A cautionary tale about the need to banish and put down spirits and demons after conjuring them . . .
Benvenuto Cellini, creator of ‘Perseus with the Head of the Medusa’ (see below), writes in his autobiography of how he became acquainted with a ‘curious’ Sicilian priest who knew Latin and Greek, and possessed knowledge of necromancy and evocation (one might well ask what business a priest had to know these occult arts!) Cellini confessed an enduring interest in necromancy and tells the priest about this. Well, the priest tells him, if you dare and your heart is stout, we shall go to the Colosseum and conjure the spirits. Cellini, who is nothing if not brave and boastful, jumps at the chance. He has long hoped to find someone or something to “reunite me with my Sicilian Angelica.”
They go to the Colosseum in the evening – it being thought auspicious to perform the ceremony in “a place where someone was killed in old times” – and the Colosseum, site of raw and often unspeakable cruelty and bloodshed, certainly fits the bill! Cellini has brought a comrade, Vincenzio Romoli, a friend; the priest is accompanied by a native from Pistoja. A protective circle is drawn, a fire lit, expensive ‘perfumes’, most likely incense, are burned. The priest begins his incantations. The Colosseum fills up with apparitions of devils and the spirits of the dead. ‘Ask them something,’ the priest, who can barely contain them, urges Cellini. Cellini inquires about his love, Angelica, but there’s no answer. We have to come back some other time, says the priest; and next time bring a little boy, unsullied, of pure virginity.
When the time has come, Cellini brings one of his shop lads, 12 years of age. He is also accompanied by his friends, Vincenzio Romoli and Agnolino Gaddi. They make preparations, draw the circle – the necromancer had “reconstructed with art more admirable and yet more wondrous ceremonies” – and then the priest places a pentacle in Cellini’s hand, and invites him to place the boy beneath it. Next he proceeds with his ‘awful invocations’ and they come: “multitudes of demons who are captains of their legions.” Cellini wants to ask about Angelica, and is told that ‘they’ said that in a month you will be where she is.
Now it is time to dismiss the ghosts – back to Hell – but there are so many more than intended. The necromancer does what he can, burning copious amounts of the pungent-smelling asafoetida, but has a hard time of it. The boy is terrified, hiding his head between his legs, and so are the others. The priest finally takes off his robe, picks up his books and, leaving the circle prematurely, they all hasten home. But on the way the company is followed by two demons, “gamboling in front of us, skipping now along the roofs and now upon the ground. The necromancer assured me that, often as he had entered magic circles, he had never met with such a serious affair as this.” Perhaps not surprisingly, “each one of us dreamed all that night of devils,” Cellini records . . .
“Do not call up that which you cannot put down.” – H. P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Detail of Cellini’s ‘Perseus with the Head of the Medusa’ (finished 1545)