Monster of the Week: The Demon Buer


Buer as seen in Dictionnaire Infernal, 1863. Image by Louis Le Breton

Behold the demon Buer, described in Johann Weyer's 1563 grimoire "Pseudomonarchia Daemonum" as the great president of Hell.

For the capable sorcerer, Buer serves as an otherworldly mentor in natural philosophy, moral philosophy, logic and herbalism. He cures all manner of disease, provides potent familiars to his followers and commands more than 50 infernal legions.

As far as extra-dimensional malign entities go, that's a pretty strong resume. Yet even more remarkable than Buer's powers is his form, especially as captured by 19th century French painter Louis Le Breton. The demon appears as a sardonic lion's head encircled by five goat's legs -- as fine an emblem of otherworldly chaos ever committed to the printed page.

Now you might suggest that such a maddening form defies natural-world explanations. Demonic entities can appear however they wish, and the Buer we see above is likely more symbolism than anything else: bestial movement and might warped into the form of a five-armed swastika.

But the natural world is more demonic than you think...

Creatures of the Wheel

We typically consider wheels the product of human ingenuity alone, yet the form pops up in nature as well -- and not only in the form of creatures that curl up into protective balls. We can't be entirely sure how Buer would move in this form (if indeed he moves at all), butwe can look to a few different examples for ideas:

Consider the rotifer, microscopic aquatic animals whose very name is latin for "wheel-bearer. This is a reference to the crown of cilia around the rotifer's mouth, which move rapidly to aid locomotion and feeding. Contrary to the name, however, Rotifers don't actually rotate -- and maybe Buer doesn't either. Let's take a look. Note the mouth parts:

Perhaps Buer rolls along the ground -- much like the the Mount Lyell Salamander or the mother-of-pearl caterpillar. Both creatures curl their bodies into hoops and roll away from threats in their hilly environments. Let's take a peak before moving on to even stranger natural-world creatures of the wheel:

Or, indeed, perhaps Buer's manifested body constitutes some manner of true biological wheel, with the ring of goat legs spinning freely relative to his central lion's head. A rare example of such movement in the natural world occurs in bacterial flagellum, a structure found in such species as the bacterium Escherichia coli.

The flagellum essentially amounts to a long helical screw that rotates to propel the bacterium through its environment, much like a boat's propeller.Let's watch:

Proponents of Intelligent Design often cling to this structure as proof of an extra-dimensional creator entity. As a strong proponent of logic, Buer disagrees with this argument.

If you'd like to learn more about this and other demons, explore this Coilhouse post on Dictionnaire Infernal.

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.