My Dictionary of Demons: Names of the Damned was one of my most challenging writing projects to date. I love doing research, and because of this I write mainly non-fiction. But the research involved in producing a dictionary of any sort is extensive, rigorous, and exhausting. I feel obligated as a researcher to check up on my sources and to never assume the accuracy of facts put forth in other books. Not all writers are rigorous about their sources, and it pays to check citations and references. It’s essential to gain access to primary resources because sometimes, once a passage is misquoted, if no one ever checks the original source of the quote, that misquote can appear in text after text. Sometimes my need to sleuth out the sources of my sources can be a bit obsessive. But that obsession for the truth can lead to fascinating revelations. One such revelation that came from my work on the Dictionary of Demons involved the Grand Pantler of Hell and a curious infernal hierarchy.
Many of the sources for the demons names in the Dictionary of Demons are grimoires—old books of magick used throughout certain circles in Europe in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I own a copy the Grand Grimoire compiled and edited by Darcy Kuntz. Kuntz's edition is copied almost verbatim from the section on the Grand Grimoire in A.E. Waite's Book of Black Magic and Pacts. On pages thirty and thirty-one of the Kuntz work, there is an extensive footnote that lists a curious hierarchy of demons. This hierarchy includes, among other things, a Grand Pantler of Hell (keeper of the pantry) and a First Gentleman of the Bedchamber. In the footnote, this hierarchy is attributed to Joseph Wierus in his sixteenth century work, the Pseudomonarcia Daemonum. The problem is, I had already read through the Pseudomonarcia, and I had not run across anything that looked one bit like this bizarre and extensive hierarchy. Furthermore, the language used for the positions of these various demons did not sound like it came from the fifteenth century. With a demonic chief of secret police and a commissioner of public works (Nergal and Alastor, respectively), the titles sounded a great deal more modern. They seriously reminded me of the kind of royal positions one might find in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King.
I knew that the Pseudomonarcia Daemonum was actually part of a much longer work by Wierus bearing the title De Praestigiis Daemonum ("Of the Magick of Demons"). This was a book published originally in 1563 that contained the scholar Wierus' thoughts on demons, witchcraft, and the truth behind demonic magick as it was understood during the time. The book takes a much more rational and humanistic approach than many works by Wierus' contemporaries, and it stands in stark contrast with books like the nefarious Malleus Maleficarum—the so-called "Hammer of Witches" written by two the Dominican Inquisitors with truly vivid imaginations.
Tracking down the Pseudomonarcia Daemonum was not all that difficult, but tracking down the full text of De Praestigiis Daemonum was much harder. The book is terribly long, and very few full translations remained in print. A careful search on the Internet revealed a copy of the third printing of the work. This was being sold for 5,500 Euros, and while I do love owning the books that I use for my research, that price was a little too rich for me. Since Wierus' original text was in Latin, I began to wonder whether or not the colorful hierarchy was simply the result of bad Latin on the part of one of his readers. The footnote in the Darcy Kuntz edition of the Grand Grimoire went back directly to A.E. Waite and his Book of Black Magic and of Pacts. It wasn't outside the realm of imagination that Waite had muddled the Latin—but I needed to see the original Latin to be sure.
At the time that I was engaged in my mad search for a copy of Wierus's book, a friend of mine was working for the University of Michigan. As it turned out, the U of M actually had a copy of De Praestigiis Daemonum in its extensive collection of manuscripts. This was in the original Latin, so it would be challenging to read, but I felt I could hold my own. My friend (the talented Jackie Williams, who designed the demonic alphabet that adorns my Dictionary of Demons) gave me access to a digitized version of the book, and I spent the next several hours pouring through the virtual pages, trying to verify whether or not the hierarchy appeared anywhere within Weirus’ work.
