Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Belial: development and symbolysm

Credits:
Photo, concept, manipulation, frame design: GothicNarcissus Photography
Model, hair, make up: Antonio Grimaldi
Styling: GothicNarcissus Photography and Antonio Grimaldi
Additional resources: Meltys-Stock (wings), Myruso (wallpaper)

While he was among the first Demons I decided to include in the project, there’s a special reason why I left Belial as the last Infernal Lord in the series except for Lucifer: he’s one of my favourite Demons.
Okay, not exactly: the real reason is it had as troubled a history as Rosiel’s, much to my dismay. But one of my favourites he is indeed and, at long last, here he comes.
Belial from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary.
Belial from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary.
Like many of the most prominent Demons, I came across Belial – you guess it – from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary. One of the most intriguing and best written characters in the manga, Belial kicked ass, jump-started some of my favourite plotlines, completely blurred gender binarism and provided some of the best lines in the manga. Of course, when I started planning a series about Demons, he was one of my top-priority researches.
Contrary to most Demons, there’s so much information about Belial that I didn’t even know where to begin when building his character. According to the most accepted etymology, the name means “worthless” and is a term which occurs a few times in the Old Testament. It’s not related to a specific entity, though, but only used to denote sinful people in the idiomatic phrase “sons of belial”.
The first instance of Belial as a being comes from the later Dead Sea Scrolls, which depict him as an “angel of darkness”, often citing him as the Prince of Darkness himself. Other texts, such as the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs or the Ascension of Isaiah also identify Belial as Satan, or generally as a messenger of darkness who’s opposed to Yahweh.
The New Testament mostly omits the term altogether, and Belial is only named by Paul of Tarsus as an enemy of Jesus; in the apocryphal Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Bartholomew, he’s one of the Angels cast out of Heaven. The concept of Belial as a being rather than a concept was thus solidified, but it’s not until the later esoteric grimoires that he starts to be fully sketched out as a Demon of his own.
Belial summoned with his lieutenant by King Solomon, author unknown.
Belial summoned with his lieutenant by King Solomon, author unknown.
Modern depiction of Belial as described in the Lesser Key Of Solomon.
Sebastian Michaelis calls him Belias, identifies him as the former Prince of Virtues and links him to arrogance, vanity and wantonness. While conspicuously absent from Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, he appears in both the Lesser Key Of Solomon and the Book of Abramelin as a particularly high-ranking figure, and one of the few to retain an angelic form when summoned.
So, having to cherrypick from all this information, I first wrote down what would fit my own canon (fallen Angel, former Virtue, Demon of Pride) and then decided work his being identified as “the” Devil by having him being so infamous that mankind incorrectly calls him that. I also decided to make him the grey eminence behind the most infamous cases of pride and idolatry from the Bible, and shot out to Kaori Yuki’s character linking him to the Sodom and Gomorrah incident.
Belial from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary.
Belial from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary.
You might notice that, overall, the final photo has more of an old-school, goth vibe compared to the later works in the series: that’s because I came up with the general idea basically on day one of the project, back in 2009, when I was rocking guyliner and leather cuffs in my everyday life. Coming up with the visuals for the Demon of Pride and Vanity was rather easy; like Astaroth, Kaori Yuki’s version of the character was strongly influential, especially the very fitting illustration above. I immediately opted for butterfly wings rather than feathered ones because butterflies often symbolise vanity, and because that would immediately make Belial stand out from the other Demons (I hadn’t come up with Xaphan and Decarabia yet, so lepidoptera-winged Belial was unique back then). I also wanted him to be fancily dressed in black to emphasise the Sin he represents and I was adamant that he’d have a large-brimmed hat both as a direct shot out to Belial’s Mad Hatter persona in Angel Sanctuary and because it would make a sort of visual black halo around his head, underlining his very prestigious rank.
I’m not sure how much make up my original idea  had, but I think at some point I considered something quite heavy, but not quite as clownesque as Kaori Yuki’s; anyway, that’s one of the parts that got toned down the most once I started drifting away from strict gothic fashion, as having a black-clad figure on a purple background with heavy eye make up would be beyond cliché nowadays. One thing that was clear from day one was the theme colour, purple, which is widely associated with pride and vanity, as well as royalty. Being in the Lesser Key of Solomon, Belial already ha his own seal, so I didn’t have to come up with one of my own.
With all the basics in place, the background half-ready and a quick characterisation to eventually expand upon, all I had to do was cast the role and shoot it… which is where things got spectacularly derailed.

