Posts Tagged grimoires

Classical Demonology in Urban Fantasy

15 February 2012

There are several examples of how demons have been employed in contemporary and urban fantasy. Though not as popular as vampires, zombies and various species of lycanthropes, demons are still quite useful as powerful hitme . . . hitbeings, and may play a larger role at times, too.

In Jim Butcher’s popular Dresden Files (and yes, I am a fan), there is only the occasional use of demons. When they do appear, however, the system Mr. Butcher uses appears to be a modification of the Solomonic tradition. There is an important emphasis on the magic circle and the use of true names, though the latter is an important features of the series and does not relate only to demonic beings. The use of a magic circle seems to be very important. Crossing the circle, breaking its physical barrier, is enough to ruin the protection it provides, thus releasing the demon. The demon is generally unhappy at having been summoned in the first place and, well, they’re way bigger than most humans, even full-blown wizards. Goriness typically ensues.

Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series (and again, yes, a fan), employs demons differently. First, they are more active in the world. Some of the series main characters are half-demons, expressing some sort of power depending on the kind of demon their father is and how powerful he is. Ms. Armstrong also divides demon-kind in two groups, one evil and one . . . not actively evil: cacodemons and eudemons. As with the Solomonic system, there is also a hierarchy of demons, given the titles of human nobility. These titles, rarely used, are related to their overall power of the demon, which is transferred to a certain extent to their human-demon hybrid children. Perhaps most interesting, though, is that Ms. Armstrong has used, in at least few occasions, the name Aratron, one of the “Olympic Planetary Spirits” from the Arbatel of Magic. Though not considered a demon per se, that doesn’t really matter, as Ms. Armstrong presents Aratron as one of the most powerful of eudemons, which fits the Olympic spirits fairly well.

Finally, though it predates either Dresden Files or the Women of the Otherworld, is James Blish’s The Devil’s Day. This story is about a munitions mogul who is looking for the next big thing. He finds it in the form of demonic evocation. After hiring Theron Ware to summon a demon to assassinate a rival, Blish’s main character contracts Ware to summon every major demon in hell and let them loose for a day to see what happens. The result, of course, is Armageddon, with the win going to Satan, who now has to be God, whether he wants to or not.

Mr. Blish’s uses of Solomonic demonology is quite literal, and he derives his rituals and demonic descriptions from several medieval grimoires. His approach to the nature of the Goetic spirits and their hierarchy is taken verbatim from the grimoire tradition, resplendent in its Christian overtones. In this Mr. Blish’s demonology is far more conservative than than either Ms. Armstrong’s or Mr. Butchers, neither of whom, or instance, have a particularly religious overtone to their demonology. Where Mr. Blish’s demons are fallen angels, those of Mr. Butcher and Ms. Armstrong’s are simply very powerful, frequently, but not always, very evil, other-dimensional beings. We call them “demon” more out of reflex than accuracy.

Demonic evocation is a nearly untapped area in the genre today. These three examples demonstrate the variety of ways in which demons can be employed in contemporary and urban fantasy. With a deeper knowledge of classical demonology, the writer can create a realistic presentation of demons and evocation that can fit into almost any contemporary fantasy worldview.

Solomonic Demonology

14 February 2012

There is a class of ceremonial magic generally referred to as Solomonic magic. This is, of course, named for the famous King Solomon, son of David. The idea that Solomon was a magician is fairly old, as the second century Testament of Solomon, a sort of prototype for later Solomonic grimoires, attests. Though Solomonic magic is primarily Christian in origin, it is dependent upon both Jewish lore and Arabic magical practices.

The most famous of the Solomonic grimoires is perhaps the Lemegeton Clavicula Solomonis, the Lesser Key of Solomon. Mostly dating from the 14th century, the first book of the Lesser Key, called the Goetia, was made popular once again in the 19th century through the “translation” of S.L. MacGregor Mathers, one of the founders of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Though the second book of the Lesser Key, the Theurgia Goetia, is concerned with spirits which are both good and evil in nature, we will focus on the more well known Goetia, which deals with demons proper.

