This Infamous Witch Hunter First Classified The 'Seven Princes Of Hell'
Photo: Gustave Doré / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

This Infamous Witch Hunter First Classified The 'Seven Princes Of Hell'

Sixteenth century Europe was a violent era in history when mass hysteria and religious teachings led people to see witches and demons in everything they did. The fear of hellfire caused self-proclaimed witch hunters to rise up, and among them was the infamous Peter Binsfeld, a man who loved torture and hated Protestants, among many other things. Binsfeld was a respected man in his time, and his teachings on demonology and witches are still read to this day. Perhaps his most well known work is his classifications of the Seven Princes of Hell - seven demon lords who each punished sinners for particular crimes committed during their lifetime.

No one knows what Hell is like, or if it indeed exists, but according to the dogma there is no way to escape from Hell, and the Seven Princes of Hell, as described by Binsfeld, were meant to make people atone for their crimes in life - interesting though they may be, they're certainly not people anyone wants to befriend. Try to avoid it, but if you can't stop sinning you're about to find out who you'll meet in the afterlife.

  • Peter Binsfeld Was A Torture-Loving Witch Hunter With A Flair For Writing

    Peter Binsfeld Was A Torture-Loving Witch Hunter With A Flair For Writing
    Photo: Peter Binsfeld / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Peter Binsfeld was an important figure of his time. He was considered gifted in his community, and was sent to Rome to complete his education. By the time he returned to Germany he had become a staunch Catholic with extremely anti-Protestant views, and he had also become a witch hunter.

    When not torturing and investigating suspected witches - which took up a not-insignificant portion of his time - Binsfeld was responsible for crafting multiple important texts of the witch-hunting era. He composed De confessionibus maleficorum et sagarum, translated as On the Confessions of Warlocks and Witches, which detailed his thoughts on the use of torture to obtain confessions of witchcraft, as well as his classification of demons, a reinterpretation of demonic hierarchies in Hell shaped by the seven deadly sins.

  • Despite His Love Of Torture, Binsfeld Was Considered Moderate

    Despite His Love Of Torture, Binsfeld Was Considered Moderate
    Photo: Jacob Truchsess von der Scheer zu Waldsee / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Despite Binsfeld's merciless attitudes toward the use of torture to discover witches - he was firmly pro-torture - he was actually something of a moderate. Though he, like some others of his time, did believe that the Devil could create illusions and other forms of deception to get people to do his bidding, he also thought that people had to consent to those visions, making them guilty.

    Binsfeld's moderate stance was that girls under 12 and boys under 14 shouldn't be held guilty for practicing witchcraft in most cases, only in some; others of his time were content to burn toddlers at the stake for presumed witchcraft. He was also rare in his time for believing that people were not capable of using witchcraft to shapeshift, and that anybody who saw such a thing occur was more likely to be experiencing the Devil's deception. Likewise, he didn't believe in witch's marks - that is, birthmarks, scars, or other disfigurements that were said to make a person as a witch.

  • Binsfeld Believed Every Person Had A Personal Demon

    Binsfeld Believed Every Person Had A Personal Demon
    Photo: Martin Schöngauer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Among his beliefs about witch children and witch marks, Binsfeld also had the unusual belief that each person had a personal demon. Unlike the more general demons of Hell, a person's personal demon knew them and their habits intimately, making them a more efficient means of seducing people into their evil ways. A personal demon existed in opposition to each person's Guardian Angel, who could lead a person to righteousness.

    His beliefs about the push and pull of good and evil left potential witches with free will, as opposed to some other theologies, which contended that people were born good or evil with their lives preordained. Still, Binsfeld's belief in free will was another tool to persecute people, particularly women, whom he said were more prone to witchcraft due to their natural despair and desire for revenge.

  • Books On Demons Were A Popular Commodity

    Theologists of Binsfeld's period were quite interested in creating hierarchies for the many inhabitants of Hell. While the Devil reigned supreme, there were multiple means of classifying his underlings. Prior to King James's 1591 book Daemonlogie, the Lanterne of Light and Alphonso de Spina's classification were two of the most prominent. The former is quite similar to Binsfeld's classification, assigning different demons to different sins, but differed slightly on which sin belonged to which demon.

    Spina's classification instead created a hierarchy of different types of demons, including elements of Germanic folklore. King James's version took hold just two years after Binsfeld's classification was proposed, but people still find his interpretations intriguing today.

  • Lucifer Ruled Over The Prideful
    Photo: Petrus de Plasiis / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Lucifer is a name many will recognize. Though the name and its meaning of "morning star" or "light bringer" have a variety of applications in various mythologies, Binsfeld used it to refer to the angel who fell from heaven after his attempt to create a new structure of power. Thus, Lucifer, by Binsfeld's classification, represents the sin of pride. He is often considered to be the leader of demons in Hell, and is therefore particularly evil and dangerous. 

    Because of his high status and importance, Lucifer is sometimes conflated with Satan; in some stories they are the same, but in others they are separate from one another. Because it's difficult to track down Binsfeld's original work, which was not in English, it's hard to say how he felt about the connection between the two.

  • Beelzebub Tortured The Gluttonous
    Photo: Fred Barnard / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Beelzebub is known by a multitude of names, including "Lord of the Flies" and "Baal." The New Testament mentions him as chief of the demons, and Binsfeld associated him with gluttony. Biblically, he's normally associated with diseases - hence the flies - which makes him an odd choice for gluttony.

    However, Beelzebub has a long and storied history in biblical lore and apocrypha, where he is often characterized as being just below Satan in rank. Some stories actually rank him as above Satan, but Binsfeld didn't seem particularly interested in hierarchies, just in which sin the demon presided over. His reasoning behind connecting Beelzebub and gluttony are unclear, though it's possible that he's drawing a comparison between flies and the consumption of the dead.