A Catholic Defense of “Barbarous Names”

Solomonic Circle

Those of you who know me, will know I’ve spent the past 30 years picking apart magical systems and taking notice of what’s wrong with them as well as what’s right. One such long-running complaint I’ve had is the so-called “Barbarous names” found in the Grimoires.

Of course I’ve long known most of those names to be bastardized theological or liturgical terms, so I didn’t give it much thought since I wasn’t using them. On the few cases I found a use for them, usually I would just either restore the name to its actual Hebrew or Greek, or just translate the name into Latin depending on my mood. Everything still worked out just fine, so “no harm no foul.”

I started to reevaluate my position when researching historical texts for A Handbook of Exorcism and Deliverance, which brought me into contact with the Enchiridium Quadripartitum (“four-part handbook”) of Vincentius Von Berg. Sure, it’s often mentioned on the internet in an “I quoted this from a website that quoted this from another website” sort of way, but when I got my hands on a copy of the actual text, I was floored! Not only did this book contain exorcism formulae for almost every imaginable situation, and herbal remedies, and recipes for suffumigations against demons, and talismanic formulae, this book also includes several prayers and conjurations using Barbarous Names!

Von Berg - Blessing of a Brewery

The Blessing of a Brewery, Workshop, or Office. Vincentius Von Berg. 1743.

On top of all that, the Enchiridium was printed with no less than six letters of approval from Church authorities as well as Von Berg’s own superiors. And this was in 1743, over three decades after every exorcism formula outside the Rituale Romanum was suppressed in 1710!

Of course, this led me to look through Von Berg’s sources, to find whence his own use of these Names might come.

Finally, I stumbled across Italian exorcism manuals from the sixteenth century, and everything I was looking for was found in the 1577 Flagellum Daemonum of Girolamo Menghi. Not only do his exorcisms include these names, in his “eighth document” before the actual rituals, he gives a full explanation!

Barbarous Names

The “Eighth Document,” where Menghi explains the names.

Below I provide an “on the fly” translation I made from that document, because I think it’s that important. Like I said, the translation was made “on the fly” (as in, I only spent ten minutes of my time), so it’s rough around the edges and maybe a little “dynamic” in some spots. But it gives you what he says, why he supports using these “nomina ignota,” the tone he uses when talking about it, as well as what he gets right about them and what he gets wrong.

Though this book may have been seen as too close to the grimoires (according to Dr. Francis Young’s A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity, as late as 1635 a monk named Zorzo was using the Flagellum to create gambling talismans!), and ultimately placed on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1704, what Menghi says here is neither heterodox nor heretical.

In fact what he says about this subject in accord with Catholic Faith, meaning there’s no problem with replicating his words here.

The translation starts below:

Eighth Document

In the eighth place, let the Exorcist beware lest he use names unknown to some; when (according to St. Chrysostom) those are always to be feared. And since in this our collection of Exorcisms, there are many names which are unknown to the “little people,” and such are most holy names of God, therefore that their perplexed minds may not be lost, I have thought to insert here an explanation of them, that each one the Exorcist may use safely and without doubt in these conjurations when it pleases him.

It should be known (according to St. Jerome in his Epistle to Marcella, Book 3), that the first name of God is EL, which the Seventy [translators of the LXX] interpret as “Strong God.”

[NOTE: El simply means “God.”]

Second and Third is ELOYM and ELOA, which is said God himself.

Fourth is SABAOTH, by which the Seventy translate “power,” and Aquila “of armies.”

Fifth is ELION, which we call “Most High.”

Sixth is ESEREHEIE, which is read in Exodus, which is, “He sent me.”

[NOTE: This name is actually “Asher Eheieh,” or “Which I Am.”]

Seventh is ADONAY, which we generally call “Lord.”

Eighth is YA, which is just put on God, and sounds the final syllable in Alleluja.

Ninth is THETRAGRAMMATON, which the Hebrews thought “Jehoua,” it is unpronounceable.

Tenth is SADAY, which among the Hebrews is placed for the God of Heaven (according to Aquila’s translation), now we can accept this as robust and sufficient for all [our] use.

[NOTE: The name is “Shaddai,” traditionally meaning “Almighty,” though in Psalm 90:1 the LXX translates Shaddai in the way stated above: τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.]

These following, see St. Jerome as above.

There are, besides these, many other unknown names of God placed there, which are rejected by some as superstitious and to be damned, even as there are those who ponder well of them, who are not ignorant they are holy names, after the manner of these: AGIOS, OTHEOS, ISCHIROS, ATHANATOS, of which Paul Ghirlandus speaks in his “Tractate of Sorcerers,” which he often took from the hands of warlocks, and he says them to signify such, as “God Acharon,” Immortal God; and he clearly thinks this name “Acharon” to be a name of Satan, or Beelzebub.

This explanation is quite distant from the truth, one can extend by this, that the Holy Catholic and Roman Church on the Parasceve, or on Friday uses these words for asking pardon from God for the sins of the entire world, which if they were vain and superstitious words, not only would She not use them, but She would condemn them as well.

[NOTE: The word “Acharon” is Hebrew for “Last,” but one unfamiliar with Hebrew might more easily confuse it for Acheron, the river of regret in the Greek underworld. The names AGIOS, OTHEOS, ISCHIROS, ATHANATOS actually mean “Holy,” “The God,” “Strong,” and “Immortal,” respectively.]

Therefore I admire the worthy, prudent, and learned men, who extend to everyone’s eyes and most greatly of the faithful, that this thing is of minimal punishment.

There are, then, some other names not known to all, sparsely placed, such as SOTHER, which is a Greek name and just sounds of what is “Savior” amongst us, and among the Hebrews “Jehoua,” which among them is a name not to be pronounced.

IEHOVA is the great name of God, whose interpretation you can see in the work of Galatinus against the Hebrews. And in the book commonly called “R.P.F.” of the Archangel Puteus, which he edited of the name of JESUS.

[NOTE: You already know what’s wrong with the name “Iehova” and if you have the slightest knowledge of Hebrew, you don’t need me to explain it to you. I’ll only point out that this was the accepted name according to the state of Biblical scholarship at the time, and give him a pass based on that fact.]

AGLA is a Hebrew name, and placed among the great names of God, and just means among the Hebrews, as much as among us, “Thou art mighty forever, O God” (according to the second book which Galatinus edited and divine names against the Hebrews).

[NOTE: AGLA actually means “Though art might forever, O Lord,” but Menghi is close enough that we can cut some slack on this one.]

HOMOVSION is a Greek name, and just means “Consubstantial,” which is attributed to CHRIST, who is consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Ghost.

EHEYE is a Hebrew name, and signifies the simplest essence of God’s divinity (according to the same R.P.F. Archangel Puteus).

Now about the other Latin names placed there, when they may be names extracted from Holy Scripture, or from the holy Doctors, I have adjudicated to say nothing, because each Exorcist can give a reason for them by asking himself, which are the names of God, or of his Mother, extracted from such or such a place.

About Agostino

Originally from Queens, N.Y., and having grown up in Dayton, OH, Agostino Taumaturgo is a unique figure. He is the product of the unlikely combination of coming from a Traditional Roman Catholic background and a spirituality-friendly home. It was in this home that Agostino first learned the basics of meditation, prayer, and spiritual working. In time Agostino completed his theology studies and was ordained to the priesthood and was later consecrated a bishop. He has since left the Traditional movement and brings this knowledge to the “outside world” through his teaching and writing, discussing spiritual issues and practical matters through the lens of traditional Christian theology.
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