As exciting as it was to be reading a sixteenth century Latin manuscript in its original form, the end of my search was nevertheless disappointing. Despite the fact that Kuntz, Waite, and several others all attributed this hierarchy to Wierus, De Praestigiis Daemonum contained nothing whatsoever on a Grand Pantler of Hell. There was a section that listed a series of demons, starting with Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies. All of the demons in this list appear in the hierarchy. They also appear in the same order in Weirus' book as they do in the hierarchy. But this is where the similarity ends. Weirus' section with Beelzebub and the other demons was actually a surprisingly lucid discussion of the various demons whose names appear in the Bible as well as beings from other mythologies commonly identified as demons.
Gaining access to Weirus' work helped me confirm that he did not create the curious hierarchy. However, since the hierarchy referenced by Kuntz and Waite had the same demons appearing in the same order as this section of De Praestigiis Daemonum, I began to suspect that someone had gained access to Weirus' work but could not read all of the Latin. In fact, it seemed to me that someone had read over that exact same passage, was able to make out only the names and perhaps "Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies," mistook it for a hierarchy, and made up the rest to fill in the blanks. So now I needed to turn my attention to any scholars of demonology writing after Weirus but before Waite. The first name that came to mind was Collin de Plancy.
Writing in the early 1800s, Collin de Plancy produced a work entitled Dictionnaire Infernal, or "The Dictionary of Demons." De Plancy was a colorful fellow, well-educated and prolific, with an interest in a wide range of topics. He was a free-thinker, influenced strongly by the works of Voltaire. But despite the rationalist views espoused by Voltaire and similar free-thinkers at the time, De Plancy became increasingly obsessed with demons and the occult. He compiled his research on the topic, including a wealth of anecdotal information collected from throughout Europe, in a massive book called the Dictionnaire Infernal. First published in 1818, the work became one of the most widely recognized authorities on the subject of demonology—even though some critics seriously questioned De Plancy's scholarship and methodology. Despite these criticisms, the book was republished numerous times throughout the nineteenth century. The book also became the source for a number of fairly famous illustrations of demons—notably images of the sigils of the seventy-two Goetic demons presented in the first book of the Lesser Key of Solomon.
Given De Plancy's primacy, as well as the doubts cast upon the rigors of his scholarship, it seemed likely that the misrepresentation of Wierus's work could very well stem from him. I started searching for a copy of his book in either English or the original French. Eventually, I found a 1965 edition translated into English and published by the Philosophical Library available through a seller online. The price wasn't too astronomical, so I ordered it. Once it arrived in the mail, I opened the package, eager for the moment of truth.
The truth hurt. The entries in this text were so abbreviated, it was impossible to tell where any of De Plancy's information arose. The hierarchy in question was there, at least in part. An entry on the demon Melchom describes him as "Master of the Purse." But there was no direct reference to Wierus or any other originator of this description of the infernal court.
I might never have solved the problem of the origins of the wrongly attributed hierarchy if not for a unique confluence of events during a search on the Internet. Kismet surely played a role in my discovery, because I had given up hope of tracking down the real origin of the Grand Pantler of Hell. Instead, I was double-checking some of the traditional hierarchies of angels as they were presented first by early Church fathers like Origin and pseudo-Dionysus, and then later as they were represented in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Somehow—and I don't think I could retrace the specific chain of links—this brought me to a link that described what I had come to call the "Grand Pantler Hierarchy of Demons." The link was on the first page of the Google search and, as a lark, I clicked it to see whether or not it might finally lead to a resolution of the mystery.
Much to my surprise, it did.
The link described a curious three-volume set of books by an even curiouser individual by the name of Alexis-Vincent-Charles Berbiguier. A Frenchman who lived between 1765 and 1851, Berbiguier believed himself to be plagued by a host of demons that he referred to as "farfadets," or "goblins." He claimed not only to have been repeatedly victimized by these demons (among other things, they were responsible for the death of his pet squirrel, Coco), but he also allegedly carried out extensive correspondence with them, both sending and receiving letters from the various emissaries of Hell. Berbiguier wrote and illustrated his three-volume autobiography and published it between the years of 1818 and 1820 for the benefit of others who might learn how to battle with demons through his own experiences. He titled the massive, rambling work Des Farfadets, ou Tous les démons ne sont pas de l'autre monde (Goblins: or Not All Demons Are from the Other World). In this work, he offers extensive information on the court of Hell, describing Satan as a deposed prince, with Beelzebub ruling in his place. Rhotomago, Berbiguier's personal tormentor, supposedly answered directly to Beelzebub.
