Saturday, May 29, 2010

ramble: the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, or necromantics

I've studied a great deal of medieval necromancy--ritual magic that is not just the tired old reanimation of the dead. Folks well into the 17th century* generally considered "necromancy" to be a kind of ceremonial divination primarily (though not solely) involved with conjuring demons and/or other spirits.** A necromancer might conjure a demon to serve him (almost always him) domestically, bodily,*** by giving him a magical object,+ or by bestowing extraworldly knowledge on him.

Necromancy and exorcism were thus closely related, but the Church was not exactly cool with the former. However, clerics interested in necromancy did not usually think they were acting counter to Christian belief; the ceremonial systems are very much embedded in Christianity, and from the perspective of a practitioner, there is little difference between "religion" and "magic."

There are hundreds of extant necromantic manuscripts. Some are wedged in among other things in miscellanies while some are standalone codices. Such ritual textbooks are often called grimoires: two well-known examples are the 15th/16th-century Key of Solomon and the 17th-century Lesser Key of Solomon. Johann Weyer's late-16th-century book De Praestigiis Daemonum is not quite in the same vein; he was responding to the growing trend of brutal witch-hunting handbooks.++ His book, especially its appendix, the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, has prevailed as a fascinating record of demonology and the necromantic practices that relied on it.

The Pseudomonarchia Daemonum is a major source for the first book of the Lesser Key of Solomon, the Ars Goetia, and itself draws on the grimoires that came before it. It lists and describes sixty-nine demons with their "ranks" or "titles" as well as the appropriate times for conjuring them. The following are three of my favourites--note how they're not necessarily intrinsically evil.+++

- Marbas, who appears as a lion, inflicts and cures illness and can shapeshift the conjurer [link to full description]
- Astaroth, who appears as a "foul angel" riding a dragon, teaches liberal arts and sciences and has bad breath [link to full description]
- Gomory, who is male but appears as a lady riding a camel, finds treasure and can get women (especially virgins) into the conjurer's bed [link to full description]

Requisite safety disclaimer: don't try conjurations at home. At least not without proper preparation and preferably an expert on hand. I'm still not responsible for what happens, mind.

* And even into the 18th and 19th centuries; the Victorian interest in spirits didn't come out of nowhere.
** As opposed to natural magic, wherein one uses animals, plants, and minerals in conjunction with the zodiacal and lunar cycles, sometimes incorporating written charms, for generally more practical ends.
*** Sexy. I mean it; some of them are hot fairy-women.
+ Like a ring of invisibility (hot fairy-women bring one in a manuscript I've studied; the conjurer then gets it on with them. Double score).
++ I haven't read the whole thing, however, so I can't say if he seems to have fully believed in the validity of ritual magic; I get different impressions from different secondary sources (however, he did at least believe in the existence of demons). Probably the fellow was (wisely) being cagey.
+++ Like any sort of technology, necromancy's a tool; it's all in how you use it.

Images:
- A "great pentacle" from the Key of Solomon [via link]
- A depiction of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal, an 1818 work on demonology [via link]

Sources:
- Biography of Johann Weyer [link]
- Full text of the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum in both Latin and English at Esoteric Archives [link]
- Full text of the Lesser Key of Solomon at EA [link]
- Full text of the Key of Solomon at EA [link]
- List of demons in the Ars Goetia (slightly different from the PD) [link]
- The Dictionnaire Infernal [link] (I'll blog about this one in detail someday)

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