Dan Reviews The Testament of Solomon – Recension C

Testament+of+Solomon+HBOver a decade ago, when I was doing more non-paid writing, I posted an entire series on the Testament of Solomon, breaking down different aspects of that famous work on demonology and spirit summoning approximately from the fourth century. I knew there were copies from later periods that included more magical material, but I lacked both access to them and the means to read the Greek. Now, Hadean Press has filled that gap with its edition of the Testament of Solomon: Recension C, in which Brian Johnson translates and contextualizes this particular manuscript sub-tradition.

What follows is based on a hardback review copy. It’s a handsome book, and it’s a shame there aren’t more – but you can still pick up a paperback edition.

For such a slim volume, there’s a great deal of material packed within. After David Rankine’s foreword, Johnson dives into the significance of the manuscript, the translation, and its context within Byzantine magic. This will likely be complex for people who are not already familiar with the Testament, but those who have a basic level of knowledge will find this material illuminating and helpful, as it sets this particular tradition in the broader context of the Testament while delving into what sets it apart.

Following this is the translation itself, taken from McCown’s edition of the Testament and supplemented with reference from Harley MS 5596, from the British Library, and Parisinus Graec. MS 2419, from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Johnson omits the material that’s appeared in other editions, such as that of Duling or those available online, in favor of concentrating on the text unique to this particular tradition. The Greek text does not appear with this; interested individuals are referred to the link above.

The centerpiece of that material is a lengthy spirit list, with fifty-two entries, similar to those you might be familiar with from the Goetia and the Book of Oberon. Each one is given the number of other spirits they control, their function, and their seals from both of the manuscripts. Given the interest in these lists, I think many readers will be keen on getting to these. On the other hand, they might be slightly disappointed that these lists don’t match up well with those from other sources – and that the sigils don’t even agree between the two manuscripts. All of these are annotated with detailed footnotes on the translation and the origin of various elements of the composite text.

The work concludes with representations of the Seals of Solomon and a brief note on the spirit Belet. The work has a bibliography, but no index.

I enjoyed this work. I think it would have been possible to scale up with the Greek text, the remainder of the Testament, or other elements, but the decision not to makes the work available sooner to readers in an affordable format. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in Greek or Byzantine magic, or in spirit lists, and the low cost means it will be welcome to many readers interested in ritual magic from antiquity to the early modern period.

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 8:28 pm  Comments (1)  

The Testament of Solomon: People’s (and Demon’s) Court, Part 2

Last time, Solomon was curious as to why the demon Ornias laughed when he heard an old man and his son disputing in court. Ornias claimed that the old man wanted to kill his son. Solomon dismissed the two men and asked the demon just how he could possibly know this. The demon responds:

“We demons go up to the firmament of heaven, fly around among the stars, and hear the decisions which issue from God concerning the lives of men… But we who are demons are exhausted from not having a way station from which to ascend or on which to rest; so we fall down like leaves from the trees and the men who are watching think that stars are falling from heaven… we are dropped like flashes of lightning to the earth. We burn cities down and set fields on fire…”

As we’ve seen before, demons often occupy something of an ambiguous position in the Jewish and Christian myths. Both faiths have separated the spiritual from the physical, but it becomes difficult to determine what happens when one affects the other. How similar are demons to angels? To God? To men?  To some degree, making demons too spiritual is an affront to God, but on the other hand, making them too physical tends to devalue the spiritual.

How is this handled?  As Greenfield states in his Traditions of Belief in Late Byzantine Demonology, the theological traditions typically make the demons highly spiritual in nature, with emphasizing their lack of materiality.  On the other hand, the popular – and, by extension, magical – traditions tend to see demons as much more physical.  Thus, Solomon or a magician can tie them down, beat them, threaten them with a sword, or treat them in very physical ways.

The Testament follows the latter tradition while acknowledging both.  The demons are spiritual enough to be able to fly to the very gates of heaven.  At the same time, they are material enough to become exhausted and fall from the sky – yet to return, their material is obviously spiritual enough that they survive their fiery and destructive impact.

