In these uncertain times when it is hard to tell angels from demons, who better to point the way through life than fallen angels who know both sides of the story? These angels were banished from Heaven for various reasons, some because when Adam was created they refused to bow before him and accept him as a superior creation. Others for almost the opposite reason, because they fell in love with the beautiful daughters of men and took them as wives.
These were the Watchers or Grigori briefly alluded to in Genesis Ch 6: ‘The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose . . . There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.’
The Book of Enoch (Ch 7) tells the tale in more detail: ‘It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful. And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamoured of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children . . . Then they took wives, each choosing for himself; whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited; teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees . . . Moreover, Azazyel taught men to make swords, knives, shields, breastplates, the fabrication of mirrors, and the workmanship of bracelets and ornaments, the use of paint, the beautifying of the eyebrows, the use of stones of every valuable and select kind, and of all sorts of dyes, so that the world became altered.’
And then there were other angels who fell to Earth seemingly by accident during the great war between Lucifer and the other archangels.
Whatever their origin, the fallen angels view our world from behind the scenes and with a clearer view than us of the invisible mechanisms that govern our lives. They also have an ambivalent morality closer to that of pagan gods or the Celtic faery folk than what we usually think of as angels and demons.
So where, you may be wondering, have the angels in our pack of cards come from? There are countless known names of angels in circulation from which we could have chosen. See for instance Gustav Davidson’s A Dictionary of Angels or have a browse of the apocryphal Book of Enoch (which was the source of many of Jesus’ scriptural quotations which are to be found nowhere in the Bible) and they will leap out at you in abundance. But what we were looking for was a coherent set of fallen angels that cover a wide range of talents and inclinations and that might reasonably be expected to co-operate in fortune-telling. And it so happens that there is just such a group hovering on the edge of the occult and clearly documented in several manuscripts of venerable antiquity.
Since the days of wise King Solomon some three thousand years ago there have been legends that he built his marvellous temple with the aid of demons and fallen angels whom he compelled to the work by means of a magical ring given to him by the archangel Michael. This ring had a stone engraved with a powerful sigil or symbol known as Solomon’s Seal which the fallen angels were powerless to resist.
The story is told in several apocryphal scriptures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, including the Testament of Solomon, a book which claims to have been written by Solomon himself. In its earliest surviving form this scripture dates from at least a thousand years later and contains Christian, pagan Greek and astrological references that Solomon himself could not have known, but it was almost certainly elaborated from a much earlier source and the outline of the story appears elsewhere in similarly ancient writings.
The Testament of Solomon tells of how a boy, one of Solomon’s favourite servants engaged on building his temple, was plagued by a demon called Ornias. Each evening this demon would appear to the boy and steal half his day’s wages and half his food. Then he would suck blood from the boy’s right thumb so that day by day he was visibly wasting away. Solomon, when he learned what was going on, prayed in the temple and was rewarded by a visit from the archangel Michael, who gave him the magic ring, by means of which he was able to subdue Ornias, Beelzebub and a host of other fallen angels.
Other accounts number them at precisely 72, along with their legions of followers who were then set to work on the temple in various roles according to their talents. Then when the temple building was complete, Solomon is supposed to have sealed up the angels in a magical brass vessel which he cast into a lake near Babylon. There they should have remained till the end of time but some Babylonians heard rumours of what Solomon had done. Thinking that the brass vessel must contain some great treasure they fished it out of the waters and broke it open; whereupon the trapped spirits flocked out and returned to their places. Apart, that is, from Belial who entered a bronze statue in Babylon where during the glory years of that empire he was their chief oracle.
There are various lists of these angels’ names, often wildly at odds with each other, but all except three of the 72 angels in this pack are taken from Johann Weyer’s 1563 treatise De Praestigiis Daemonum (On the Illusions of Daemons) which was a detailed argument against the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches), the professional manual of witch hunters used for centuries across Europe to condemn thousands of supposed witches to the flames and other tortures.
