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History of Western Demonology up to the Middle Ages

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History of Western Demonology up to the Middle Ages

From selling your soul to the devil on a crossroad at night to binding the spirits of hell to your will, the notion of working with demons came to us in narratives from before the middle ages. In this article, we explore the history of demonology before the middle ages.


It all started with King Solomon (who ruled from 977-927 BC). In many sources - Christian, Jewish and Muslim - there are references to the ability granted to Solomon to summon and subdue demons. Solomon could interrogate the summoned demon, tie him up and imprison him, and also force him to carry out any orders, including hard physical work, such as hewing stones and logs for the construction of the Jerusalem temple. Since everything happened long before the advent of Christianity with its dichotomy of views on the world of spirits, King Solomon communicated with demons no less than with angels; moreover, he apparently considered it his duty to put demons to useful work, thereby reducing the amount of evil in the whole world.

Usually four magicians are called his heirs of Solomon - Fortunat, Eleazar, Makar and Toz the Greek (Toz Grecus); sometimes they are collectively referred to as the "circle of four" (quartet annulus). Many magical manuscripts have survived, the authorship of which is attributed to Thoz the Greek (whose name, according to some authors, may mean "Thoth the Greek"). There are also stories about how Eleazar, who lived much later, used the methods of his teacher in working with spirits.

Testament of Solomon
Let us consider in more detail what methods King Solomon used. They are described in detail in the Testament of Solomon, a treatise of the 3rd century AD, which can rightfully be recognized as the oldest grimoire and the prototype of all later grimoire literature. Sometimes Solomon uses speech formulas, but more often he resorts to special physical methods, the descriptions of which, in fragmentary or distorted form, are preserved in the grimoires of the 13th-18th centuries. By the time of the appearance of the Goetia, the emphasis had already shifted from describing the method to listing the names of spirits, and the method in an abridged form is given only at the very end of the book.

In Solomon's Testament, King Solomon interrogates and binds at least 60 demons. He begins with a demon named Ornias, discovering that he drinks the strength of one of his servants. With the help of prayers and the magic ring that the archangel Michael handed to him, Solomon binds this demon and receives information and help from him, sufficient to bind many more other demons - one after another. This procedure has not changed to this day: the magician begins with some insignificant demon, which eventually becomes his "familiar", and with his help moves on, subduing other, more powerful spirits. Archangel Michael also helped Solomon bind the demons.

Calling on the angels for help in subduing the demons is one of the important techniques that Rudd pays great attention to in his version of the Goetia. But, despite the commonality of methodology, the lists of demonic names from the Goetia have little in common with the catalog of demons from the Testament of Solomon. In both of these lists, only Asmodeus (#32 in the Goetia) and possibly Ornias/Orias (#59 in the Goetia) appear.

By the time of the late Middle Ages, the opinion was firmly established that magical powers could be obtained from the devil. But Solomon most definitely drew his power and knowledge directly from God and his archangels, without entering into any deals with the devil. To be convinced of this, even a cursory acquaintance with any grimoire is enough; most grimoires use divine and angelic names as words of power, and the idea of ​​selling one's soul to the devil is, in fact, a newfangled romantic fiction, much more common in gothic novels than in grimoires.

For Solomon, magic was the high art of serving God, the purpose of which was to tame and subdue chaotic forces, fettering them or finding them useful use.

Of course, after it was possible to bind a demon that occupies a sufficiently high position in the hierarchy, the magician automatically received power over all the spirits subordinate to him. But at the same time, the magician himself in no way fell into dependence on this older demon.

Josephus (c. 37 - c. 100 AD)
Josephus Flavius ​​was born a few years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and wrote extensive works on Jewish history. His works are perhaps the most significant of the books of the first century of the Christian era (not counting the texts included in the Bible). Among other things, Josephus writes about Solomon's methods:

In addition to all this wealth, the Lord God gave Solomon such great experience and wisdom that he surpassed in this respect all the people who lived before him, even the Egyptians, who, according to the general opinion, are distinguished by their special ingenuity: they not only could not be compared in this respect with him, but certainly stood immeasurably below him.

