A Demonic Warning

A small traditional demon for the Halloween season!


Tutivillus was a catchall demon for word related slips and sins. One of my professors first mentioned him as a demon that would either record or collect in a giant sack all the idle words and gossip of people who ought to have been praying in church. In other places he’s accused of encouraging this spiritual sloth even amongst the clergy, inspiring them to slur their words or shorten their sermons and prayers.

In the latter Middle Ages he became just one more demonic figure removed from his parchment and sack. Before this demotion he was part of a recurrent theme in church wall paintings–the Warning Against Idle Gossip.


Priests had to worry about their congregation walking out during sermons, taking a nap, or trying to catch up on local gossip. While all of these were considered sins, talking in church was the worst because it also prevented other people from listening to the sermon or the word of God. Contemporary writers claimed that it was always the women who idly chatted in church.


(Of course, with a brief nod to Jane Austen, these were all written by men.)


Therefore, it was women who were most often shown with the Devil, or numerous little devils, encouraging them. The demon Tutivillus would collect or take down all of their words as they spoke to later use as evidence against their souls. There is a scene from the late fourteenth century in the Church of Saint Michael and Saint Mary (Melbourne, Derbyshire) which involves multiple demons. A big winged demon holding a scroll, presumably Tutivillus, sits over the two women while two little devils on either side push the women closer together. At least nine wall paintings on this theme exist, and all but two are highly visible in the back of the church, as a reminder to those who might forget to keep their mouths shut in the house of God.


I’ve a certain fondness for Tutivillus from my medieval studies. It was also his job to sneak errors into scribe’s transcriptions when their attention wandered.


I’d like to think possibly now adds typos into student’s papers on those transcriptions.

An interesting blog tracing some elements in Melville to Tutivillus. (Honestly I’d rather face a demon than read Melville…)

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