I’ve mentioned that Belial’s history was very similar to Rosiel’s in that, without going too much into detail, I initially cast one of my best friends due to our shared love for Kaori Yuki’s character, some inside jokes that doubled as shot outs, and so on. For the first few years, we had some geographic difficulties that prevented us from shooting (which is hilarious in hindsight, considering I ended up shooting it in Naples anyway), but I didn’t really mind because I was shooting Demons left, right and centre so Belial could wait, even if it was one of my favourites; then my friend moved closer, but things kept coming up from both sides and we never really got down to organising the shooting. By 2016, after seven years of project, there were only Rosiel, Belial and the still uncast Lucifer to go, and it was high time to do something about that. While I was recasting Rosiel out of sheer frustration, I decided to face the fact that I stopped pushed the matter with Belial because I’d had second thoughts for a while. So I took a deep breath, talked to my friend, bailed out and recast the role altogether.
Belial draft from early 2016.
By that time, I had long since realised that my friend Antonio Grimaldi was physically the closest a person could get to my idea of Belial. I’d been following his work for a while on social media and he was very pretty, always stylish and had that intensity I wanted my character to have. Once I had settled the matter with my other friend, Antonio and I had some preliminary talks (I did the sketch above to show him my basic idea), he agreed to take part in the project and we started organising the actual shooting. The idea was to meet more or less midway in Rome, and we scheduled a shooting in November 2016, when I had to go there for an unrelated event. The meeting fell through almost last minute due to things coming up from the both of us and then… well, then 2017 happened.
Long story short, 2017 wasn’t my best year in the mental health department. There were a lot of things at play then: on the one hand, I had had so many setbacks for the whole span of the Infernal Lords project that I was hald-willing to give it up altogether. Then, to shoot Belial specifically I had to ask my friend Ginevra for hospitality in Rome and I really felt uncomfortable in forcing my presence on someone; and I had to find a weekend when both she and Antonio were available. Also, I was intimidated by Antonio: I mean, just look at him – he’s modelling agency material, who the hell did I think I was to ask him to model for me? And I had grown a bit uncomfortable in sharing my ideas on such a controversial theme with “normies” out there, lest they thought I was the mess I actually am – read, I had become so insicure that I was doubting my vision. So I just projected my insecurities into thinking Antonio had somehow changed his mind and didn’t know how to tell me, or something like that, when there was no indication of that aside from both of us not being great at keeping in touch on the internet.
It took me one more year and a half, lots of reassurance from Ginevra that I wasn’t an unwanted guest, a session with my therapist and a couple of tarot readings to finally get me to pick a weekend, write to everybody and organise the set. And given my luck with the rest of the project, I was a total train wreck for the two weeks leading up to the trip because I was expecting anything to go wrong and dreading to get yet another disappointment. I literally refused to get my hopes up until the moment I was in Naples with Antonio.

Turns out my worries were totally pointless, of course: first because Antonio is, like, the sweetest cinnamon roll ever and a very lovely person to talk and hang around with; second because, as soon as I reminded him of what wacky project I was going to have him pose for, he almost got more enthusiastic than me.
Contrary to my usual method, we warmed up with a few random shots before we came down to Belial and the best thing about Antonio is just how ridiculously photogenic he is: I’m not kidding, he’s Vogue Hommes material. He’s able to look effortlessly intense, striking a dramatic pose with a brooding expression and still looking like he’s not even trying, like he’s always like that and I just caught him thinking of something else. By the time we got to shooting the Demon, I was so impressed by his work that I just gave him free rein with the pose, other than the hand gesture, and the result is exactly what Belial should look like: vaguely mysterious, effortlessly sophisticated, naturally elegant, the testimonial for the Antichrist Couture on Vogue Pandemonium.
I’m not kidding or overstating: the moment I saw that photo in my camera LCD, suddenly it was all worth it. All the wait and the year-and-a-half postponement and the worries and doubts, and the stress I made up and inflicted upon myself in the few weeks leading up to it. That’s the way I always wanted Belial to look, straight out of my head.

And so, here we are. I have changed the theme song for this work a bagillion times until I settled on Fate by Tristania because it fits pretty well the character. That said, the work is out and the Demon of Pride might be one of the ones I’m the proudest of. It’s the beginning of the end of the Infernal Lords and I’m glad it’s on such a high note. I’ll do my best to top that with Lucifer, when I’ll finally get down to him as well.

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