with Solomon in his Testament (details here, here, and here) and makes an occasional appearance in rabbinical lore.  He becomes prominent in the grimoires, with his most famous appearance coming with the three-headed form described in the Goetia and rendered in the Dictionnaire infernal.

So, what do we have?

Bane, Encyclopedia of Demons… Cultures:  Includes entries for Asmodai, Asmoday, Asmodeus, and Asmodeus Zavehe, which the author assures us are important divisions.  It would seem on first glance that Asmodai pertains to the figure from biblical and rabbinical literature and Asmoday to the grimoires, but there’s enough overlap in the material that it makes me wonder why she bothered.  Aside from the curious omission of the Testament, though, there’s a great deal of interesting material here, and the bibliographies for the entries are impressive.

Belanger, Dictionary of Demons – Most of this entry is based on Tobit and the Testament, with a few notes from Haggadah, Armadel, Goetia, and Abra-Melin.  No entry bibliography.

Davidson, A Dictionary of Angels – Brief references to material ranging from the Persian to the grimoires to fiction.  The entry bibliography isn’t great, but it’s not bad, either.

de Plancy, Dictionnaire infernal – A column devoted to him, including material from the Talmud, Tobit, Wierus, and other authorities.  It also notes a novelistic appearance, and that some believe that he is worshiped at a secret temple in Egypt.  There’s nothing about the Testament, but that’s not surprising given the date.  No bibliography.

Gettings, Dictionary of Demons – This one jumps around between ancient lore, the grimoires, fiction, and other sources, sentence by sentence, doing a fairly good job of tracking what comes from where.  Tobit is entirely omitted, but Barrett’s portrait from The Magus is included.  No entry bibliography.

Guiley, Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Guiley touches on the Persian roots, then spends a great deal of time detailing the stories from Tobit and the Testament.  A brief amount of grimoire material appears at the beginning and the end.  The bibliography is a mixed bag:  the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a non-Peterson Lemegeton, and something called The Book of Demons.

Lurker, Routledge Dictionary of Gods…Demons:  Given the broad scope of the book, we shouldn’t expect much out of it, and that’s what we get.  A discussion of the Persian name and the rabbinical literature that’s hardly longer than this sentence.  Also, it suggests some sort of link to Pazuzu with giving us absolutely no hint.  No entry bibliography.

Mack, A Field Guide to Demons – A long article, largely devoted to re-telling Tobit and stories from rabbinical lore.  The brief description at the beginning gives a description of him out of the Goetia, and the end states that he can be driven off by burning the innards of an unknown fish (although a species is given in the Testament, which is not examined).  No entry bibliography.

Note:  these books almost always synthesize information from different sources to make a composite entry which, in the case of an entity with thousands of years of history, might not accurately represent it at any time.  Almost all of these, for instance, cite the description of Asmodeus as a three-headed monster from the Goetia without actually noting that it comes from the Goetia, and therefore might have little relevance to anything from a later era.


Published in: on June 7, 2015 at 2:47 pm  Comments (3)  

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  1. […] in our Spirits in the Library series, we looked at various demonic dictionaries’ entries on Asmodeus.  This time, we present another such spirit – […]

  2. […] the third part of our series (see parts 1 and 2) examining various works covering demonic entities, I’ll be looking at […]

  3. […] 1999. Update: For those interested in reading the entries for each entity, they are as follows: Part 1 – Asmodeus Part 2 – Baron Part 3 – […]

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