Spirits in the Library – Lilith

queen of the nightFor the next contestant in our series, let’s look at Lilith.

Lilith first comes to our attention in Sumerian times, where she appears as a hostile spirit known as “Lilu.”  Biblical texts are often ambiguous about her, but the oral tradition of Judaism establishes her as the first wife of Adam and develops her character as a night-spirit who kills infants due to her own lack of children.  Lilith shows up rarely in grimoire, but she has since been largely rehabilitated in contemporary literature.

(Note: I’ve included a picture here of the “Queen of the Night” stela at the British Library, even though there’s little scholarly support today for the figure depicted being Lilith herself.)

Bane – A two-part entry, dividing a two page entry for “Lilith” from a short one of “Lilith the Lesser.”  It deals with the Mesopotamian and Judaic lore in some length, as well as an impressive list of alternative names for her.  Bibliography includes a number of good sources on the topic.

Belanger – Oh, this is nice.  A column and a half on Sumerian and Babylonian mythology, a little less on the Jewish folklore than I’d expected, and a bonus mention of the Munich Handbook.

de Plancy – Now, this is weird.  Just a short paragraph, covering her mythology as an attacker of infants, and her presence in Wierus and other works.  There’s a great deal more that could have been said here, even given that some of the Mesopotamian material was not available to them.

Gettings – Rather surprising here, this entry includes not only the material and other sources, but also “Gnostic and Rosicrucian medieval traditions,” which sounds a bit dubious, as well as fictional appearances.  It also has a depiction of Lilith as a demon from a Hebrew amulet.

Guiley – This is quite the good entry – over two whole columns, dealing with various religious and magical sources.  She could have probably pushed back to Sumerian mythology a little harder, and one set of statements about Lilith appearing in other belief systems – including Mexican and Native American – is highly suspect.

Lurker – A brief paragraph covering her appearances in the Old Testament, the Talmud, and Babylonian belief.

Mack – A four-page section, which deals with a broad range of folklore from Pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources, including a strange tale about Solomon using a mirror to unmask her.

That should do it.  Next time, my summary and recommendations.


Published in: on September 2, 2015 at 9:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Spirits in the Library – Vassago

It’s been a while since our last post in this series, so let’s get to our next contestant on our examination of spirit dictionaries – Vassago.   Here’s what Mathers/Crowley had to say about him in the Goetia:

The Third Spirit is a Mighty Prince, being of the same nature as Agares. He is called Vassago. This Spirit is of a Good Nature, and his office is to declare things Past and to Come, and to discover all things Hid or Lost. And he governeth 26 Legions of Spirits, and this is his Seal.

Vassago shows up in a few other contexts, including other lists of spirits, the spirit scrying manuscripts of Frederick Hockley, and the serial killer villain in the movie Hideaway.  He’s a good example of a low-profile grimoire spirit who nonetheless appears in multiple contexts.

To begin with, we have nothing in Mack or Lurker, which is not horribly surprising.  He’s also not present in de Plancy, which is a bit more unexpected, although the Goetia hadn’t attained its preeminent position in Western grimoire literature until the following century.

Bane – A brief summary of his description in the Goetia, along with bibliographic references to both the Crowley Goetia and Peterson’s Lemegeton.

Belanger – Notes his appearance in the Goetia, including that of “Dr. Rudd,” as well as his lack of appearance in Wier and Scot.

Davison – Includes the Goetia, as well as references to Shah’s Secret Lore of Magic and Christian’s The History and Practice of Magic.

Gettings and Guiley – Little more than the information from the Goetia.

I’m somewhat disappointed in the coverage in all of these, I have to say.  Given how peripheral much of the material I was seeking is, though, I suppose I couldn’t be surprised.  Still, it bears noting that many of these sources don’t seem to include much beyond the Goetia.  It’s important to realize that these sources are not exactly comprehensive, or that they explore magical sources to any great extent on their own.  It just makes me appreciate matters more when they do.

My next post in the series will be the last, with a famous spirit rounding out our half dozen.


Published in: on August 14, 2015 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)  

Spirits in the Library – Mephistopheles

For our fourth installment in our series (for the first three, see here), we’ll be looking at Mephistopheles.