The complete hierarchy attributed to Wierus in both Darcy Kuntz's edition of the Grand Grimoire and A. E. Waite's Book of Ceremonial Magic clearly stems from Berbiguier's work. As I was pouring through Berbiguier's original French, I worried for a moment that Berbiguier simply copied his description of the infernal court wholesale from De Plancy. Both De Plancy and Berbiguier had their books published at around the same time. But it made so much sense that this crazy hierarchy tied back to Berbiguier and no one else—the man was clearly delusional, and alongside the list of demons that served in the hellish court, there were several living individuals named as accomplices to the demons. These were presented as living ambassadors to Hell, and they are all individuals that Berbiguier encountered directly in his private life. From the text of Des Farfadets, it's pretty obvious that these were people that Berbiguier ran afoul of in some capacity or another (one is a doctor that he went to consult, who no doubt rebuffed Berbiguier's claims of being tormented by demons), and the demented Frenchman then demonized them, convincing himself that their attitudes toward him were influenced by their allegiance to his enemies.
Still, because Berbiguier's and De Plancy's books were published in the same year, I had my doubts. Would De Plancy have even heard of Berbiguier? They were both French, but that seemed a slim reason indeed to assume that they someone knew or corresponded with one another. What I needed was to find original copies of both Berbiguier's work and De Plancy's first few editions of the Dictionnaire Infernal so I could comb the French for any reference made by one man to the other. Fortunately, Googlebooks came to my rescues. This digitized resource of copyright-free works on the Internet contains several editions of De Plancy's Dictionnaire. And, on page 157 of the 1863 (or 1853) revised edition, under the heading of "cour infernal" (infernal court), the whole hierarchy appears. It starts with a reference that implies Wierus as the source:
"Wierus et d'autres démonomanes, versés dans l'intime connaissance des enfers, ont découvert qu'il y avait là des princes, des nobles, des officiers, etc."
This certainly makes it read as if the hierarchy that follows comes directly from the works of Wierus, but at the end of the entry there appears this citation: Berbiguier. Further, a footnote on the same entry cites Des Farfadets.
Victory! It was clear from the wording of the entry in this edition that Waite and Kuntz were referring directly to this text. Waite's footnote reproduces an English translation of the entry that is practically verbatim of De Plancy's original. But Waite probably knew nothing of poor, tormented Berbiguier and his paranoid delusions of demons (who, I suspect, got his hands on a copy of De Praestigiis Daemonum and badly mangled the Latin). Instead, all he saw was the opening reference to Wierus and assumed, albeit erroneously, that the content of the entry stemmed directly from Wierus's most famous work, the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum. Everyone quoting Waite thereafter, and everyone quoting De Plancy, never stopped to double-check the supposed source itself, which resulted in such a merry chase on my part.
The moral of this story, of course, is that it pays to check your sources, even though tracking down primary resources can sometimes be a real pain. Sleuthing out sources like De Praestigiis Daemonum and Des Farfadets was much harder in Waite's time. But in the digital age, there is almost no excuse for sloppy scholarship. I cannot put enough emphasis on the value of the project undertaken by Googlebooks. They have been salvaging books that might otherwise have been lost to the ravages of time and making them freely available to anyone with access to the Internet. In the past, a lot of the research of my own Dictionary of Demons would have required that I travel to libraries all over the US and Europe just to gain access to the surviving copies of books like De Praestigiis Daemonum. Thanks to Googlebooks, I now know where the Grand Pantler of Hell comes from—although I remain baffled as to why Hell needed a Grand Pantler in the first place!
A star on television's Paranormal State, Michelle Belanger wears many creative hats. Other media appearances include the History Channel's Vampire Secrets, Monsterquest, CNN Headline News, HBO's True Bloodlines, Fox, ...