Category Archives: Magic, Marvels and Monsters

Bifrons – Roman God and Renaissance Demon

Bust of the god Janus, Vatican museum, Rome
Image via Wikipedia

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.


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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Season of the Witch Website Updated

Some work seems to have been done on the previously threadbare website for Season of the Witch! Unfortunately the site still uses annoying flash players to slow down loading of content, but now there is more than just a brief synopsis and trailer video.

You also get sections on:

  • Story – the synopsis again with some weird sort of scrolling action going on – again not very user friendly!
  • Gallery – pictures each of which take about a minute to load because of the silly flash player!
  • Cast & Crew – also limited by the flash player
  • Downloads – wallpapers of different still photos and sizes

Doesn’t really add too much. I would be interested to see some sort of cast and crew interview or maybe a new trailer!

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Interpretation of Hell in Hell has its Demons

Fallen angels in Hell
Image via Wikipedia

I have been working through some ideas of how to portray hell in my novel Hell has its Demons. If you read the synopsis of the story you’ll have noticed that it ends with a journey by some of the main characters into hell itself. As the story is set in the middle ages there is some quite rich imaginative material for how hell was seen. The most obvious example being Dante’s Inferno, which is a complex and masterfully imagined place. Other medieval portrayals often depict it as a pit of fire where sinners are eaten or tortured by demons, including Satan himself. Dante’s portrayal is more subtle – with complex punishments depending on the exact nature of the sin. Also he put Satan frozen in ice, doomed to remain there as he breathes out frozen air himself so ensuring he will never be able to break free. Peter Lombard, writing before Dante,  said there were two opinions of Satan’s freedom. Either he was able to roam and tempt man on earth, or some others believed that he was bound in prison in hell until Antichrist should come, then he would be loosed to seduce men in the final days of apocalypse.

I have thought about approaching the portrayal from  a different point of view. As I see it Satan is really doing a job for God – after all God wants sinners to be punished doesn’t he, and Satan sort of makes sure this process gets done. So in my version I think Satan will probably have his freedom, but set under strict limits by God. For instance he can’t go into the world and seduce people unless God wills it – for instance to test a candidate for sainthood maybe.

Punishing sinners is a fairly tedious and onerous job for most demons as well. They can’t appear in their own form, but rather as shadowy air – according to Peter Lombard – and there must have been a lot more work for them as the number of sinners constantly increases. I am thinking that there would need to be a strict shift pattern for demons and a hierarchy of supervisors to make sure things got done. I wondered what hell would be like if a modern dictator got his hands on it – well probably quite bureaucratic and efficient and that I think will influence my portrayal of hell in this story.

There will be traditional elements – demons will appear monstrous, but I wanted to add more complexity. Some of the demons will have been recruited from amongst men – just as angels could be created from saints – and perhaps some of these men might be a little less willing to do their hellish duty than others?

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New content in Magic in the Middle Ages

I just added a new page in the Magic in the Middle Ages section:

Cases of Magic in Medieval England

This contains a couple of cases mentioned by Henry Charles Lea in his famous History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. It is interesting to note that magic was fairly rare as an offence in England, and, of course, the inquisition itself never formally operated in England.

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Magic in the Middle Ages pages updated

I have updated the pages I have on Magic in the Middle Ages. Some of these have been re-ordered, but I have also added new content, including excerpts from some primary sources. In particular I would recommend checking out the Peter Lombard page, he had quite a bit to say about the nature of angels and demons.

I am adding content as I get a chance whilst researching background for my novel Hell has its Demons. Hope some of you find this information useful!

What did people believe in the Middle Ages, Part 2: Medical knowledge in the Middle Ages and Natural Science

Imagine you are suffering from a bad fever, aches, cough and general flu like symptoms. You might even have the fearsome swine flu. Nowadays you might take pain-killers to relieve the symptoms, or seek medical advice in case you had something more serious.

