Many professions, trades and arts have their mascots, gurus or patron saints and when mistakes happen, there are scapegoats such as gremlins or demons that can be blamed. One obscure demon is Tutivillus, who collects mispronounced words, gossip and mistakes to put in his sack and carry to Hell. Then those poor souls must carry their sinful sack for eternity in Hell, as punishment for their trespasses.

A Short History of Tutivillus

Also known as Titivillus, this literary demon is a relatively new entity in mythology, first mentioned in 1285 by Franciscan Theologian John of Wales in Tractatus de Penitentia.

Believed to be working on behalf of the Devil, Tutivillus was supposedly entering errors in Biblical manuscripts and other works, frustrating the scribes and scholars. Stories about a recording demon who notes down our sins to take to the afterlife date back to the Babylonian era. When Tutivillus arrived, there were initially no mentions of literary mistakes being a sin, as he was like the ancient recording demon, jotting down verbal or written trespasses.

The Patron Demon of Scribes

Back in the Middle Ages, reading and writing was mostly performed by clergy and those who were literary or artistic assistants, as most of the population were illiterate. The Church scribes, calligraphers and monks who were responsible for dictation or copying manuscripts (mostly in the monasteries), worked long hours to translate the Bible and other writings.

The monotony of the repetitive work led to many mistakes and boredom would sometimes creep in, along with tired fingers and sore eyes from working in dimly lit conditions. After periods of exhaustion, due to intense concentration needed for the job, mistakes would be made, such as misspelling and ink stains.

Since mistakes were attributed to lack of attention, which was considered a sin when doing such Holy work. Having someone to blame – like a demon – was attractive to those who wanted to avoid the fiery pits of Hell. Tutivillus fit the bill, who was said to be a sneaky little imp who enjoyed collecting pieces of Psalms among other things like mistakes and verbal barbarities uttered during religious service.

It was believed that he would gather all the mistakes for each monk and unsuspecting calligrapher and carry them to Hell. Their punishment was to drag their sacks of mistakes and other blunders for eternity.

New Duties for a Bright-Eyed Demon

Other stories tell of Tutivillus’ collection of idle gossip and skipped or mumbled prayers during church services, which are transported back to Hell to be counted against the unwitting offenders. You could say that he was a devilish tattle-tale and in later years he was often used as inspiration for characters in English pageants and plays, to illustrate the flaws and vanities of humans.

His likeness was depicted in art, painted on Church walls and carved in woodwork to serve as a deterrent for those whose minds wandered or faltered. Seen as a dark demon peering out from behind curtains, crouching in the corner or creeping up on the desks of scribes, Tutivillus was also painted in the background of works of art, carrying his famous sack on his leathery back, clenched in his gnarled claws.

His adventures were often described in poems, books and sermons, while also being blamed for upsetting printing presses which led to the typesetters making mistakes. When the Johannes Guttenberg printing press took over the work from the scribes, he was still at it – making mischief.

The Tutivillus Legacy

For over one hundred years, the threat of Tutivillis kept the gossips, sinners and slothful writers in check. When his influence started to dwindle in religious circles, he then became popular in dramatic works and plays.

One of the more typical stories about Tutivillus is how he was often seen in Church, perched somewhere high above the chattering crowd. In this version of the story, he stretches his parchment with his teeth, so he can fit in all the words, until it breaks. He then tumbles down onto his back, making the priest laugh before telling the congregation that someone in the crowd is a recording demon, noting the stolen prayers from God, due to their negligence.

Another story states that Tutivillus was tasked by Satan to find a quota of errors each day, to fill his sack one thousand times, before heading down to Hell to record each error in a great book, noting the corresponding monk who’d committed the sin, which would be assessed on Judgment day. These stories influenced scholars and commoners alike, as they all became more careful with their words: written and spoken.

With a decline in errors and gossip, Tutivillus had to go to great lengths to seduce people into slipping up and making more mistakes. It wasn’t long before people started to blame their errors, gossip and the like on this literary demon, who waited in the shadows to catch every word. In Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night”, Henry IV speaks of foolish comments being worthy of being stuffed into Tutivillus’ sack.

The Literary Demon in the Digital Age

Since Tutivillus is a young spirit in comparison to ancient demons, his evolution through the ages could have easily led to him being a scapegoat for all the blogging and gossiping on social media sites. What about all the countless words floating around on the internet or stored in trillions of files and folders? Could this literary demon be rubbing his hands together, waiting to stuff your gossip and errors into his sack for future, hellish reference?

5 Quick Facts about Tutivillus

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