It is important to know that there is quite a debatable concerning whether or not the Goetia and Theurgia Goetia are about demons, i.e. fallen angels, or some other kind of spirit. Some of the demonic names found in the Goetia are clearly derived from the names of pagan deities. Astaroth, the 29th spirit, is an excellent example of this. The name “Astaroth,” who described as a mighty and strong duke, is understood to come from the Canannite goddess Ashtoreth, the consort of Ba’al, one of the Jewish God’s chief cultural rivals. However, not only are all 42 of the Goetic spirits considered diabolical, they are, generally, considered fallen angels, some of whom, we are told, hope to regain their place in heaven.

Each demon is given a rank: Marquis, Duke, Prelate, Knight, President and Count or Earl. In some Solomonic-derived systems, such as from the Grimoirium Verum, all of the demons are ruled over by one of three greater demons: Lucifer, Beelzebuth and Astaroth, though this is not part of the Lesser Key. Regardless, each demon listed is itself a greater spirit, ruling over a multitude of legions, a legion consisting of 6666 lesser demons. Further, each greater demon is associated with a certain power or ability. The aforementioned Astaroth, whose seal was featured on the “Malleus Maleficarum” episode of the WB’s Supernatural, can “make men wounderfull knowing in all Liberall siences.” The 40th spirit, the Earl Raum, is said to ‘steale Treasures out of kings houses, and to carry it where he is commanded, & to destroy Citties, and ye dignities of men; & to tell all Things past, & wt is, & wt will be; & to cause Love between friends & foes.”

The Goetia is not, however, simply a book about demons. It is a grimoire about how to summon, or evoke, the demons and bend them to servitude. The magic of the Lesser Key relies upon a number of physical implements, including magical seals, a large circle filled with divine names, a magical triangle, and a lamen, a sort of magical pendant, with the demon’s seal or signature on it. To these some include the vestments, magical sword and blasting rod found in the Greater Key of Solomon, which deals not with demonic evocation, but astrological talismans and other, similar, forms of magic.

The actual process of evocation is somewhat drawn out and makes use of lengthy prayers, conjurations and exhortations. Importantly, this is not a kind of demonolatry or diabolical worship. The magician does not even conjure the spirit through his or her own power, but through the holy power of God, who is called upon through various names, some Jewish, some akin to the voce mysteicae of Neoplatonic theurgy.

When next we meet, I’ll discuss, briefly, the Gnostic archons, before moving onto some examples of how classical demons have been incorporated into some well known, and maybe some not so well known, contemporary fantasy.

An Urban Fantasy Writer’s Guide to Classical Demonology

5 August 2010

Ah, demons.

You know you love ‘em.

But what exactly is a demon? Where do they come from and what do they want? Considering that both my main characters, Ezekiel and Marcus, deal with demons on an all too regular basis, this is a in which subject I have some interest. So, in order to elucidate on the wacky world of demonology, and to give me a chance to get my PhD on, I’m going to use this space to to write about exactly that; demons.

I’m imagining several parts here. The first will likely tackle the tricky question of “just what is a demon, anyway?” I’ll look primarily at the more or less mainstream Abrahamic traditions but also a bit of Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, as I include some of that in my books. I’ll also take a look at what other authors have done, to get a good overview of the subject.

Second I’ll take a look at the Solomonic magical tradition, which has its roots in Jewish scripture and Arabic magical lore. Magic ascribed to King Solomon will flourish in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as well.

Third will be a look at the world of daemons, which may or may not be demons, depending on who exactly is doing the writing.

Finally a brief look at the Gnostic Archons, who aren’t exactly demons, but may as well be.

Will there be more? We won’t know until I start writing, will we?

-Jeffrey (Demonologist extraordinaire)