Mephistopheles FaustMephistopheles is an unusual demon, insofar as his first appearance was in works of fiction based upon the life of the magician Georgius Sabellicus Faustus.  When grimoires began to be attributed to Faust, Mephistopheles followed along as one of the spirits with which magicians could make conduct and work.   At the same time, he’s accumulated an impressive list of appearances in the various incarnations of the Faust legend across many types of media.

Most of the books we discussed had entries on Mephistopheles, with the only exception being Mack.

Bane – Notes the fictional origins of the prince of demons, as well as his later inclusion into grimoires.  Oddly enough, then claims that certain aspects turn up in “medieval literature” (which would have predated its appearance).  A nice bibliography, as it mentions Butler’s Ritual Magic.

Belanger – This draws upon both the fictional and grimoire traditions, and is likely the most lucid of the entries.  It would have been nice to see it branch out into the figure’s uses in more than simply the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, however.

Davidson – A nice paragraph, listing both fictional and grimoire appearances, though not quite systematically.

de Plancy – Nothing more than a brief and purple description of the horrible effects he has on humans, followed with a reference to the Faust entry.

Gettings – One paragraph referring entirely to the fictional sources, with no mention of the grimoires.

Guiley – This entry covers both Mephistopheles in Faust and in the grimoires, moving back and forth between the two for reasons I have yet to determine.  Nonetheless, it does touch on both the fiction and the magic.

Lurker – A short paragraph, with a misleading statement that it was “the name of the devil in the literature of necromancy and magic in the late Middle Ages.”

On this one, I felt Bane did the best, followed by Belanger and Guiley.

Who’ll be next?  We’ll find out in a week!


Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 4:23 pm  Comments (4)  

Spirits in the Library – Pazuzu

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

Louvre PazuzuA creation of the first millennium BC Assyrians, Pazuzu is the spirit of plague, cold, and evil winds.  He was generally shunned, but could also be called upon to scare off the female demon Lamashtu from small children.  (The tablet from the left, from the Louvre, shows Pazuzu overlooking Lamashtu in what is likely a protective manner.)  Recognition of Pazuzu seems to have died out in the Christian era – at least until The Exorcist made his curious locust-winged, scorpion-tailed, beaked, clawed appearance a cultural icon.

Part of my choice of Pazuzu was prompted by his position outside of traditional monotheism, save for his appearances in media.  So, what’s the verdict?

We do have some omissions.  de Plancy leaves him out, which is not surprising given how recently knowledge of Pazuzu came to us.  Gettings omits him as well.  Neither Belanger nor Davidson includes them in their works, although the introductions indicate that he doesn’t fall under the criteria set by either author.

Bane – A brief description of the demon, with notes as to his appearance and the rivalry with Lamashtu.  Some sources listed, none from Mesopotamian mythology.

Guiley – Information on his appearance, his rivalry with Lamashtu, and his role in The Exorcist.  Uses Black and Green’s Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia as a source.  Excellent.

Lurker – A very short section that covers the basics of the spirit’s appearance and portfolio, but no mention of Lamashtu.  Short and factually accurate.

Mack – Three pages on Pazuzu initially make this look good, but upon reading much of this is just filler text about other spirits.

This particular choice did fulfill the purpose I set out, which was to flush out the philosophies behind the books.  Mack was particularly disappointing, I have to say.  Other books I didn’t expect did an excellent job with him, while others left him on the wayside, disappointingly.

Who will be our next candidate?  We’ll find out soon…

Published in: on July 10, 2015 at 8:48 am  Comments (3)  

Spirits in the Library – Baron

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

Baron, Folger V.b.26.  Property of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Baron, Folger V.b.26. Property of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Baron’s a curious one, who floats around the edges of the grimoire tradition.  His most famous mentions come from the transcripts of the trial of Gilles de Rais, which describe him being offered human remains as what seems to have been a spontaneous “hey, why not?” gesture on the part of the (human) baron as part of his magical rituals.  Baron also shows up in the Book of Oberon, as well as a smattering of other sources around the edges.  I’ve selected him due to his status as an infamous but little-appearing spirit, which might test the thoroughness of the sources.

