Yes, the devil has oversight of the great fiery plains and mountain ranges which, it is held by some, await a proportion of us when we die. But to get anything done in hell is fiendishly difficult unless you know the right bloke to talk to.
It’s a bit like Virgin call centres. Yada,yada,yada goes the operative on the other end of the phone, and you know that not a blind bit of good will come of your call, and your internet will stay unfixed. But you don’t go to Richard Branson next, do you? You ask that magic question. You say “I’d like to be escalated to the next level, please.”
And if you ask that enough times you go up to the inner circle of Virgin customer service. The telephonic sanctum.
Lucifer is far too lofty to help us with our figurative internet connections. For big demons to be involved in small stuff, you approach a character called Lucifuge Rofocale.
I know this because Honorius of Thebes told me.
Or rather, he wrote it down in his handy how-to for demon control, The Sworn Book Of Honorius, the Rentokil of the world of demons. No-one knows who Honorius was, or indeed, exactly when he wrote his recipe book; it was around by the thirteenth century, mentioned by Johannes Gottlieb in 1456. He includes nuts-and-bolts advice for he who wishes to control demons, alongside a brief organisational chart of hell itself.
It sounds like a cookbook at times: “For the planet Saturn take the seed of black poppy, the seed of henbane, the root of mandrake, and of the stone in powder called magnes, and of myrrh, equal portions, mix all these together with the brains of a black cat, and the blood of backes called fluider mice [i.e. bats], having respect to the quantity that it be odiforous of the goumie afore specified, keeping it very well for your use as is first written. ”
Alongside all his recipes, he names Rofocale as the demon who was most likely to get things done.
But none of this was accessible to the common people: because who could afford lavish hand copied scripts?
No: it was the advent of the printed grimoire which made Honorius’s work, and the plethora of grimoires which followed in its wake, available to Everyman. And indeed, to the lowliest of the low: to women. Women were about to get their hands on Rofocale.
In 1599, the Church published Indexes of Prohibited Books, banning a whole range of grimoires. Their readership was itself demonised.
I mention this because on this day, 400 years ago, a group of men and women from Pendle, Lancashire woke up to meet the second day of their trial at Lancaster Assizes.
Six of the witches came from two families, each led by a woman in her eighties. It was common practice for people to call themselves witches, operating in effect as village healers: and when a pedlar on his way to Halifax was asked for pins by a local woman of hat persuasion -Alizon Device- he would not sell them. Witches used pins for dark deeds, he reasoned.
As he walked away from her he stumbled – it is thought he suffered a stroke – and managed to stagger to the local inn.
Alizon confessed she had told the devil to lame the pedlar, and through questioning began to implicate her own family and other locals. The thing snowballed. The trial was chronicled in The Wonderfull Dicouverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.
It makes surreal reading: talking dogs announcing themselves as demons, a Grimm tale long before its day. It is unlikely families such as this could afford a printed grimoire. Perhaps they had their own book of shadows, or relied on their recollection.
Did they know the magic name of Luifuge Rofocale? Who knows.
But this day, four centuries ago, did not end well for them.
Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: “The Recipe is…” which you can find here
Picture source here