Bifrons – Roman God and Renaissance Demon

Bust of the god Janus, Vatican museum, Rome
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If you’re interested in finding out more about demons and demonology then I am sure you have come across sources such as the Goetia and the Pseudomonarchia daemonum. Both sources have a fairly similar list of demons, which I believe were compiled in the later middle ages/early modern period, just as the interest in magic, demonology and necromancy really started to take hold. This was the era of witchhunts and famour ‘magicians’ such as John Dee, Johann Weyer and Heinrich Agrippa.

King Solomon, arch necromancer?

The lists of demons were allegedly derived from texts written by King Solomon, who according to Gnostic accounts was famous for his control of demons and spirits. However, I think it is likely that the magicians of the early modern period such as Weyer and Agrippa were really just making these lists up based on their knowledge of Christian and Classical myth and legend.

What you get is a strange mix of sources to provide the bibliographies for these demons.

Bifrons

For instance Bifrons, who I have been researching, with a possible starring role in my novel Hell has its Demons, takes a lot of his powers and nature from the Roman god Janus, who was also called Janus Bifrons.

I think whoever came up with the name of Bifrons as a demon was probably looking back through account of various pagan gods and saw this name Janus Bifrons. Janus would perhaps have been too well-known in its Roman context, and perhaps also didn’t sound demonic enough, whereas Bifrons does sound rather devilish.

The Latin meaning of Bifrons

In Latin, the word bifrons sums up the nature of Janus quite well:

two-faced| with/having two faces; having two foreheads; having two sides (from JM Latin English Dictionary)

Bifrons the Renaissance Demon

However, both the Goetia and the Pseudomonarchia daemonum shy away of describing Bifrons in terms that are too reminiscent of Janus. For example from the Goetia:

The Forty-sixth Spirit is called Bifrons, or Bifrous, or Bifrovs. He is an Earl, and appeareth in the Form of a Monster; but after a while, at the Command of the Exorcist, he putteth on the shape of a Man. His Office is to make one knowing in Astrology, Geometry, and other Arts and Sciences. He teacheth the Virtues of Precious Stones and Woods. He changeth Dead Bodies, and putteth them in another place; also he lighteth seeming Candles upon the Graves of the Dead. He hath under his Command 6 Legions of Spirits. His Seal is this, which he will own and submit unto, etc.

Janus was a god of transitions, who could look into the future and the past, and often appeared at gateways. He had some control perhaps over the living and the dead in this gatekeeper role.

The Renaissance demonologists allude to that nature in the fact that he can change dead bodies and has power of divination (although most demons had this power). Perhaps the closest parallel is that the demon Bifrons has too guises: a monster who can change into a man and vice versa.

It’s fascinating to see how the source material from the myth of Janus was used to create a new myth over a thousand years later by the esoteric demonologists of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. The difference is perhaps that Janus was properly worshipped as a god, whereas Bifrons the demon was only ever a work of fiction.

Or was he…

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