This is one of five Mythological Spotlights that were originally Deific Masks pages.
Beelzebub is the king of demons, the ruler of Hell, the prince of darkness, or at least that is what is implied in the New Testament when Jesus was accused of casting out demons by “the prince of demons”. The Devil as a broad concept of Christian mythos tends to be associated with many names, and in some ways what you might call him depends of how you view him. Strictly speaking, Satan is the accusing angel who prosecutes Man and presides over the principle of evil on God’s command, and indeed he was never the ruler of Hell so much as its eventual prisoner. But if it is the popular prince of demons you are looking for, Beelzebub is the Devil you are looking for.
The name Beelzebub comes from the name of a deity attested to in the Hebrew Bible called Baal-Zebub (or Baal Zebul). He was a deity worshiped by the Philistines at the city of Ekron, located somewhere in what is now Israel. According to the Book of Kings (2), the Israelite king Ahaziah sent oracles and messengers to this deity after recovering from a fall, but the prophet Elijah stopped them, condemned Ahaziah for seeking aid from a deity other than the national deity of Israel (Yahweh/Jehovah), and proclaimed he would never rise from his bed. The name Baal-Zebub means “lord of the flies”, but it may have been intended to be a pun on the name Baal-Zebul, which means “lord of the high place”, and such a pun might have been intended as a way of mocking or slandering the followers of the cult of Baal by referring to their deity as dung and their followers as flies. In those days, Baal’s cult was prominent in the lands of the Levant, and it was a prominent rival to the cult of Jehovah practiced by the Israelites. Baal came in many forms for different cities and with slightly different attributes. The deity popularly known as Baal was most likely, in actuality, a deity named Hadad, a deity of storms, rain, and fertility. The cult of Baal was even brought to Egypt by a people referred to as the Hyksos, who ruled Egypt under their own dynasty between 1603 and 1521 BCE. In Egypt, Baal (Hadad) was equated with the Egyptian deity Set, who was the deity of storms, the desert, war, and foreigners, and it turned the two deities had a lot in common in terms of their mythological attributes, so Baal became identified with Set and eventually a new cult formed devoted to a hybrid deity named Set-Baal (or Baal-Set). After the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt, they became vilified by the Egyptians, and so was the Egyptian deity Set, having been associated with foreigners and thus becoming associated with the foreign rulers they came to despise, and Set now came to be seen as the evil deity to be vanquished by Horus.
In the New Testament, Beelzebub is identified as the prince of demons, and Jesus’ detractors had accused him of performing his famous miracles and exorcisms by the power of Beelzebub rather than through Jehovah. In those days, it may have been believed that only the prince of demons can control demons. Beelzebub clearly was considered the prince of demons, and this is the source of the Christian conception of Satan as the lord of “evil” spirits and the ruler of the underworld. In the Jewish faith, the term Satan didn’t refer to any specific entity. It simply meant “adversary”, and this could refer to anyone; human or angel, or anything else. It was only when Christianity rose to prominence that Satan came to be identified as a specific being, and that being is Beelzebub. In the Testament of Solomon (which scholars aren’t sure was written before or after Christianity), Beelzebub appears as the ruler and leader of the demons and an angel who fell from heaven. He claims to lead men into worshiping demons, bring destruction through tyrants, arouse lust in priests, cause jealousy, and instigate wars and murders, and he tells Solomon that he lives in the evening star or Venus.
Beelzebub tends to get a very high rank in the hierarchy of Hell in the Christian tradition demonology, and was presented in many different ways by occultists, theologians, demonologists, and other figures. He is commonly associated with gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins, as classified by Peter Binsfeld, while the exorcist Sebastien Michaelis associates Beelzebub with pride. Michaelis also places Beelzebub among the three most prominent fallen angels, the other two being Lucifer and Leviathan. The poet John Milton describes him as a fallen cherubim who was imposing and had a wise face. Colin DePlancy described him as the god of the Canaanites, who represented him as a fly, an idea which likely goes back to the age of the Israelites. DePlancy also states that he was known to give oracles, just as Baal-Zebul of Ekron was originally believed to do so, and that he can rid harvests of flies. In the stories Johann Weyer, Beelzebub is Lucifer’s chief lieutenant who led a successful revolt against the Devil. The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage states that Beelzebub has the power to change men into animals and vice versa. In medieval times, Beelzebub was believed to be a demon of great power, who sorcerers conjured at risk of death by apoplexy or strangulation. The demon was difficult to banish and when summoned he would appear as a gigantic fly. Beelzebub was also believed to reign highest of the demons of the Black Mass, and to preside over the Sabbaths and black masses of witches, where they would deny Jesus in his name, chant as they dance, and even copulate with Beelzebub in wild orgies. Beelzebub is also one of thousands of demons blamed for the possessions that took place at the French province of Aix-en in 1611, which involved a nun named Sister Madeleine de Demandolx de la Palud. Beelzebub is considered to be the chief of all false gods, the governor of Hell, the prime minister of the infernal forces, the chief of staff under the Devil, among many other ranks and titles. Some demonographers consider him to be the chief of Hell itself.
He is traditionally depicted as either a giant fly or a being with noticeable fly features, but many grimoires have very different depictions of him. Some depict him as having the appearance of a misshapen calf, a goat with a long tail, a snake with feminine features, among various other descriptions. Reynnier Gustave describes Beelzebub in the De Marcelli Palingenii Stellati poetae Zodiaco as a spirit who is exceedingly tall, with a large and puffed out chest, a swollen face, menacing eyes and eyebrows, exceptionally large nostrils, bat wings, webbed duck feet, and a body covered in black fur, and with a crown of fire hovering around his head where two large horns protrude.
Nowadays, Beelzebub and Satan are considered synonymous, but at the same time they are somehow treated as different beings, and Beelzebub is usually treated as “that demon who looks like a fly”.
There is a reason for the iconic nature of Beelzebub that goes well beyond his notorious fly visage. Whereas Satan has a certain ambiguity in his identity as the incarnation of evil, Beelzebub has a loaded identity in that, in him, the hellish hierarchy and Jewish and Christian ideas about “heathen” religion and power come together as a single and mighty infernal totem, right down to his link to the main god of the Canaanites, whose religion was opposed by the Yahwist Israelites. For this reason he is the prince of demons cited in the New Testament, and it is important to note that for Christian belief, drawing from the Bible, all of the other gods are considered demons, thus Beelzebub is, from the Christian perspective, the prince of the pagan gods, therefore the prince of heathen adversity towards God.