Written by Jonathan Wojcik
September 20: Top Ten "Dictionnaire Infernal" Demons
Top Ten "Dictionnaire Infernal" Demons
I grew up next door to one of those families who wouldn't let their children touch anything with a sheet ghost or a witch on it, or, for that matter, watch most cartoons or play with most toys, entirely on the basis that evil, supernatural monsters live under the ground and that dabbling in anything too cool would, I don't know, give them big fat boners or something. Of course, any association between my favorite holiday and the forces of hell is historically and culturally baseless in every way, and thus, all the same fanciful folklore as leprechauns, El Chupacabras and hot Martian spy-girls, serving only to fuel our imaginations and kill some time on a planet where the real magical monsters are the single-celled wonders too small for us to see. So yeah, eat it, Kurek family! I'm going to talk about devils for Halloween today, and all those invisible fiends floating around your heads are going to pop so many boners it won't even be funny.
Well, maybe a little funny.
Published in 1818, Collin De Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal was originally intended to compile demons, devils and fallen angels as mere cultural constructs, until De Plancy's growing Catholic faith lead to the final 1863 revision, now conforming to what he considered factual, authentic Biblical canon - a real life Book of Vile Darkness to be wielded in the fight against evil.
Whatever the intention or edition, however, the book is best remembered for its beautifully engraved illustrations, portraying major figures of the underworld in an array of eerily outlandish forms, like the towering horror above, as disturbing as it is ridiculous. Unfortunately, this guy wasn't actually named, so I decided he should be exempt from my top ten list. Go sit in the corner, lanky dog-stork-lizard, and play with your 18th century aristocrat!
Demon #10: BEHEMOTH
Some people say the Behemoth is just some big, dopey hippopotamus. Others claim that it's a clear description of a dinosaur, because that would allegedly prove dinosaurs existed as recently as a few thousand years ago, and that would allegedly throw a wrench into evolutionary theory (SPOILER: it actually wouldn't). Whatever, dudes. De Plancy apparently thought Behemoth should be an evil demon elephant man, which I have to agree is a lot cooler than either theory. This pernicious pachyderm is described as a demon of gluttony and a butler of hell. Did Butler mean anything different in 1818 than it does now? I hope not, because I like where my imagination is heading. NO, BEHEMOTH! THOSE ARE FOR THE GUESTS!
Demon #9: CAIM
It's interesting to consider that apparently no-one in De Plancy's lifetime thought this little bird-captain was too cute for a demon of hell, though I'm sure people in 1818 thought that darling little birds caused smallpox and tornadoes, or something, right? Honestly though, Caim's innocent exterior here does make him fairly disturbing. You would know something was wrong if a pigeon with arms was strutting around your front lawn with a sword. Caim is a politician of hell, and can be summoned to gain "an understanding of all birds, lowing of bullocks, and barking of dogs." That's...oddly specific. Just the three? And do we really mean bullocks, which are literally only bulls that have been neutered? At least you can still do more with bird communication than all the powers of Aquaman.
Demon #8: IPOS
What is it about perfectly normal bird heads that look so damn wrong out of context? Heironymous Bosch knew all about it, which reminds me of another countdown list I ought to do. Ipos would be almost laughable if not for those hideous claws, and there's even something unnerving about this ridiculous thing standing upright. Ipos is an Earl and Prince of hell with thirty six legions, can divulge any information from the past, present or future and "can make men witty and valiant." That's some pretty hardcore indispensable stuff from a guy with a tiny, bobbling (I'm just assuming it bobbles. Didn't you?) goose head.
Demon #7: UKOBACH
The intense eyes and caricatured features of this hobgoblin make far more potent nightmare fuel than most of these other guys, but it's kind of offset by his description as "inventor of fireworks and the art of frying foods." We have this crazy bastard to thank for chicken tenders and funnelcakes? And he's supposed to be "evil?"
...Heart disease? What's that?
Demon #6: STOLAS
Like Caim, De Plancy's illustration of Stolas looks more huggable than unholy, but don't let the snuggly owl head fool you, this is just another prince of Hell, who teaches people about astronomy and poisonous plants like a dirty demonic bastard. Sounds like the kind of monster who even sides with "scientific facts" and "medical technology." I bet he even thinks that vaccinations aren't brain-eating voodoo poison.
Demon #5: AMON
You don't know how hard it was to decide which owl-headed fiend deserved which of two slots, but with a beak full of slavering fangs, this wingless, legless, tail-dragging freak-bird was the winner for looks alone. The accompanying text never actually describes the thing we're looking at here, but says he can appear as a man with a fanged owl's head or as a wolf with a snake tail. I guess this is mid-transformation. While threatening to behold, Amon's diabolical talent supposedly lies in...settling disagreements and making peace between enemies. Alright then. I suppose that could be pretty evil, like, if Bush and Cheney totally hated each other before he showed up.
Yeah, my jokes are pretty fresh.
Demon #4: BUER
Buer is described in the book as appearing like a rolling "five-branched star or wheel," which sounds refreshingly abstract, though the first thing that comes to my mind is definitely not a five-legged muppet head. This depiction has become fairly iconic, appearing in Japanese video games, heavy metal albums and even in Dungeons and Dragons as one of the dumbest monsters ever. De Plancy wrote that Buer teaches logic, herbal medicine and can heal the sick, again just sounding totally nonthreatening and friendly. I suppose that's the whole point of these guys, doing great stuff at the cost of human souls. Boy would they feel stupid if they went through that for thousands of years and it just turned out that demons exist, but souls don't.
Demon #3: RIBESAL
It's difficult to find information on this one, and even harder to find images, which is a damn shame seeing as we're looking at a lobster clawed, fly armed, tomato headed barrel man. The best part of this asshole is every single part, but the most best part are the fork and spoon sticking out of his head. The book only says that this is some sort of mountain-dwelling spirit who affects the weather, but further digging implies that he's a much bigger mythical figure from the Czech republic, depicted variably as a vengeful, destructive monster or a friendly, magical goblin. Either way, he has little to do with Judeo-Christian demonology, making his inclusion an arbitrary excuse for De Plancy to draw a fruit headed crab-gremlin. I know that feeling.
Demon #2: BEELZEBUB
Oh, like you didn't see this one coming. I've talked about this particular image before, and some of the inventive monsters it's inspired across a plethora of anime, manga and fantasy gaming. This striking giant insect stands out pretty far from the pigeon-donkeys and goat-monkeys populating the rest of the text, though his official description really only gives him run-of-the-mill human and serpent forms. I'm glad De Plancy took the "lord of the flies" title as an excuse to draw a bug. Again, I relate.
Demon #1: BAEL
Bael is apparently the highest ranking demon in the book, and there's definitely something about this weirdo that demands top billing. How do you compete with a cat-man-spider-toad in a humongous crown? All three heads look incredibly goofy on that little buggy body, but you don't laugh when you see something like this floating up out of a burning pool of blood, or whatever. I can totally buy an evil spirit assuming this form in mockery of all creation, or perhaps cursed with it after falling to the underworld. It's all the more disquieting how he looks either mournful, apologetic or terrified depending on the head. That frog. It just stares. That frog. Bael, you are one creepy-ass son of a bitch.
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