Review: The Dictionary of Demons – Michelle Belanger

The Dictionary of Demons: Names of the Damned – Michelle Belanger
Llewellyn. 2010. 362 pp. with appendices. 9780738723068.

For the sake of transparency before I start this review I will admit to two reasons why I could be biased toward the book.
1. Michelle is a friend of mine.
2. Jackie, the very talented artist who did the alphabet art and several seals and pieces of art within the book, is also a friend or lab partner.
Of course people who know me, know I’m not exactly easy on most of my friends…

From Aariel to Zynextyur (is he next to your what?) this book has a listing of over 1,500 demons from the grimoiric tradition. This book is an amazing wealth of information on the entities within. Michelle worked strictly from an academic perspective; personal experiences and ideas do not enter into the text, only what information Michelle could dig up from the grimoires. Dig up is a great way to put it, Michelle went through an extensive process of several years of cataloguing these demons and searching for more information, other translations, older manuscripts. The common and popular texts like the Lemegaton and the Book of Abramelin were used, as well as more obscure texts like Liber Juratus Honorii, Caelestis Hierarchia, and Liber de Angelis.

“This book is not intended to be a how-to book on grimoiric magick” (10) instead it is as the title says a dictionary of names that have appeared in various texts. Names, ranks, and powers are given, along with much more. The entries on a demon let the reader know what grimoire they appear in and in many cases the several grimoires they have lent their names too, as well as information like what their name may be derived and distorted from as well as showing how some demons are most likely the same figure but over the course of years scribal errors have pushed their names further apart. Michelle pieces together part of the puzzle of grimoires, by analyzing names and lack of names in different texts Michelle attempts to establish a connection and timeline between the various books. Interspersed with the different entries are small articles by Michelle and Jackie about various relevant topics to the text, such as the scribal process involved in medieval grimoires, the history of Jewish appropriation in Christian mysticism, and comparing different lists of what demon rules what directions.

While most of the book is written in a straight forward manner Michelle was not above the occasional humorous observation. “From the profusion of [love] spells in all the magickal texts, it would seem that practitioners of the black arts had a very difficult time find a date in the Middle Ages” (15) or pointing out that Pist, who helps you catch a thief, has a name that sounds like how one would feel when stolen from (247).

While reading it I only noted one thing that seemed off in that Michelle attributed Mather’s translation of The Sacred Mage of Abramelin the Mage to a 15th century manuscript, when I have always seen the French manuscript dated to the 18th century. All in all I was greatly pleased and impressed with the effort, resources, and scholarship Michelle put into this book. While not a practical how-to guide, this book is an invaluable resource of names and histories for those interested in the grimoiric tradition. I felt the plot was a bit dry, but it had a wicked cast of characters.

Also for those wanting a related, but simpler text, I recommend you check out Michelle and Jackie’s D is for Demon. It is a delightful (not for) children’s book of rhymes leading you through 26 demons. I, of course, got a copy for my two-year old niece to make sure she is brought up right.

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