Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


No one at all versed in antiquity is ignorant that the Jews knew nothing of the angels but what they gleaned from the Persians and Chaldæans, during captivity. It was they, who, according to Calmet, taught them that there are seven principal angels before the throne of the Lord. They also taught them the names of the devils. He whom we call Asmodeus, was named Hashmodaï or Chammadaï. “We know,” says Calmet, “that there are various sorts of devils, some of them princes and masterdemons, the rest subalterns.”

How was it that this Hashmodaï was sufficiently powerful to twist the necks of seven young men who successively espoused the beautiful Sarah, a native of Rages, fifteen leagues from Ecbatana? The Medes must have been seven times as great as the Persians. The good principle gives a husband to this maiden; and behold! the bad principle, this king of demons, Hashmodaï, destroys the work of the beneficent principle seven times in succession.

But Sarah was a Jewess, daughter of the Jew Raguel, and a captive in the country of Ecbatana. How could a Median demon have such power over Jewish bodies? It has been thought that Asmodeus or Chammadaï was a Jew likewise; that he was the old serpent which had seduced Eve; and that he was passionately fond of women, sometimes seducing them, and sometimes killing their husbands through an excess of love and jealousy.

Indeed the Greek version of the Book of Tobit gives us to understand that Asmodeus was in love with Sarah — “oti daimonion philei autein.” It was the opinion of all the learned of antiquity that the genii, whether good or evil, had a great inclination for our virgins, and the fairies for our youths. Even the Scriptures, accommodating themselves to our weakness, and condescending to speak in the language of the vulgar, say, figuratively, that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.”

But the angel Raphael, the conductor of young Tobit, gives him a reason more worthy of his ministry, and better calculated to enlighten the person whom he is guiding. He tells him that Sarah’s seven husbands were given up to the cruelty of Asmodeus, only because, like horses or mules, they had married her for their pleasure alone. “Her husband,” says the angel, “must observe continence with her for three days, during which time they must pray to God together.”

This instruction would seem to have been quite sufficient to keep off Asmodeus; but Raphael adds that it is also necessary to have the heart of a fish grilled over burning coals. Why, then, was not this infallible secret afterwards resorted to in order to drive the devil from the bodies of women? Why did the apostles, who were sent on purpose to cast out devils never lay a fish’s heart upon the gridiron? Why was not this expedient made use of in the affair of Martha Brossier; that of the nuns of Loudun; that of the mistresses of Urban Gandier; that of La Cadiére; that of Father Girard; and those of a thousand other demoniacs in the times when there were demoniacs?

The Greeks and Romans, who had so many philters wherewith to make themselves beloved, had others to cure love; they employed herbs and roots. The agnus castus had great reputation. The moderns have administered it to young nuns, on whom it has had but little effect. Apollo, long ago, complained to Daphne that, physician as he was, he had never yet met with a simple that would cure love:

Heu mihi! quod nullis amor est medicabilis herbis.

What balm can heal the wounds that love has made?

The smoke of sulphur was tried; but Ovid, who was a great master, declares that this recipe was useless:

Nec fugiat viro sulphure victus amor.

Sulphur — believe me — drives not love away.

The smoke from the heart or liver of a fish was more efficacious against Asmodeus. The reverend father Calmet is consequently in great trouble, being unable to comprehend how this fumigation could act upon a pure spirit. But he might have taken courage from the recollection that all the ancients gave bodies to the angels and demons. They were very slender bodies; as light as the small particles that rise from a broiled fish; they were like smoke; and the smoke from a fried fish acted upon them by sympathy.

Not only did Asmodeus flee, but Gabriel went and chained him in Upper Egypt, where he still is. He dwells in a grotto near the city of Saata or Taata. Paul Lucas saw and spoke to him. They cut this serpent in pieces, and the pieces immediately joined again. To this fact Calmet cites the testimony of Paul Lucas, which testimony I must also cite. It is thought that Paul Lucas’s theory may be joined with that of the vampires, in the next compilation of the Abbé Guyon.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01