This article contains Hereditary spoilers.
The demon King Paimon can grant many wishes, but you don’t want to rub him the wrong way.
2018’s scariest new film, Hereditary, is conjuring so many comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, and it seems like a Luciferian conspiracy. This is because Satanic cinema is ultimately scarier than any other monster films unless you count based-on-real-life political thrillers or the impending doom of Legally Blonde 3.
Devil movies scare the shit out of people because they mine a collective subconscious for its most revered derisions. Every follower of every faith, and that includes most people who opted out to become agnostics, atheists, or nihilists, was messed up in their very infancy by the religion they were born into. Catholics get submerged in water with oils and salt by a guy in a scary hat burning incense. Jewish boys are circumcised by mohels, who stick around for snacks. It goes on like this through fire and brimstone sects of every tradition. Satan, in whatever form it happens to take, is scary. Almost as scary as God.
Whether the Devil is tempting the first people away from paradise with forbidden fruit, or slaughtering the first born of a faith different than the one he was in service to, he cuts a frightening figure. In Hereditary, the demon who inhabits the flesh is King Paimon, and he’s only one of 72 demons. Besides the fact that most regular churchgoers only really know about one Devil, the possibilities for spinoff are frightening beyond computation.
King Paimon is one of Lucifer’s most obedient devotees, rules 200 legions of angels, is connected to the tree of death and first appeared in an anonymously written grimoire from the mid-1600s called Lesser Key of Solomon. Also known as Clavicula Salomonis Regis, I agree with David Crow, who says in his piece about the Hereditary ending, it all sounds like Latin. Other outlets covering the film also put out backgrounders, which all sound like pig Latin. So I transcribed the Aleister Crowley translation into semaphore and asked an expert.
Once of the Order of Dominations, King Paimon is the Ninth Spirit listed in Aleister Crowley’s The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon. Paimon “can teach all Arts and Sciences and other secret things. He can discover unto thee what the Earth is, and what holdeth it up in the Waters; and what Mind is, and where it is; or any other thing thou mayest desire to know. He giveth Dignity, and confirmeth the same. He bindeth or maketh any man subject unto the Magician if he so desire it. He giveth good Familiars, and such as can teach all Arts.”
That doesn’t sound very demonic. It sounds like a semester at NYU. “Paimon is a ‘demon’ only to those who demonize him,” says Greg Bismarck, an Adept Initiate magician for more than four decades. “He is one of the 72 spirits written about in The Goetia, or Lesser Key of Solomon. He’s actually a Djinni. Yes just like in Aladdin and the Lamp.”
The djinn are supernatural creatures in early Arabian mythology and theology during the Pre-Islamic period. The plural, djini, has been popularized in western culture as the genie. But don’t expect them to show up on a flying carpet. The desert demon King Paimon appears in “the form of a Man sitting upon a Dromedary with a Crown most glorious upon his head.” He has an entourage, which comes as a “Host of Spirits, like Men with Trumpets and well sounding Cymbals, and all other sorts of Musical Instruments. He hath a great Voice, and roareth at his first coming, and his speech is such that the Magician cannot well understand unless he can compel him.”
The demon Paimon appears in the grimoires Book of Incantations, Munich Manual of Demonic Magic, Clavis Inferni, The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Key of Solomon, The Magical Calendar, The Book of Spirits, The Book of the Office of Spirits, The Grimoire of Pope Honorius, The Book of Abramelin, The Book of Oberon, Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, and Dictionnaire Infernal.
Hereditary’s cult worships Paimon as a generational family tradition. The grandmother may only have had kids in the first place just to pay the familial tithes forward. This parallels the knowledge itself. The Lesser Key of Solomon is divided into five books: Ars Goetia, Ars Theurgia-Goetia, Ars Paulina, Ars Almadel, and Ars Notoria. The 72 Shemhamphorasch angelic names and seals came from the 1583 manuscript Le Livre des Esperitz (Office of Spirits)by Blaise de Vigenère, and a now-lost work by Johannes Trithemius, who taught Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, the author of Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Agrippa mentored Johann Weyer, who translated them into his De praestigiis daemonum. Reginald Scot translated Weyer. The work was also translated by Thomas Rudd for Liber Malorum Spirituum seu Goetia.
Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers translated the works for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. They were published by Aleister Crowley, the notorious English occultist and accused Satanist, under the title The Book of the Goetia of Solomon the King. Crowley added invocations, along with essays describing the rituals as psychological exploration. The symbols in Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage were designed to influence the subconscious mind. The occult provocateur even drew the below self-portrait of himself supposedly conjuring Paimon.
The djinn were not immortal, but were feared because they brought disease and sometime madness. “These 72 ‘spirits’ are actually 72 psychological pathologies of the unconscious mind,” Bismarck says. “What grows in the dark grows twisted, look at the sexual perversions among evangelical Christians. For millennia, these spirits have been cursed and castigated by magicians, who have abused them. They also made the mistake of bargaining with them.”
In The Lesser Key of Solomon, Paimon is “to be observed towards the West,” which might be translated as a left hand path reference. His 200 Legions of Spirits are split between the Order of Angels, and Potentates.” If invoked, he will be accompanied by “two Kings called LABAL and ABALI, and also other Spirits who be of the Order of Potentates in his Host, and 25 Legions.”
Summoning Solomonic spirits is traditionally done through ceremonial magic. Old grimoires are written from a Christian point of view, so all rituals there are evocations rather than invocations. “The point of evoking any of the Djinn is to ‘redeem’ them, by allowing each one to do what they’re supposed to do, in a disciplined manner,” Bismarck says. “In the Goetia, the Djinn Example: Glasya-Labolas is described as the author of all bloodshed and manslaughter. Who better to conjure when trying to learn self-defense?”
The most important thing to remember, however you may rub the lamp, is not to take advantage of the occupant. “Give a [Djinn] its proper job, don’t abuse it, and in return it will faithfully serve the magician, without being a spiritual asshole,” Bismarck says. The Djinn are kind of like the loan sharks of the spiritual world.
If you call “Spirit Paimon alone, thou must make him some offering,” the translation reads. In the film, the young daughter of the afflicted, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), is a mortal vessel for Paimon and payback includes ritualistic decapitation. “Symbolically, in taking off one’s head, one is surrendering their ego,” explains Marie Bargas, an occult expert and Kashmir Shivaist best known as the Hollywood Witch.
“What is left is the heart. In Hinduism two deities come to mind immediately. Ganesha was decapitated by his own father, Shiva, who replaced his head with that of an elephant. The other is Chinnamasta, a form of Kali who cuts off her own head to feed others from her own blood. In these cultural scenarios decapitation symbolizes the detachment from ego that leads to deification and sacrifice. So in the East, decapitation is akin to crucifixion. Suffering for others makes you a God.”
Or is it a goddess? The Great King Paimon, Ninth Spirit in the Order of Dominations, is usually depicted as having feminine features. Most religions are patriarchal and the men who wrote the books put men on camels, not women. Paimon comes from Mesopotamian mythology and was originally a goddess. This means the film’s Paimon may have been in the right body the first time, possessed in the womb to correct the gender taint of early history. “Let’s look at this in terms of mathematics which is in fact the language of magick,” says Bargas. “Feminine is negative. Masculine is positive. Masculine and Feminine create a balance.”
In the film, the ritual is designed to move Paimon’s spirit from Charlie into her brother Peter’s body. Director Ari Aster describes Hereditary as a ritual where the family and audience are both being led to slaughter. But if they are slaughtered, they won’t be paying to see the sequels, a more insurmountable imbalance in Hollywood.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.