Christian demonology in Middle Ages


While daimon, in the Greco-Roman world, referred to geniuses or spirits, not necessarily evil, devil, from gr. diabolos: distorter, equated to the figure of Satan, "the adversary" in the Hebrew world, had an evil connotation from the beginning. In the Middle Ages, both concepts merged, disabling this distinction in a world where paganism was also something evil and persecuted. Medieval demonic thought cannot be understood without first taking a brief look at early Christianity and its early apologists. For this reason, throughout this article, older authors may be cited among medieval authors, without losing the narrative thread or the evolution of thought on the figure of the Devil.

Demonic figures are a product of the Jewish religious imagery, mixed and fused with that of the ancient Euro-Mediterranean world. However, Satan will always be presented as the enemy, the opposite of God, and with this name he will gain strength, while other entities that are mentioned in the scriptures, or what is used in Jewish apocalyptic literature and other later books as apocryphal, they will be subject to him. Lilith, Azazel, Asmodeus, Belial, Beelzebub... these names are not generic of evil beings, but proper names of entities at the service of the Greater Evil, and all the evil and monstrous beasts will join them, including, obviously, the biblical ones, like Behemoth or Leviathan. The deception of Eve and the temptations of Jesus will be attributed to Satan, since the rest, it is understood, would not have such great power. The same occurs in the apocalyptic Antichrist instance.

On the origin of Satan and the rebellion of the angels, on the one hand we have the story of the Grígori, watchful angels who descended to earth and had children with human women, engendering the nephilim, a narration presented in the Book of Enoch I, dated between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC. Here the main leaders are called Semyazza and Azael.

These are the names of their chiefs: Shemihaza, who was chief and in order relative to him, Ar'taqof, Rama'el, Kokab'el, 'El, Ra'ma'el, Dani'el, Zeq'el , Baraq'el, 'Asa'el, Harmoni, Matra'el, 'Anan'el, Sato'el, Shamsi'el, Sahari'el, Tumi'el, Turi'el, Yomi'el, and Yehadi'el. (Enoch I, 6.7)

The Book of Enoch I is canonical only in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In Judaism it has never been considered an inspired book nor has it been canonized. However, this episode gives an explanation for God's anger and the sending of the Flood, since in the biblical reading as such the reasons for God's anger remain somewhat off the hook, and on the term "the children of God" there is an open dispute between the different faith groups and among scholars, about whether it is referring to angels, nephilim, or humans.

But in the pseudepigraphical apocryphal Enoch II, also known as Slavonic Enoch from his language, dated from the 1st century AD. Although it is postulated that it may have much later parts, the one who is identified as the leader of the rebellion is Satanael, the angel who did not fall in disobedience, but rather sinned out of pride and wanted to compare himself to God.

Then I made a great fire jump out of the flint. And from the fire he creates the formations of the incorporated armies, ten myriads of angels, as well as their igneous weapons and their garments, similar to the burning flame. I then gave orders for each one to get into their proper formation. But one of the order of the archangels, departing along with the formation that was under his command, conceived the unheard-of thought of placing his throne above the clouds that are above the earth so that he could match my strength. I then threw him from the height together with his angels, and he kept flying in the air continuously over the abyss (Enoch II, 11, 37-40)

The Devil is a demon of the lower regions, because when he fled from heaven he was converted into Satan, after having been called Satanael. That is why he moved away from the angels without changing his nature, but (only) his thought -in the same way that intelligence is common to the just and sinners- and he realized his own condemnation and the sin he had previously committed. That is why he plotted against Adam (...) (Enoch II, 11, 74-75)

In this way they would have taken into account two angelic falls, the first by Satan and the second by the Grígori. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian (2nd-3rd centuries) observed, following Enoch, that their change in nature had been due to desire for women, a lustful feeling they share with men. These ideas of a similar nature promote, as will be seen later, the general acceptance of possession. On the other hand, the Grígori would have been the introducers of all the bad arts, including magical practices.

However, and as it can be verified by popular knowledge, the version of the fallen and tempting angel is the one that has prevailed. It is considered that it is Origen (185-254) who distinguished the fall of a singular angel out of pride and popularized it, while it was Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) who identified it with the Bright Star of Isaiah, Lucifer for Saint Jerome (340 -420). The name of Lucifer from the Latin lux, light, and fero, to carry, to wit, bearer of light, appears as such for the first time in the Vulgate of St. Jerome, from the S.V. The text in question is Isaiah 14, 12, where the star, hb helel, is evoked -the angelic bodies were identified as the stars. Lucifer and Satan were sometimes assimilated, but in most cases they are presented separately. Lucifer can be a devil or a main demon, as "prince of darkness", but Satan is always the original destructive power and contrary to God.