In his wisdom, Solomon far surpassed even those persons famous in his time among the Jews for their insight, whose names I cannot pass over in silence, namely the sons of Emaon, Ethan, Eman, Chalkey and Dardanus. He composed in verse and in the form of songs one thousand five books and three thousand books of parables and parabolas, at the sight of every tree, from hyssop to cedar, he knew how to tell some parable, as well as about all

wild animals and tame animals, fish and birds. There was not a single feature of their way of life that would have remained unknown to him or that he would have left unattended; on the contrary, he was able to communicate something about all of them and at the same time showed a thorough acquaintance with their smallest features.

The Lord God also gave Solomon the opportunity to learn the art of entering into communication with demons for the benefit and good of people. The fact is that Solomon left behind spells to cure all sorts of diseases and magic formulas with which it is possible to bind demons in such a way that they will never again risk returning to people. This art is still very much flourishing among us. So, for example, I happened to hear about a certain Eleazar, our fellow tribesman, how he once, in the presence of Vespasian, the sons of the latter, thousands and a mass of troops, delivered all those possessed by evil spirits from the latter.

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At the same time, he acted as follows: he brought a finger to the nose of the demon-possessed, on which there was a ring with the root of the plant indicated by Solomon included in it, and thereby removed the demon from the demon-possessed from the nostrils. The patient, of course, immediately fell dead to the ground, and anyone who was present at the same time would be ready to swear that he would no longer come to his senses if it were not for Solomon and the spell formulas he compiled. Wishing, however, to fully convince those present that he really possessed the indicated power, Lazarus ordered that a goblet filled with water and a vessel for washing the feet be placed near the demoniac, and he ordered the demon to overturn the vessel when leaving the body of the patient, so that all spectators could actually make sure that the evil spirit indeed left the possessed. Since things happened in this way, everyone had the opportunity to be convinced of the really profound wisdom of Solomon.

It is curious that the demon was required to perform not some intangible act, but a completely material act: turn over a vessel with water. It is also noteworthy that it was water in the vessel: water is often used to bind demons.

Christianity affirmation
Only with the establishment of Christianity in the Western world, magic began to be perceived as a diabolical obsession, and not as an art that allows you to subdue demons for the benefit of the caster himself and all of humanity. Even Jesus cast out demons, and many of his contemporaries, not without reason, considered him a magician. It has even been claimed that Jesus uses the name of the demon Beelzebub to control lesser demons. This episode is given in Matt. 12:24-27, where Jesus in turn asks the Pharisees what name they use, and here we have clear evidence that this method of subduing demons was common knowledge at the time:

The Pharisees, hearing this, said: He does not cast out demons except by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons.
But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself will be desolate; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.
And if Satan casts out Satan, then he is divided with himself: how will his kingdom stand?
And if by the power of Beelzebub I cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.

Of course, the deep irony of these words was not hidden from the Pharisees. But it is important for us, first of all, that the method of using the name of an older demon to control the younger ones was, in fact, a commonplace for both the Pharisees and Jesus. Who exactly used the name of Beelzebub to subdue the lesser demons, by and large, did not matter: the important thing is that this procedure, which occupies far from the last place in Solomon's magic, was considered completely acceptable for a righteous person. Interestingly, it was the Pharisees, unlike the Sadducees, who believed in demons and the resurrection from the dead:

For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge both.
In turn, other spellcasters used the name of Jesus himself to subdue the demons:

Even some of the wandering Jewish exorcists began to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying: We conjure you by Jesus, whom Paul preaches.
This was done by some seven sons of the Jewish high priest Skeva.
But the evil spirit answered and said: I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?
And a man in whom there was an evil spirit rushed at them, and having overcome them, took such power over them that they, naked and beaten, ran out of that house.
This may be one of the first times that the name "Jesus" (or even "Paul") was used as a name of power in its own right. An interesting detail: the demon admitted that he knew Jesus and Paul. The sons of Skeva, the Jewish high priest, probably hoped that they had inherited some of the spiritual power and glory of their father, but these hopes were not justified.