Weyer was the first known authority to argue that most of the condemned ‘witches’ during this great holocaust were actually the victims of mental illness. He met fierce opposition from the Inquisition and most copies of his book were also consigned to the flames. Luckily some survived and in a letter to Viennese publisher Hugo Heller in 1907 Sigmund Freud called it ‘one of the ten most significant books of all time’ (not on literary grounds, but for having helped advance human consciousness and rationality).
* * *
Johann Weyer (1515 – 1588) was an eminent Netherlands doctor with progressive ideas for his time but, as was quite common then, he also believed firmly in the reality of magic, angels and daemons. Indeed, if he hadn’t done so he could have attracted even more suspicion from the Inquisition, whom he had angered by speaking in the spirited defence of an accused witch on trial in Arnhem in 1548, speaking in his capacity as the town physician. His contribution to the debate and his general humanitarian stance is commemorated today by the Johannes Wier Foundation, a human rights organization for medical workers in the Netherlands.
In his youth Weyer for a while was a live-in student of the famous occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa from whom he seems to have acquired a lasting curiosity about mysticism and demons, although he also wrote about purely medical matters.
The source material for Weyer’s great book on demonology came from another volume he referred to as Liber officiorum spirituum, seu Liber dictus Empto. Salomonis, de principibus & regibus dæmoniorum (Book of the offices of spirits, or the book called Empto. Salomonis concerning the princes and kings of the demons), which itself seems to draw on much older sources.
The most influential part of Weyer’s great work however was an appendix which came to be circulated and published separately under the title Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (The False Kingdom of the Daemons). This was essentially a list of fallen angels and their attributes which went on to become the foundation of several occult classics including the Goetia or Lesser Key of Solomon, the most famous English edition of which was translated by S.L. MacGregor Mathers of the Order of the Golden Dawn, and edited in a rather bad-tempered fashion by the infamous Aleister Crowley in 1904.
The title of Weyer’s treatise sounds uncompromising enough – False Kingdom of the Daemons – but reading the text, most of these spirits don’t really seem to be demons at all in the commonly accepted sense. Almost the opposite, as for example in his description of Buer (7): “he absolutelie teacheth philosophie morall and naturall, and also logicke, and the vertue of herbes”.
These daemons seem more like inspirational Jungian archetypes or the daimons of ancient Greece; some of them are certainly dangerous, but most seem in themselves neutral or even, from Weyer’s descriptions of them, naturally benevolent. It depends on the context. They embody impulses to certain courses of action and as such are perfectly suited to fortune-telling in the manner of Tarot cards.
In his introduction to Pseudomonarchia Daemonum Weyer mentions that he has deliberately omitted certain passages from his translation of the much older document, in order to discourage would-be sorcerers. This includes three of the traditional 72 demons that Solomon is supposed to have enslaved. Luckily they surface in MacGregor Mathers’ Goetia so we have added them here.
* * *
A note regarding the gender of angels: technically angels are of course androgynous, though in most biblical and occult writings (including Johann Weyer's book) they are resolutely referred to as ‘he’. This is partly due to there being no gender-neutral term handy, but it is also part of the general suppression of the feminine side in all biblical writings.
Of the most famous heavenly angels, the dragon-slaying Michael is clearly masculine enough in the traditional warrior sense but with a little imagination both Gabriel and Raphael could easily be thinly disguised pagan goddesses – Gabriel being the one who announces the conceptions of both John the Baptist and Jesus to their mothers in the New Testament, while Raphael is a healer and counsellor.
It often surprises people to learn that only three angels (apart from Satan in his various guises) are actually mentioned by name in the Bible – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael – and Raphael only appears in the Catholic and Orthodox Book of Tobit where he shows young Tobias how to overcome the jealous daemon Asmodeus who has fallen in love with a human maid and kills every man who tries to consummate marriage with her. As a healer Raphael also shows young Tobias how to cure his father Tobit’s blindness.
In this pack we have for simplicity generally followed the convention in referring to angels as ‘he’ except where they are for one reason or another fairly clearly female. If one dug deep enough almost certainly the gender balance would be about even, but for that you’d need a time machine to go back a few thousand years to consult the original sources.