In the Middle Ages, if you could afford to see a doctor, it’s likely that a course of bleeding or phlebotomy would be prescribed.

Phlebotomy or Bloodletting

Phlebotomy was the practice popularized by the Ancient Greek medical authority Galen, which advocated the letting of blood from a patient (and anyone in order to maintain health). Symptoms such as fevers, headaches or apoplexy were thought to be induced by an imbalance of humours, which could be reduced by the letting of blood, as blood was thought to accumulate in the body. The idea of a circulation of blood having not been discovered at that time.

Medieval doctors based their practice on Galen and continued the practice of bloodletting. It was used to not only cure, but also to maintain health. For instance monks would routinely spend time in their infirmary to have bloodletting.

As can be seen from the above image, it was believed that bleeding in different parts of the body relieved different ailments. Much in the manner that treatments such as acupuncture and reflexology are supposed to work today. There are probably similarities in that it is likely that any positive effects would by psychosomatic rather than physical only.

Cauterization or branding

Related to bloodletting and perhaps more extreme was the remedy of cauterization or branding. Again the practice prescribed branding in different parts of the body to relieve different ailments.


The third strand of medieval medicine consisted of the use of various potions and poultices often based on herbal remedies. Some of these no doubt were effective if they used the right ingredients, for instance raspberry leaf to cure pain. But others such as fried mouse to cure whooping cough were sheer fancy but held to be just as effective.

Astrology and Natural Magic

Binding all these medical practices together was a deeply held belief in the influence of the stars and planets on events on earth. For instance there was a theory that different signs of the zodiac influenced different parts of the body. Again Galen, the principal medical authority, was to blame with his platonic belief that the stars influenced man and the diseases that affected him.

A step on from the herbal remedies of medieval medicine were what was in effect natural magic, i.e. the manipulation of elements in nature by man. This was now outside the sphere perhaps of the doctor and perhaps more in the area of the wise woman, who would in the early modern era be labelled a witch, who might administer a cure along with a conjuration bidding the disease to depart the patient’s body.

Conclusion of Part 2: Medical or Spiritual Cures?

So where did this leave the medieval man or woman requiring treatment for illness. If they were lucky an appropriate medicine might be prescribed, or perhaps the very act of seeking treatment would have a psychosomatic affect and help them get better. But it was very likely that if there ailment was serious medicine might be of very little help with them. And of course as it was often mixed with magic elements such as astrology the doctor could always blame the configuration of the stars for his patient’s continued suffering.

So a lack of scientific advancement held back medicine. Medieval people simply didn’t have the tools and knowledge to understand how health worked. They certainly liked to keep clean, but they might not understand the links between protecting water supplies from pollution and health. They thought in fact that the smell was the problem. So they would try to separate tanning for instance from residential areas, but they may not realise that they needed to protect the water supply too to prevent sewage entering drinking water. Although the staple drink was beer rather than water so they must have known that drinking water could be bad for you.

My thesis as stated in the first post of this series is that a lack of advancement in medicine lead to more deeply ingrained popular belief in religion in ancient and medieval times. The lack of effective medicine at this time meant that an earthly cure was unlikely to be thought superior to a spiritual one as the chances of being cured were fairly low, and also linked already to preternatural elements – i.e. the movements of the stars.

Part 3 will examine the nature of popular belief in the middle ages, especially the major functions of religion for most people at the time.

Sheridan Le Fanu Through a Glass Darkly

I’m currently reading Through a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu. This is not a novel per se, but a collection of five ghost stories connected by a common narrator – a Dr Hesselius. The stories remind me of some of the ghost stories by Henry James – Turn of the Screw etc, but also of Sherlock Holmes, as they have an almost investigative aspect to them. Often the afore mentioned narrator or even another Dr or priest is trying to find a medical or metaphysical explanation for strange occurences.

I am enjoying the first two stories that I have read so far – there is a good building of tension, which the Jamesian allusive prose adds to.