There were multiple discussions about the nature of the devil, recognized in the sacred writings of Judeo-Christianity, about whether they were entities alien to God or created by himself. But how was a superior and merciful divinity going to create evil beings? In the Lateran Council of 1215, it was where it was exposed for the first time, in a more or less constituted way, that the Devil, referring to Satan, and the other demons (see how the idea of ​​inferiority of the latter continues) were created good by nature by God, having been themselves the ones who became evil, which coincides with the interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, as well as that hell was the place where the wicked ended up when they died, since it was where Satan reigns and demons live .

The Christian hell fuses Jewish and Greco-Roman ideas, creating an underground world where sinful souls receive punishment and suffering from demons, a mix between Gehenna and Hades. Even so, there were distinctions between Hell, the home of demons, and hell, as a generic place where souls went before the resurrection of Jesus, since in lat. in-ferus, "underneath", has in the Western world an anthropological connotation of important burial, as well as of identification with subterranean fiery places, such as lava foci. Many of these places were identified as gates to hell, as it was considered a physical place. However, in the Christian world it is understood that after the Final Judgment evil will be destroyed, and therefore Hell and its inhabitants will cease to exist. The idea of ​​purgatory will not be established as such until the 13th century. In any case, just as demons and sins will be classified, these places and Heaven itself will also be divided into sections, also influenced by the Kabbalah.

The main issue in the advancement of the study of demons is above all the medieval obscurantism surrounding his figure and religious issues in general. The divine or demonic presence was fully understood in this world, and therefore all actions had consequences and direct influences from both beneficial and evil beings. Adverse weather situations, illnesses, deformities, disputes, sinister coincidences, everything could be attributed to the demonic presence, as well as positive situations to God and the saints. On the other hand, religion covered practically all daily activities, so the intuition that the Devil could be lurking to destroy a religiously regulated situation was inevitable. Combined with religious wars, the suppression of heresies and the terrible punishments to which those recognized as worshipers of the devil were subjected, the good-bad dualism only increased fear.

Two types of studies on demons could be distinguished, theological demonology and "occult" or heretical demonology. Evidently it is from the theological aspect that we retain more sources to analyze this question. In addition, these treaties were given more frequently due to the defenses of Catholics against movements considered heretical such as the Manichaeans.

Augustine of Hippo (354-403) exposed, on the one hand, in his fights against the Manichaeans, that the demons are indeed creatures of God; and on the other hand, that the demons were aerial, that is to say, that their body was made of air, for which a physical punishment did not seem the solution. God's punishment consisted in condemning them to continually sin, with the consequent impossibility of redemption or of recovering their original form. This produces a greater rage that leads them to harm God's creation and particularly those made in his image, that is, human beings. The literary examples where the idea of ​​its aerial composition is manifested is in the Lives of Saints, which extend from the 4th century until almost the end of the Middle Ages, where they often face demons that adopt different appearances, often using objects physical to disguise, since the air is not visible. However, the first unmistakable symbols that will give rise to a demonic iconography also appear here: snakes, dragons, beautiful young women or men, angels, monsters with incongruous shapes, and other animals that will eventually be identified with them, such as goats, identifications produced in parallel by the memory and recognition of pagan divinities.

This gave materiality to these malefic beings, and caused the development of the demonic imaginary, whose more purely physical examples could be the succubus and the incubus, sexual demons, one sucker for male semen and another penetrator, perverted semen ejector. There were widespread thoughts, such as the one exposed in the work "Treaty against those who invoke demons", by the inquisitor Jean Vivet (S. XV), who spoke about the possibility of transmutation of demons, altering their forms, and therefore he considered that these demons in particular could be transsexual, that is, that it was the same being that stole the semen with a female body to degenerate it or poison it with its evil essence and that later, with a male body, introduced it to women, giving rise to monstrous beings and diseases, along with erotic dreams and nightmares. Was this possible? In legends, even Merlin himself was the son of a demon and a celibate girl. The malformations and excitations without reproductive purpose could well be identified with carnal sins derived from the demonic presence. These sexual demons, perhaps because of their function, still preserved their anthropomorphism in part, but as they are increasingly associated with the devil, they progressively evolve from annoying to evil spirits, and their appearance also becomes grotesque and disgusting, as we can see in the pictures. iconographic representations of this period. However, there are exceptions in which angel wings are maintained, although these were also combined with dragon wings.

Among the bad deeds, the sins to which the demons induce are nothing more than properly human desires that go beyond the religious norm. They are so close and common among men that easily, when an exacerbation occurs, it may be because a demon has entered the body, in addition to showing rejection of Christian symbols and blaspheming. Tertullian considered that any Christian, following the example of Christ, could perform effective exorcisms, but in the 5th century this practice became reserved for deacons and priests. Demons, as in the case exposed by Evagrius Ponticus (345-399) or Saint Jerome (340-420), were considered to have each assigned a specific vice or sin with which to torture humanity, which allows identifying who each demon is and expel or subdue him, something that already appears in the Testament of Solomon within the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, apocryphal dating from the 2nd-1st century B.C. Evagrius included among the seven deadly sins, an eighth, apathy.