Ornias’ statement also is proof of just how contradictory the Testament can sometimes be.  For most of what we’ve read, we’ve emphasized just how many different origins and natures the beings have, ranging from ghostly giants to transformed humans.  Yet here Ornias is setting out a rule that would seem to apply to the entire diverse cast of spirits, no matter their origins.  It’s especially odd when we consider Ornias is one of the spirits who dwells in Aquarius– you’d think he’d be a little better at flying.

Next time – the verdict!

Published in: on April 20, 2008 at 12:13 am  Leave a Comment  

The Testament of Solomon: People’s (and Demon’s) Court

After calling up the thirty-six demons, Solomon is content.  People from far and wide praise him, and bring him offerings of precious substances for the Temple, including gold, bronze, silver, iron, and wood.  This is probably for the best, seeing as Solomon hasn’t bothered to replace the burned-up wood yet.  Even the Queen of Sheba shows up for a visit.

The story shifts gears now, so that we hear about a court case which Solomon is judging.  The Bible had already established Solomon has something of a legal genius through such tales as 1 Kings 3:16-28, the tale of the two women who both claimed a baby.  This time, Solomon is approached by an old man who says his son insults and strikes him, and he wants him to be put to death.  The son claims that nothing of the sort happened.

The proceedings are interrupted by our old fiend Ornias, who starts chortling in the middle of court.  Solomon stops the proceedings and responds angrily to the demon.  Ornias tells him that the old man intends to kill his son in the next three days anyway, so the entire trial is moot.  Solomon, vastly puzzled by this, tells the two to make up and to return to the court in three days.

Next time – what Ornias reveals, and Judge Solomon rules.

Published in: on April 12, 2008 at 8:17 pm  Comments (1)  

The Testament of Solomon

Last time, Solomon had encountered thirty-six demons most likely identical with the decans.  Next, we’re going to go through them, one at a time!

I’m kidding, of course – I’ll just hit the high points.  For example, what better demon for the early spring than Oropel?

The fourth said, “I am called Oropel. I attack throats, (resulting in) sore throats and mucus. Should I hear, ‘Raphael, imprison Oropel,’ I retreat immediately.”

This one comes with the usual Papers money-back guarantee!

This is pretty typical of the decan descriptions, with most being connected with a particular illness and being driven off by a simple verbal address to the associated angel.   Still, a few had more complicated uses and instructions, like the eleventh:

“I am called Katanikotael. I unleash fights and feuds in homes. If anyone wishes to make peace, let him write on seven laurel leaves the names of those who thwart me: ‘Angel, Eae, Ieo, Sabaoth, imprison Katanikotael,’ and when he has soaked the laurel leaves (in water), let him sprinkle his house with the water and I retreat immediately.

A few surprises also lurk within, like the decan Katriax’s formula:

“If anyone wants to regain health, let him pulverize coriander and rub it on his lips, saying, ‘I adjure you by Zeus, retreat from the image of God…”

This is one of the few intrusions of blatantly pagan material into the Testament, so it bears special note. Of course, it’d be nice if Solomon would pick up on this by now.

The decans assure Solomon that they simply cannot be bound.  Solomon, of course, ignores this, and has them carrying water in no time.

This signals the end of the Testament‘s list of demons.  Next time, we’ll get into some of the narratives that follow.

Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 9:32 pm  Comments (1)  

The Testament of Solomon

Numbers aren’t really important, right?  We return to the Testament with Solomon calling up another demon and getting much more than he bargained for:

There came to me thirty-six heavenly bodies, their heads like formless dogs.  But there were among them (those who were) in the form of humans, or of bulls, or of dragons, with faces like the birds, or the beasts, or the sphinx.

Those who have read the Simon Necronomicon will see parallels to the dog-headed demons, or Allu, mentioned in that book.  Simon actually took the name, an authentic Mesopotamian one, and seems to have merged it with a description of a demon from The Chaldaean Oracles, a book which might not be particularly Chaldaean nor oracular. But who are these guys?

All at once, with one voice, they said, “We are thirty-six heavenly bodies, the world rulers of hte darkness of this age.”

What these seem to be are the decans.  Each one of them represents one-thirty-sixth of the sky, thus each takes up a 10 degree arc of the sky (from which the term “decan” derives).   Decans originated in dynastic Egypt, passed through the Egypto-Judeo-Hellenistic ferment of the centuries close to Christ (becoming grouped three to a sign of the zodiac), and later came to occupy an important place in various tracts on ceremonial and astrological magic.