Having checked my sources, it seems I might have done far too well with this one.  The vast majority of our reference works have no mention of him whatsoever, even after I searched for variant spellings and for Gilles himself.  The only one who deals with him at all was de Plancy, who only gives a brief paragraph.

This one was a huge surprise.  Given the variety of selections, I was prepared for at least some of them to be missing Baron, but not for his near-complete absence.   He does receive attention in de Plancy (who I assume all these authors are examining) and Butler’s Ritual Magic, so he’s not completely out of left field.  I think some more examples might help us decide how all of them stack up.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm  Comments (5)  

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)  

Spirits in the Library: A Series

It was about a month ago that a librarian friend of mine mentioned pursuing a research question on a particular demon.  This brought to my attention that there are many, many books out there that are presented as being comprehensive lists of spirits.
I thought it might be fun to examine them.  Before examining any at great length, I came up with a list of half a dozen particular entities.  By covering their treatment in each of these books, we might get a good idea as to what books might be best for the cost-conscious bibliophile or librarian.  It’s an unscientific process, to be sure, but I wanted to keep it fun.
Our contenders are as follows:
Bane, Theresa. Encyclopedia of Demons in World Religions and Cultures. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2012.
Belanger, Michelle A. The Dictionary of Demons : Names of the Damned. Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2010.
Collin de Plancy, J.-A.-S. Dictionnaire Infernal.  Paris: BH. Plon, 1863.
Davidson, Gustav. A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels. New York: Free Press, 1967.
Gettings, Fred. Dictionary of Demons : A Guide to Demons and Demonologists in Occult Lore. North Pomfret, Vt.: Trafalgar Square Pub., 1988.
Guiley, Rosemary. The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. New York: Facts On File : Checkmark Books, 2009.
Lurker, Manfred. Dictionary of gods and goddesses, devils and demons. London; New York: Routledge and K. Paul, 1987.
Mack, Carol K., and Dinah. Mack. A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1999.
Update: For those interested in reading the entries for each entity, they are as follows:
Part 1 – Asmodeus
Part 2 – Baron
Part 3 – Pazuzu
Part 4 – Mephistopheles
Published in: on May 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm  Comments (6)  

On the Shelf Review – A Book of the Offices of Spirits

This release from Teitan Press, of which I received a review copy, includes a bit of a back story involving me.  The editor, Colin Campbell, came across two notable and previously unpublished manuscripts attributed to the 19th century spiritualist and occultist Frederick Hockley.  Given their unusual nature (as we’ll discuss) they were a clear choice for publication.  When they were on the verge of publication, he realized that Hockley’s source was actually our very own Book of Oberon from the Folger Shakespeare Library.  He added some additional material, contacted Joe, and moved along.

(This is actually par for the course with research for book projects – you’re always finding items you wish you’d known about three months before.  I’ll probably end up with items I wish were added to the Friend before publication.)

The heart of A Book of the Offices of Spirits is a new example of the Officium Spirituum, a list of spirits that appear in magical manuscripts describing the nature, dominion, and benefits of each being.  This list includes eighty-two spirits, along with additional lists of twelve spirits each for each king of the cardinal directions.  As is illustrated in the introduction, many differences can be observed between the list here and the better known one in the Goetia, which seems to be derived from Wier’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum.  The book itself does not delve into the differences to a great extent, so those interested in such questions might have to examine the three works for themselves.  Beyond this, the books contain instructions regarding magical herbs, fairy summonings, incense, and other topics.

The book also contains quite a bit of supplementary material.  We also receive Hockley’s one-paragraph introduction to the work – which, I should add, is highly revealing regarding his perspectives on Raphael, Denley, and other figures – a horoscope of John Palmer, or “Zadkiel,” other lists of spirits from two other manuscripts, and a full introduction from the editor.  As the Folger discovery was made too late to incorporate into the other material, the book also includes a section on the older manuscript, along with some corrections of the notes to the text proper.  All of this appears inside an attractive black cover with a gilt reproduction of the manuscript’s title page on the cover.

Buyers should bear in mind that this is approximately 25-30 pages of a 230-page manuscript on which a team of people is still working.  That having been said, it’s a work of importance in its own right that also provides an interesting window for those who are waiting for our version to appear.  I highly recommend it.

