Friday, October 24, 2008

The Ever-Recurring Invocation of Infernal Imps

As a result of an unexpected series of jumps across the world wide web, I ended on an online version of James Charles Wall’s 1904 book Devils — Their Origin and Their History. Weird, I know, but the book’s warped and somewhat naïve worldview encouraged me to continue with it, kind of in the way I’m compelled to have conversations with old people who still stay “Siam” when they mean “Thailand” and “Mohammedians” when they mean “Muslims” and “mimeograph” when they try to mean “fax machine.”

Below, I’ve recorded some highlights:

In casual invocation of the Devil’s name: The Devil is adjured not only at the coster’s stall but at the dinner-table, sometimes even before the ladies have left the sterner sex to the enjoyment of nicotine; while the drawing room, the ballroom and the boudoir are not altogether innocent of the same.

No, not the coster’s stall!

On the demon family tree: Devils form a large family of every age and nationality. The Talmudists asserted that they numbered 7,405,926. How they arrived at these numbers it is impossible to say; yet, after all, these were but few compared with the same learned authorities’ numbering of the angels who guarded souls from the attacks of these seven and odd million; they run into the quadrillions, a matter of sixteen figures.

That’s some sound census data right there.

On devils and their “colouring”: Devils are said to vary considerably in color, but from the same causes as their human victims their own variation of tint: torrid or temperate zones affect them not. We hear of blue devils lurking before the uncontrollable vision of those who have become confirmed inebriates and pass through a sort of Patrick’s Purgatory, such as is so vividly described by medieval historians of the Emerald Isle.

I don’t know what I’m more amused by: the sheer revulsion I imagine when this guy writes about people from torrid regions or his willingness to enforce what, for all I know, was a brand new stereotype about Irish people back when this was written.

On devil-worship in the East: There exists an order of devil-priests who set up their altars to those of the orthodox Buddha. Their oaths are made in the Devil’s name. His name is mentioned with reverence and with a prefix equivalent of your highness. They will not even pronounce any word beginning with the sound sh, that being solely reserved for his name Sheitan (i.e. Satan)… Among these people the Devil is worshipped under the form of a bronze-gilt cock.

No joke here. This just does not seem accurate. Why would “Easterners” use the Judeo-Christian word for the Devil?

And more: China simply teems with them; indeed, there is one particular province known as “Demonland.”

No.

On Jewish devils: The ancient Jews supposed that the demons were propogated like mankind; they ate and drank, were married and divorced.

Doesn’t supposing that demons marry and divorce ascribe a certain level of civility to them that this author would disagree with?

On the demonic hierarchies: From another source is gathered the distribution of the satanic embassies and the minister to whom they are allotted. Thus, Belphego is the Devil’s ambassador in France; Tharung, in Spain; Hutgin, in Italy; Martinet, in Switzerland; and Belial, in Turkey. His grand almoner is Dagon; His banker is Asmodeus, and the chief of the eunuchs is Succor Benoth. His theatrical manager is Kobal; master of ceremonies, Verdelet; and the court fool, Nybbas… No mention is made of a navy in connection with Hell… In fact, there must be one continuous drought in those quarters.

If we actually knew the names and locations of these Satanic emissaries, wouldn’t it be fairly easy to stop them? You know — with Jesus power?

The book also includes some cool artwork, like this one which depicts some Englishman’s imagining of what a Japanese devil should look like:


And this one, depicting the fall of Lucifer:


In conclusion: The Devil is bad, but it’s okay to be obsessed with him if you do it under the pretenses of academia. Either way, for reading and writing this, respectively, you and I will probably be joining J. Charles Wall in Hell.

2 comments:

  1. I've been reading a book on Gutenberg from 1919 called Jewish Fables and Legends, and that thing about demons "propagating like mankind" was an element in one of the stories. Apparently they even have their own synagogue.

    "Know then," said the rabbi, "thou art not in a land of human beings. Thou hast fallen into Ergetz, the land of demons, of djinns, and of fairies."

    "But art thou not a Jew?" asked Bar Shalmon, in astonishment.

    "Truly," replied the rabbi. "Even in this realm we have all manner of religions just as you mortals have."


    The passage in question starts around here.

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  2. That is bizarre. I feel like a schmuck saying like this, but it's almost quaint that someone imagine this otherworldly race of things behaving so much like humans. Also kind of self-centered.

    I wonder: Are the Jewish demons allowed to haunt Christians, Muslims and Buddhists? Or would they be more inclined to torment those who don't share their religion?

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