Who are the Seven Princes of Hell?
According to Peter Binsfield (German Bishop and Religious Scholar), the Seven Princes of Hell are classified as the personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins. The Seven Princes of Hell are as follows:
- Lucifer — Pride
- Mammon — Greed
- Leviathan — Envy
- Asmodeus — Lust
- Beelzebub — Gluttony
- Sathanas/Satan — Wrath
- Belphegor — Sloth
The Seven Princes of Hell is an idea we mentioned when we discussed Lucifer. It’s not necessarily one that is mentioned explicitly in scripture, but it is an interesting idea that many scholars have attempted to explain in the last 600 years.
Today we’ll take a look at some of these ideas, mostly focusing on the Classification of Demons by Peter Binsfeld, which borrows heavily from the idea of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Origin of the Seven Princes of Hell
Peter Binsfeld was a German bishop and religious scholar born in Germany in 1540 or 1545, depending on varying sources. As a child, Peter was gifted enough to be sent to Rome to study. When he returned, he became a prominent figure in many anti-protestant campaigns.
What he was most well-known for was the part he played in the witch trials of trier, which took place from 1581 until 1593. Binsfeld wrote an influential piece titled “Of the Confessions of Warlocks and Witches,” which contained the alleged confessions of these individuals that had been obtained through torture and, therefore, according to him should be believed and trusted.
This is important because, at the time, Peter was considered a rather intelligent man, an expert in religion and its supernatural elements.
In 1589, amongst the chaos of these witch trials, he published a list of demons that he believed to be the Lords or Princes of Hell. According to Binsfeld, the seven deadly sins were much more than just deadly vices. He believed each one was a demon. So, who are these demons?
The first of these is Lucifer, who represented the sin of pride, the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins.
As there is an entire article devoted to Lucifer, I won’t go into too much detail here. But in this regard, Binsfeld is referring to Lucifer, the fallen angel. His overwhelming pride led to him believing that he could rule heaven, and so, he was cast out and demonized when his rebellion was unsuccessful—The ever-present reminder of the dangers when one allows pride to overcome them.
Some consider Lucifer to be the ruler of the seven princes, these accounts often believe Lucifer and Satan are the same individuals. Other classifications who don’t agree see Satan as the figurehead of hell, an entity separate from Lucifer. They even sometimes replace Lucifer with another fallen angel figure, such as Azazel.
The second demon Binsfeld mentioned is Mammon, whose name roughly translates to mean money—and I’m sure you’ve guessed, he is the embodiment of our next sin, Greed.
In scripture, Mammon isn’t necessarily a physical being, more so a concept surrounding money, wealth, and greed.
Over time, this began to change, and it was during the Middle Ages Mammon became more than just a concept, he was personified as the demon of greed in numerous pieces of art and literature, and thus some scholars began to classify him as one of the princes of hell, who would enslave those who were driven by greed and the accumulation of wealth.
At times, Mammon can be confused with Beelzebub, and though they both can be seen as demons of greed, greed and gluttony aren’t necessarily the same thing.
The third prince of hell is Asmodeus, who represented the sin of Lust.
Most of what we know about Asmodeus comes from the book of Tobit, as well as some other Talmudic stories such as the Construction of the Temple of Solomon. Many saw his role as spreading lust through the land, from common people to kings and queens—nobody was safe.
In the book of Tobit, he fell in love with a woman named Sarah and prevented her from marrying anyone else. He also killed seven of her husbands the night of their wedding, just before they could consummate the marriage.
The eighth husband, Tobias, was lucky enough not to suffer a similar fate. Following the advice given to him by the Archangel Raphael, he was able to repel the demon. He placed a fish’s heart and liver over some burning coals, and when Asmodeus visited them that evening, the smell caused him to flee where he would later be bound by Raphael.
In the Talmud and the Testament of Solomon, Asmodeus has numerous encounters with Solomon, and there is a passage that mentions him marrying Lilith and taking her as his demon queen.
His appearance can vary, but most of the time, we see a part-man part-animal hybrid. The Cabala explains this as him being a Cambian—a half-human half-demon offspring—his mother, a Succubus and his father, King David.
The fourth demon prince according to Binsfeld was Leviathan, which represented the sin of envy. This one may seem a little odd as when most people think of the leviathan, they think of an enormous sea monster, not exactly something you’d assume would be found in hell.
It has dozens of interpretations and meanings across numerous religions, but this association with envy and the princes of hell that Binsfield speaks of is a Christian concept.
The Italian philosopher and catholic priest Thomas Aquinas described it as a demon responsible for punishing those guilty of envy, by swallowing them whole. Leviathan was also often seen as representing the gates of hell.
In Anglo-Saxon art, the entrance to hell was seen as the gaping mouth of a monster known as the Hellmouth or the jaws of hell. With the Leviathan being seen as all sorts of creatures from a giant sea serpent to a large whale or even a crocodile, it’s likely the creature’s gaping more was enough to influence this Anglo-Saxon motif.
The fifth demon prince is Beelzebub, the lord of gluttony. Another name you may also see is the lord of flies or the lord of fliers, which refers to his ability to fly.
Beelzebub is a figure who can be traced back through numerous civilizations and religions. In the Testament of Solomon, he is a fallen angel often associated with Lucifer. He doesn’t necessarily have a particular domain, he just behaves in a generic demonic manner, causing men to worship demons and turn on each other, succumbing to lust, jealousy, and murder—just an all-around troublemaker.
The Dutch demonologist, Johann Veer saw him as the chief lieutenant to lucifer and integral to a successful revolt against the devil.
John Milton also shared this view. In Paradise Lost, Beelzebub is a fallen angel who along with Astaroth is second only to Lucifer in terms of hierarchy. Why Binsfeld considers him the lord of gluttony is hard to say as others equated him to false gods pride and envy demon.
The sixth prince of hell is undoubtedly the most well-known, Satan, the lord of wrath.
As this is Peter Binsfeld’s classification, we can assume when he says Satan, he’s referring to the Christian interpretation in the early modern period from around the 16th century onwards, just after the Middle Ages.
From around 1480 onwards, the hysteria around the idea of witches began to spiral out of control in some European countries. France and Binsfeld’s native Germany were two of the most notorious examples.
Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1487 and this explained that all sorcery was rooted in the work of Satan, and thus, we see Satan’s association with warlocks and witches.
In the Middle Ages, Satan was always depicted as pitiful and repulsive, with no real power, but now with the fear of witchcraft on the rise, naturally Satan would become a demon that people feared, so much so that the church turned its attention away from other religions—the focus was now on Satan. The simple belief in him was thought to lead Christians astray.
Our final demon prince is Belphegor, the lord of sloth. Binsfeld saw him as the chief of laziness, and though he does have a point, there is more to his character. You wouldn’t be wrong to argue that he is better suited as the prince of manipulation and deceit.
Belphegor takes many forms, choosing whichever one he feels will convince his victims into doing his bidding.
He convinces seduces and manipulates humans into creating ingenious inventions that will make them rich—a whisper or a nudge in a certain direction that leads to amazing discoveries, but when these are complete the wealth and esteem are snatched away by Belphegor.
He may not be the most imposing or terrifying demon, but Belphegor is about as cunning and deceitful as they come.
There are many different classifications of demons by many different scholars, and we’ve only just looked at one. If you’d like to do some further reading and see how they differ, then you can simply search on Google, “the classification of demons” and you’ll find a host of varying ideas you can examine.
Image Sources: Douglas Deri.