Published in: on December 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm  Comments (4)  

Just Released – Rankine’s The Book of Treasure Spirits

The latest release from Avalonia Books is David Rankine’s The Book of Treasure Spirits.  From the blurb:

Published here for the first time, from a long-ignored mid-seventeenth century manuscript in the British Library (Sloane MS 3824), is the conjuration said to have been performed at the request of King Edward IV, with other rites to reveal treasure, to have treasure brought from the sea, and to cause thieves to bring back stolen goods. Conjurations to call any type of spirit are also included, recorded by the noted alchemist and collector Elias Ashmole, as is an extract on conjuration practices from the Heptameron, transcribed into English for practical use by a working group of magicians, before its first English publication by Robert Turner in 1655.

These conjurations demonstrate the influence of earlier classic grimoires and sources, with components drawn from the Goetia, the Heptameron, and Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. The material includes spirit contracts for the fallen angels Agares and Vassago, and the demon Padiel, as well as techniques like lead plates for binding, and summoning into a glass of water, which hark back to the defixiones of Hellenistic Greece and the demonic magic of the Biblical world.

This material forms part of a corpus of conjurations all written in the same hand and style of evocation, linking Goetic spirits and treasure spirits with the archangels and planetary intelligences (Sloane MS 3825), and demon kings and Enochian hierarchies (Sloane MS 3821), making it a unique bridge of style and content between what are often falsely seen as diverse threads of Renaissance magic.

Avalonia is sending me a review copy, so you’ll be hearing more about this soon.

Published in: on September 14, 2009 at 2:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Review: The Infernal Dictionary

Having looked at the False Hierarchy of Demons from Abracax House, we turn to their publication of the Infernal Dictionary (link via Amazon).  I believe this is now out of print, but I managed to get a copy of it at Treadwell’s before leaving England.  I think it’s fair to note that I did pay a good price for it – though well below that listed on Amazon – and hauled it back in my suitcase for England, which might affect my review.

The Dictionnaire Infernal by Collin de Plancy, with different editions released from 1818 to 1863, is perhaps one of the most famous reference works of the occult.  I discussed it in my Spirits in the Library posts, and I’ve wanted to see a full – not partial – translation from the French for some time now.  Thus, I was happy to see the Abracax edition, especially since I missed the initial print run.

The publication is an attractive two-volume work, slipcased and bound in imitation leather.  We have not only translations of de Plancy’s original articles, but also reproductions of the original woodcuts, footnotes – both those of de Plancy and the editors – the texts of the various introductions to the book over its history, the approval of the bishop of Paris, a biography of de Plancy, an index, and other items.  Many of the demons are illustrated in full color by modern artists.  This does make for a magnificent book.

Nonetheless, this comes with a few caveats.  We are not given the French text, although this is readily available online.  I have a greater concern:  the editors’ decision to update and correct the text along with the rest of the process.

I can understand the impulse that compelled them to make the decision, Nonetheless – and I speak here as an author of an encyclopedia – simply updating the entries in a reference book, without also considering the shape of the work, what entries should be added and deleted, etc., is not really a sufficient way to update a work.  Further, the places where changes have been made do not seem to have been noted consistently.

To me, there are two options with a work such as this.  One of these is to build upon the previous one, revising the whole, adding and subtracting and rethinking until it becomes a fully modernized work.  The other is to preserve the original as closely as possible, with some modernizations in terms of spelling and arrangements, to bring a work that provides us with insights into a particular time and place to today’s readers.  To be clear, this would be my preference.

For me, the Infernal Dictionary ends up being a book that fulfills neither of these potential purposes.  I’m reluctant to say so, because the editors did a great deal of work to make the book the way it was.  I’m also aware of how sometimes you make an editorial  decision with a book that is nigh-on irrevocable, simply because it’s so much work to go back and change, and I wonder if that was ever the case here.

Nonetheless, this book has many admirable qualities that should not be overlooked.  Is it worth $180?  Those interested in an artisanal book to grace their shelves will likely find it so.  If you can read French, there are many cheap untranslated copies available in print or online that you can consult.  As a reference work, I wish it could have been less expensive – although you could say the same for many of the expensive reference works for sale by much larger publishers.  What works for your collection?

Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment