Time to Brush Up on Your Demonology, and Other News


On the Shelf

Ukobach, a minor oil demon, depicted by M. Jarrault.


  • At this point, there’s no good reason not to become a Satanist. If I’m going to swear an oath of fealty to a demonic, sadistic, megalomaniacal overlord, it may as well be Satan himself, instead of some bush-league rip-off. (The faker has orange skin; the real deal is straight crimson.) Even if you’re on the fence about Lucifer, it’s a fine time to brush up on the basics of Satanism; one never knows when a well-worded appeal to the powers of Hell will come in handy. In a new essay, Eric Grundhauser looks back at Jacques Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, which provides a great primer on the cast of demons down below. Also, it has nice drawings: “De Plancy published dozens of titles in his lifetime, but he never surpassed the success (or infamy) of the Dictionnaire Infernal, which first appeared in 1818 and was followed by several updated editions. The full subhead for the 1926 edition describes the book as a ‘universal library on the beings, characters, books, deeds, and causes which pertain to the manifestations and magic of trafficking with Hell; divinations, occult sciences, grimoires, marvels, errors, prejudices, traditions, folktales, the various superstitions, and generally all manner of marvelous, surprising, mysterious, and supernatural beliefs.’ Many of the demonic descriptions in the Dictionnaire Infernal have their roots in earlier demonological texts, such as the sixteenth century Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, or the seventeenth century Lesser Key of Solomon. Both of those titles contained hierarchical descriptions of Hell’s many denizens, versions of which de Plancy included in his text. Among the spirits presented in de Plancy’s book are well-known evils such as Lucifer and greedy Mammon, but also more obscure devils such as the lower demon Ukobach, who tends to fireworks and oils, and the bellows-bearing fallen angel Xaphan.”
  • Most people don’t read poetry. Press them about this and they’ll usually say something like, “I don’t ‘get’ it,” or “It’s just so pretentious,” or “The poets have degraded our society’s moral fiber, and they killed my baby.” You should never accept the first two reasons as an excuse. As Matthew Zapruder writes, there’s no reason to believe that poetry isn’t straightforward or that you can’t understand it, even if you regard yourself as a rube: “Like classical music, poetry has an unfortunate reputation for requiring special training and education to appreciate, which takes readers away from its true strangeness, and makes most of us feel as if we haven’t studied enough to read it … The art of reading poetry doesn’t begin with thinking about historical moments or great philosophies. It begins with reading the words of the poems themselves … Good poets do not deliberately complicate something just to make it harder for a reader to understand. Unfortunately, young readers, and young poets too, are taught to think that this is exactly what poets do. This has, in turn, created certain habits in the writing of contemporary poetry. Bad information about poetry in, bad poetry out, a kind of poetic obscurity feedback loop. It often takes poets a long time to unlearn this. Some never do. They continue to write in this way, deliberately obscure and esoteric, because it is a shortcut to being mysterious. The so-called effect of their poems relies on hidden meaning, keeping something away from the reader.”

  • From 1916 to 1964, the scientist William Beebe presided over the Department of Tropical Research, which explored all kinds of heretofore mysterious jungles and oceans and discovered a host of new and exotic species. The DTR included in its ranks a team of artists and illustrators whose task was to show the world these new creatures in vivid detail. Now the Drawing Center is hosting an exhibition dedicated to their work. Sam Lubell explains, “In the absence of suitable photographic technologies, painters and illustrators had long accompanied scientific teams on their missions. The difference with the DTR was that its leader, Beebe—a bestselling author and star in his own right who was a good friend of well-known performers, politicians, and tycoons—wanted his work to reach beyond the academy. It helped that his team was unveiling organisms, particularly those in the deep seas, that had never before been seen by man … DTR illustrators—some of whom were also scientists—would perch in tropical forests with drawing papers in their laps or even strap zinc tablets to their swimsuits to sketch sea creatures. Some would make tiny specimens in jars come to outsized life, while others would paint in real time as Beebe and his colleagues recounted what they saw from hundreds of feet under the water.”
  • Laura Shapiro’s new book, What She Ate, tells the stories of six women through their diets, which are, Shapiro argues, an essential component of a life. Among the six is Barbara Pym, for whom food was paramount. Laura Miller writes, “What her characters eat reflects their fledging dreams and chastened realities, but Shapiro makes the case that they also tell an alternate version of the history of British cuisine in the postwar years. In one of Pym’s novels, a woman serves the man she’s crushing on a lunch of fresh lettuce dressed in a bit of olive oil and salt, with crusty bread, camembert, and greengage plums for dessert. The repast, which first appeared in one of Pym’s many notebooks in 1948, isn’t fancy, but it puts the lie to the widespread notion that all English people subsisted on boiled meat and vegetables followed by suet pudding. Her diaries and fiction, which include plenty of bad meals but also many appetizing ones, constitute what Shapiro describes as ‘a revisionist history of midcentury British cooking.’ And it wasn’t just Pym who breaks the stereotype. Shapiro also unearthed a newsletter composed of reader-contributed reports on good local restaurants that specialized in dishes like ‘roast woodcock with herbs and white wine.’ A mimeographed precursor to Yelp, it proves that plenty of Pym’s countrymen both prepared and sought out good food.”