Miguel Psellos (Ca. 1018 - 1078), in his Demonology, begins a speculative path that opens the way to magical or heretical demonology, since it is not always accepted by ecclesiastical bodies. Psellos affirms that there are six kinds of demons, which he identifies with planes of natural existence: the fiery one, which moves through the air above us; the aerial also moves through the air, but at our level; the terrestrial type, and the aquatic, in their corresponding spheres of influence; the underground, underground and the lucifuge is immaterial, because it carries light and is related to the stars. However, it is not only about spirits that dominate this or that element. As demons, they hate man for being a reflection of God, and each one uses their powers to harm men: the last two types mentioned produce epilepsy and suffocation, those who move at our level are the most likely to deceive our senses. They are so close that they can be perceived and manifest openly. The idea of ​​the demonic or diabolical pact was recurrent as early as the 6th century, especially in the literature related to miracles of saints; however, it is from the 13th century when the first cases of persecution of witches and wizards who summoned demons and specifically the devil, among many other pagan, superstitious rites or simply rural traditions with which it was associated. 

Perhaps because of the heretical or internal quarrels of the Church itself at this time, since Pope Boniface VIII himself was accused, in his fight with Philip IV the Fair, of having a pact with one or more demons who served him as advisers. Bernardo Gui published his manual Practice Inquisitionis hæreticae pravitatis a few years before the bull of Pope John XXIII was made public in 1327, which condemned witchcraft, within which divination also entered at that time, since it was considered that those who the answers were the demons. The fatal fusion of magical issues with diabolical ones takes place here, putting apostates and idolaters in this bagful, and creating a first group of satanic cut, a recurrent manifesto especially since the XV century, at the end of which the Malleus Maleficarum id published. The theologian Martín del Río developed works on demonology in his Disquisitionum magicarum libri (1599-1600). This false freedom of the religious - false because anyone who reasoned something against the power of the Church or Catholicism was automatically excommunicated at the very least - was accompanied by a no less guarded science that was angelology.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), will insist that evil is not the shadow of God, but its seed was found in the angel that rebelled, so that the figure of Satan-Lucifer gains strength as a villain . The evil spread from this one, when it deceived Eve and Adam, and in this way it spreads throughout the Creation, good, of God.

Following the example exposed by Barros (2012), in the Old Testament Satan does not even fulfill the role of declared enemy, since, for example, in the Book of Job, God is the one who sets the rules for the luck of the bet they make to test their faith. It is in the New Testament when the Devil is the enemy of Christ and of God, tempter and evil, destroyer. The Popes were not oblivious to this persecution, indeed, they were concerned about the presence of demonic acts. However, there were contradictory positions. While some somewhat earlier Popes, basing themselves on the Canon Episcopi, denied the alleged faculties of sorcerers, saying that their acts are pure hallucinations and have no effects in the real world, focusing in turn on the testimony of Augustine of Hippo, - which indicates that demons, under the power of God, are not allowed to affect humans -, during the year 1234, with Pope Gregory IX at the head, the Church institutionalizes its repression against the demonic, whatever form it takes, including heretical groups such as the Cathars, and obviously Muslims and Jews, as followers or at least co-participants of evil. Others like Pope Innocent V (1225-1276) specify that for the services of the devil it is necessary to close a diabolical pact, and this could be developed by anyone, from a villain or a woman to a man of God, as it happened in the Legend of Saint Theophilus. John XXII (1244-1334) made the witch hunting a priority for the Holy Inquisition. This Pope, still following the Canon Episcopi mentioned above, interpreted it in another way, because although the demons cannot affect openly, the worship of Satan could entail favors on his part.

The Inquisition as an institution arises at this time, around the 13th century. However, the trials were not always carried out by it, but by small communal courts that focused on rumors and gossip. If the person accused of witchcraft was not just an herbalist or astrologer, but relapsed into a sin of heresy, then the accused was referred to a higher institution. Heresy, of course, was very, very tied to the presence of demons. The one that os considered the first case of inquisitorial trial and conviction occurs in Milan, Italy, around 1380, with two women named Sabilla and Pierina, who had been brought to trial several times for their nocturnal escapades, according to them, together with a woman to meetings called "Game", in which there were parties, banquets, and they were allowed to enter other people's houses. This female figure, which some see within mythological figures such as fairies, was altered in the testimonies until they claimed to have invoked a spirit with the name of Lucifellum, who transported them to the meetings, and that in the presence of the lady and those present, the name of God could not be mentioned, that they had sealed blood pacts and they had sexual relations. This earned them death at the stake.