There’s a really good book on the decans, Wilhelm Gundel’s Dekane und Dekanesternbilder, which I fully intend to read someday.  As an interesting side note, Cornell’s copy has a letter tipped in describing how Professor Gundel, a scholar in Germany in the 1930s, had run afoul of the Nazis and had his teaching position revoked.

This is actually one of the oldest sections of the Testament.  As I’ve stated before, most manuscripts of the book we have date from late medieval times, but the portion with the decans has been found in a work dating back to the 5th or 6th century.  Does this mean the Testament as a whole dates to this period?  Or did this section circulate separately?  No one’s quite sure.

Next time, the decans introduce themselves!

Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

The Testament of Solomon, Part 27

You didn’t think this was coming back, did you?  Someone recalled the book at the library, and someone else misplaced his photocopies… but no matter!

We’ll be speeding through a few of the next sections, because I think you know the drill by now.  Solomon calls up a demon, Solomon asks its name, Solomon hears the demon give interesting tidbits about its life and the angel that thwarts it, Solomon assigns it to some barely-appropriate job.

First, we have the spirit Kunopegos, who has the foreparts of a horse and the hinderparts of a fish.  Kunopegos is quite the busy chap, what with taking and tossing up treasures from the deeps, destroying ships, drowning men, and causing seasickness.  He’d come up for a quick chat with Beelzebub, but suddenly found himself speaking with Solomon.  Or was it sudden at all?  He says:

“Now I am standing before you and, because of not having water for two or three days, my spirit is ceasing from speaking to you.”

Where was he, the green room?  No matter.  Solomon places him in a sealed vessel – yes, one of those he was told wouldn’t work – and goes on to the next one, an unnamed form of a man with glowing eyes wreathed in shadow.  Who is this gruesome fellow?

“I am a lecherous spirit of a giant man who died in a massacre in the age of giants.”

Once again, we see a reference to the Watchers in the Book of Enoch – but in this case, we have the ghost of one of their offspring, which is rather odd.  His description of his functions is particularly terrible:

“I seat myself near dead man in the tombs and at midnight I assume the form of the dead:  if I seize anyone, I immediately kill him with the sword.  If I should not be able to kill him, I cause him to be possessed by a demon and to gnaw his own flesh to pieces and the saliva of his jowls to flow down.”

This fearsome ghost can be thwarted by the mark of the cross, the form of the Savior to come.  Once again, Solomon shows no interest in this, being content to lock up the demon once again.

Next time – Solomon calls up too many demons at once!

Published in: on March 13, 2008 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Testament of Solomon, Part 26

As stated last time, this would appear to be the end of the Testament. Is it?


The difficulty, as I’ve stated before, is that the edition of the Testament that scholars have reassembled doesn’t seem to really correspond with any particular manuscript we have. Each one is a different fragment, many of which overlap, but none gives us the entire book. This raises the question of whether this “entire book” exists at all, or is just a creation of modern scholarly sensibilities.

This is actually a common problem with manuscripts that differ: Is there any real way to tell which one represents the older text? You could argue that a shorter text is newer, as the transcriber could have abbreviated some sections or given up on the project due to lack of parchment. You could also argue that a longer text is newer, as a transcriber embroiders and works new material into a shorter piece. Add on top of that, in the case of the Testament, that most of the manuscripts are medieval and probably date back at least a thousand years before that, and unentangling the possibilities quickly becomes a hopeless mess.

Nonetheless, we’ll soldier forward with the composite edition. We have a few more demons to meet, an encounter with thirty-six astrological forces, a number of anecdotes about Solomon’s adventures, and the final appearance of the longawaited Red Sea demon, before wrapping it up.

Published in: on February 28, 2008 at 4:26 pm  Comments (1)  

The Testament of Solomon, Part 25

After the Winged Demon leaves him bereft of wood, Solomon, having yet to learn his lesson, calls up another demon, this one with arms and faces on her shoulders.  He learns that her name is Enepsigos, and her qualifications are extensive:

“I hover near the moon and because of this I assume three forms.  At times I am conjured up as Kronos by the wise men.”