Skeva's contemporary, Eleazar, whom we mentioned above, used the name "Solomon" for the same purpose and achieved much more success. Thus, the names of magicians who have achieved tangible power over demons, themselves turned into a means of power over demons.

Early Church Fathers

If Jesus himself was not at all shy about admitting that he was able to converse with demons and subjugate them to his power, then his followers had big problems with this. The attitude of the church towards magical practices only worsened over time, and already at the earliest stages attempts were made to draw a theoretical distinction between the miracles that Jesus performed and the acts of any other miracle workers, such as Simon Magus. Otherwise, one would have to admit that Jesus practiced the magic of the Egyptians and his Jewish ancestors, or that other magicians were able to work miracles just like Jesus. In both cases, it would be difficult to explain this to the flock. (If it seems strange to the reader that so much attention is paid to the life and deeds of Jesus in the book on the Goetia, we recall that Jesus was the true "son of David", and his magical methods went back in a direct line to the magic of Solomon - the own son of the same king David.)

To the notion that Jesus and his disciples performed their miracles with the help of demons, Origen (c. 185 - 254 AD) countered the not-too-convincing claim that all their miracle-working was not so important compared to their piety. and righteousness. In order to cleanse the reputation of Jesus and the saints from the filth of magic, Origen even declared their miracles "illusory."

Saint Augustine (354-430) also attempted to separate miracles from magic, stating that the miracles of Jesus were performed by "the power of simple faith, combined with the pious hope of faith, and not by sorcery and divination, compiled according to the rules of a science invented by impious curiosity - a science known or under the name of magic, or under the more vile name of goetia, or under the more honorable name of theurgy” (“On the City of God”, IX). Of course, Jesus needed miracles to win more followers to his side, but to say that he acted only with a simple "hope of faith" is at least naive. Simon Magus, a famous magician of the early Christian era, offered his students to buy the secrets of Jesus' magic for money, and there is no doubt that it was about the sale of very specific magical techniques. As they say, "a fisherman sees a fisherman from afar." The disciples were offended and rejected his proposal; from this episode, probably, the history of the ambiguous attitude of the church to the miracles of Christ began, which began to cause both pious delight and embarrassment in her fathers.
The most striking example of the transition from the ancient views of magic (or even the point of view of Jesus himself) to the views characteristic of the Christian religion is found in a gnostic text called the Acts of Peter. It describes a magical contest at the court of the emperor Nero (reigned 54-68 AD) between the apostles Peter and Paul on the one hand, and Simon on the other.

Simon, to demonstrate his magical power, took to the air and flew in front of the crowd through the city gates. The apostles did not demonstrate their strength at all and went the easy way: they offered up an angry prayer against Simon, and he fell from a great height and broke his legs. It was as unfair as deliberately distracting a tightrope walker, but from the point of view of Peter and Paul, this unworthy act was completely justified from the standpoint of their new religion. What the emperor said on this score remains unknown; but it must be assumed that if he had spoken favorably of the apostles, this fact would not have failed to be noted in the gospels.

The theme of magical contests between Christians and pagans continued in 433 AD, when Saint Patrick and his follower Saint Benin began to perform "miracles" to confound the magic of the Druids. It is much more appropriate to define the acts of these saints as magical rather than "miraculous", but from the point of view this would be completely unacceptable.

With these words, the chief druid kindled a fire and, taking two more with him, went to where the saint and his assistants, dressed in white robes, sang their psalms. "What do these spells mean?" asked the druid, looking with curiosity at the shepherd's hook-staves, so different from those of the druid, "and why was a fire lit here on the eve of Beltane, contrary to the decrees of Ard Rig and Ard Druid?"
After that, a magical battle begins, during which St. Patrick disperses the snowstorm and darkness sent by the druids. In the final contest, his assistant, Saint Benin, remains unharmed in the burning tent, while the druids are burned to the ground. In another magical duel, St. Patrick follows in the footsteps of St. Peter: he throws down a druid who has taken off into the air, but he himself does not demonstrate the ability to fly.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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