Many of the theologians and priests of these institutions developed manuals to detect heresy and demonic pacts. To cite one example, Nicolas Eymerich (1320-1399), author of the Directorium Inquisitorium, divided witchcraft into three categories, and both appeared to demons in them: the first category was demon worship, which was demonstrated through offerings and prayers to them. The second category featured the veneration of demons among saints and angels, which may seem strange, but was very common in popular litanies. In the third category, certain practices were found that required, in his view, the help of demons to be carried out, for example clairvoyance or healing methods.

Following Clark (1999), any advance in thought or science could not be supported by the Church, not even by separatist movements such as Protestantism, but the non-affectation of demonic or inexplicable acts could not be accepted either, since denying the existence of certain supernatural powers would imply questioning the bases of the Christian faith, and furthermore, affirming that demons cannot perform inconceivable acts would easily disprove all the miracles not only of Christ, but of the very saints in whom they boasted.

But, as we have indicated before, there is a branch that cannot yet be called completely esoteric, which is also an important source of medieval demonological knowledge. Grimoires, common since the Late Middle Ages, are the main resources, although today, due to neglect of their editions, they are not always reliable. In any case, its inclusion in the Index librorum prohibitorum shows us that the study of demons, in a positive way, does not necessarily bring greater consequences, but the search for their control does. Therefore, although it seems that we are leaving the medieval question, we must bear in mind that everything that happens in the early Modern Age is the product of the evolution of previous medieval thought. On the other hand, it is interesting that it is in the Renaissance when more grimoires are produced or reproduced than their medieval counterparts, such as the famous Clavicles of Solomon. In the mouth of Culianu (1987), there is also a revival of the esoteric arts.

For example, in the first part of the aforementioned grimoire, the Ars Goetia, which is supposed to contain texts based on others from the 13th and 14th centuries, the spirits that can be invoked have the particularity of being subdued, forced to obey the wishes of the master, while the general idea was the previous subjection of the sorcerer or witch to the devil, who in exchange offered his favors. If this is a thought that the Church ignored or did not want to pay attention to, it is a difficult matter to deal with.

Properly medieval, the Picatrix, an Arabic magic compendium from the 11th century, generally attributed to the mathematician Abu al-Qaim Maslama ibn Ahmad al- Majriti and later translated by Alfonso X the Wise, contains a series of astrological correspondences and auxiliary spells of these forces and spirits, who likewise identified themselves as demons. Or like the Liber iuratus honorii, a grimoire from the 13th century, it also makes a demonic enumeration, between diabolical, angelic and natural magic, with sigils, fumigations, filters... and It begins with a criticism of the Church for not allowing the diffusion of the goods and advantages that magic can provide to humans.

There are also persecuted "magician" authors with their own names: Pietro d'Abano (1250-1318) with his Heptameron or Book of the Elements, was condemned, dying in prison before being executed, his body saved by his faithful friends. In his work, the astrological and natural correspondences with spirits, even though they are mostly angels and archangels, earned him such end.

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) and his disciple Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) are examples of characters who dedicated their efforts to magical studies without sufficient external understanding, since advocating the diversity of beliefs and religions, as well as the study of esoteric thinkers, they were persecuted by the Church, even without demonic mentions.The later authors, already entering Renaissance terrain, also deserve mention, since part of their ideas are based here. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), better known as Agrippa von Nettesheim, a theologian but also a scientist, alchemist and "magician", develops in his work De occulta philoshophia libri tres, - above all, because he also has other extremely interesting works on aspects like numerology - the correspondences between astrology and nature, without neglecting the divine value of creation, and finally, he combines and balances Judeo-Christian demonology. However, his books were also included in the Index librorum prohibitorum, and despite having been protected by different families, many dark legends fell on him, that precipitated him into a poor death.

His disciple, Johan Weyer (ca. 1515 -1588) published in 1563 his work De praestigiis daemonum et incantationibus veneficiis. In this text and its annex, Pseudomonarchia daemonium, he shows a demonic hierarchy organized into princes, ministers and ambassadors, with a perspective of very court of the time. He lists 68 demons in total and binds them to divine power. However, his mission is not to teach magical demonology, but precisely to establish that these forces are superior to any human, which is why he considers all issues related to demonic servitude or diabolical pacts through acts of magic to be farces. For this reason, he also questions the accusations of witchcraft, saying that they only confess the same fantasies of which they are accused, and he is the first, within the mentality of his time, to state that magical acts they are psychological products, and demonic confessions with a true tint, hallucinations or disorders.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -

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-Flores Jiménez, A. Sobre la actividad de los demonios: un tratado bizantino sobre demonología. Revista Universitaria DCGSA-UNAM, 2008
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-Servier, J. (dir.) Diccionario crítico de esoterismo (vol. I) Akal 2006

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