This allies her both with the Greek Titan Cronus and the three-faced goddess of the night Hecate.  She continues:

“On account of this, therefore, I say to you, this Temple cannot contain me.”

Solomon becomes angry and chains her down and seals her with the seal.  She responds angrily:

“You are doing these things to us now, King Solomon, but after a period of time your kingdom shall be divided.  At still a later time this Temple shall be destroyed… Along with these (events), also all the vessels in which you have entrapped us shall be broken in pieces by the hands of men.  Then we shall come forth with much power and we shall be scattered here and there throughout the world.  We will lead astray all the inhabited world for a long time until the Son of God is stretched upon the cross…  Because of this, King Solomon, your time is evil, your years are short, and your kingdom shall be given to your servant.”

Solomon finally seems to have been shaken from his pride, as he writes:

Though I was amazed at the defense of the demons, I dismissed them and did not believe the things which were said by them until they occurred.  But when they happened, then I understood, and at my death I wrote this testament to the sons of Israel and I gave (it) to them so that (they) might know the poweres of the demons and their forms, as well as the names of the angels by which they are thwarted.

And thus, the Testament ends.

Or does it?

Published in: on February 19, 2008 at 11:52 pm  Comments (1)  

The Testament of Solomon, Part 24

The mysterious Winged Dragon demon from last time continues its baffling exposition:

“One woman I attacked is bearing (a child) and that which is born from her becomes Eros.  Because it could not be tolerated by men, that woman perished.”

Eros is the Greek name for the god of Love, and was often taken as a title of Cupid.  Is this some bizarre reference to the myth of Cupid and Psyche, in which Cupid pretends to be a hideous dragon?  Will the Dragon give us more information?  Will Solomon actually ask what in the blazes he’s talking about?

Do we even have to ask?

The Winged Dragon now observes that the demons are not happy,

“they will cause the stack of wood about to be gathered by you for construction in the Temple to be consumed by fire.”

As the demon was saying these things, suddenly the breath coming out of his mouth set the forest of Lebanon on fire and burned up all the wood which I was going to put into the Temple of God.

Once Solomon finally gets the name of his angel out of him – Bazazath of the second heaven – he assigns the Dragon to cut marble.  You really get the sense that none of those involved in the text really cared too much about what the demon’s assigned tasks really were.  Frankly, if I were in Solomon’s place, I’d send him to get more wood, instead of just chopping marble with a whole crowd of demons.

Next time – Solomon hears, and ignores, another prophecy!

Published in: on February 13, 2008 at 11:38 pm  Comments (1)  

The Testament of Solomon, Part 23

Once Solomon finishes with Obyzouth, he calls up another demon:

…there came to me one who was in the form of a wallowing dragon, having the limbs of a dragon and wings on its back, but the face and feet of a man.

And who might this be?

“… I am the so-called Winged Dragon.  I do not copulate with many women, but with only a few who have beautiful bodies, who possess a name of Touxylou of this star.  I rendezvous with them in the form of a winged spirit, copulating (with them) through their buttocks…”

Once again, the demons provide us a little more information than we needed.   From a textual standpoint, however, it once again highlights a long-held Old Testament tradition that non-reproductive sex, as well as sex with outsiders, is inherently dangerous.

What about Touxylou?  There’s been considerable speculation on that point.  By changing a few letters, you can come up with something like “of the wood”, which might be a reference to the Cross.  Of course, such a reading would cause us to look for a mention of the demon Ephippas, which normally occurs alongside explicitly Christian elements, but there’s none to be seen.

In Rewriting the Testament of Solomon, Klutz notes that the above construction is impossible in Greek.  Instead, he believes that it’s a reference to Sagittarius.  As with Aquarius and Ornias, it would signify that a particular part of the world, governed by that constellation, would hold particular women of interest to the demon.  Klutz’s analysis then becomes increasingly speculative – Onoskelis has goat parts, and goats are associated with Capricorn, which would give us a sequence of three constellations in reverse zodiac order, which means… well, he’s not sure.

Next time, the curious story of Eros, and Solomon’s poor job placement skills resurface!

Published in: on February 9, 2008 at 1:36 pm  Comments (1)