Special Issue "Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 April 2019).

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Marina Montesano
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Ancient and Modern Civilizations, Università degli Studi di Messina
Interests: Cultural History, Medieval History, Magic and Witchcraft in Medieval and Renaissance Culture, Preaching in the Late Middle Ages, Crossdressing

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Witchcraft and magic are topics of enduring interest for many reasons. The main one lies in their extraordinary interdisciplinarity: anthropologists, folklorists, historians, and more, have contributed to build a body of work of extreme variety and consistence. Of course, this also means that the subjects themselves are not easy to assess. In a very general way, we can define witchcraft as a supernatural mean to cause harm, death or misfortune, while magic also belongs to the field of supernatural, or at least esoteric knowledge, but can be used to less dangerous effects: like for divination and astrology. In the Western civilization, the witch-hunt of the late medieval–early modern times has set a very peculiar perspective in which diabolical witchcraft, the invention of the Sabbat, the persecution of many thousands of people, gave way to a phenomenon that is fundamentally different from traditional witchcraft; even if in many case studies in South America or Africa may present similarities, especially in contemporary times (see Nathan Wachtel, Dieux et Vampires – Retour à Chipaya, 1992, and Peter Geschiere, The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa, 1997). Another peculiarity of magic and witchcraft in Western civilization is given by the number of writings that detailed their nature, techniques, effects: they could be technical treatises about how to perform magic, like in the case of necromancy (see Richard Kieckhefer, Forbidden Rites. A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century, 1998, and Florence Gal, Jean-Patrice Boudet, Laurence Moulinier-Brogi, Vedrai mirabilia. Un libro di magia del Quattrocento, 2017); moreover, we know many writings explaining the powers of witches from the point of view of judges and inquisitors.

Also, nowadays scholars generally agree on the so-called ‘cumulative concept of Western witchcraft’, meaning that, if there is one thing that recent scholarship about witch-hunting has assured us of, it is that all mono-causality theories must be ruled-out, as so many factors have been discovered and investigated: the climate change which occurred around the year 1600 and its socio-economic fall-out (Wolfgang Behringer, Witchcraft Persecutions in Bavaria: Popular Magic, Religious Zealotry and Reason of State in Early Modern Europe  1997, and Id., A Cultural History of Climate, 2009); the scientific debates that framed many of the phenomena related to witchcraft (Stuart Clark, Thinking with demons: the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe, 1997); the social conditions in village communities and how often bottom-up pressures gave way to trials against alleged witches (Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft, 2002); the reading of folk-beliefs in light of heretical prosecutions and demonology (Richard Kieckhefer, European Witch Trials: Their Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500, 1976); the role of humanistic culture in the developing of the witch-hunts (Marina Montesano, Classical Culture and Witchcraft in Medieval and Renaissance Italy, 2018). All of these, and many other approaches, have proven very useful for understanding the witch-hunts, but only as pieces of a puzzle.

In Western societies, the interaction between magic/witchcraft and religion is constant: even if the trials were held, as often happened, by secular judges, theology and demonology as it had been built between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was central. However, apart from this general consideration, there are many fields in which popular religion (meaning the set of uses widespread in societies) and institutional religion interacted with magic and witchcraft, like for the role of monks and priests in performing occult sciences and ritual magic; religious images and elements (such as the sacramental bread) in witchcraft and magic rituals; ceremonial magic and Sabbat as an inversion of Catholic rituals. Aim of this special issue of Religions is to investigate different topics of these fields in medieval and modern European societies.

Prof. Dr. Marina Montesano
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Witchcraft
  • Magic
  • Circulation of Knowledge
  • Popular
  • Institutional Religion

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Introduction to the Special Issue: Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic
Religions 2020, 11(4), 187; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040187 - 14 Apr 2020
Abstract
Witchcraft and magic are topics of enduring interest for many reasons [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Debating the Devil’s Clergy. Demonology and the Media in Dialogue with Trials (14th to 17th Century)
Religions 2019, 10(12), 648; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10120648 - 26 Nov 2019
Abstract
In comparison with the estimated number of about 60,000 executed so-called witches (women and men), the number of executed and punished witch-priests seems to be rather irrelevant. This statement, however, overlooks the fact that it was only during medieval and early modern times [...] Read more.
In comparison with the estimated number of about 60,000 executed so-called witches (women and men), the number of executed and punished witch-priests seems to be rather irrelevant. This statement, however, overlooks the fact that it was only during medieval and early modern times that the crime of heresy and witchcraft cost the life of friars, monks, and ordained priests at the stake. Clerics were the largest group of men accused of practicing magic, necromancy, and witchcraft. Demonology and the media (in constant dialogue with trials) reveal the omnipresence of the devil’s cleric with his figure possessing the quality of a ‘super-witch’, labelled as patronus sagarum. In Western Europe, the persecution of Catholic priests played at least two significant roles. First, in confessional debates, it proved to Catholics that Satan was assaulting post-Tridentine Catholicism, the only remaining bulwark of Christianity; for Protestants on the other hand, the news about the devil’s clergy proved that Satan ruled popedom. Second, in the Old Reich and from the start of the 17th century, the prosecution of clerics as the devil’s minions fueled the general debates about the legitimacy of witchcraft trials. In sketching these over-lapping discourses, we meet the devil’s clergy in Catholic political demonology, in the media and in confessional debates, including polemics about Jesuits being witches and sorcerers. Friedrich Spee used the narratives about executed Catholic priests as vital argument to end trials and torture. Inter alia, battling the devil’s clergy played a vital role in campaigns of internal Catholic church reform and clerical infighting. Studying the debates about the devil’s clergy thus provides a better understanding of how the dynamics of the Reformation, counter-Reformation, Catholic Reform, and confessionalization had an impact on European witchcraft trials. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Giovan Battista Codronchi’s De morbis Veneficis ac Veneficiis (1595). Medicine, Exorcism and Inquisition in Counter-Reformation Italy
Religions 2019, 10(11), 612; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110612 - 04 Nov 2019
Abstract
The physician Giovan Battista Codronchi (1547–1628) is a key figure of sixteenth-century medicine. A study of his main work De morbis veneficis ac veneficiis (1595) and his letters sent to the Congregation of the Index in Rome (1597) can teach us much about [...] Read more.
The physician Giovan Battista Codronchi (1547–1628) is a key figure of sixteenth-century medicine. A study of his main work De morbis veneficis ac veneficiis (1595) and his letters sent to the Congregation of the Index in Rome (1597) can teach us much about the interrelation between medicine and religion in Counter-Reformation Italy. Using Codronchi as a prism, this article uncovers a complex picture in which themes such as the production of demonological texts at the height of the European witch-hunt, the related debate about the roles of physicians and exorcists, and the influence of physicians on the development of the Index of Forbidden Books are interrelated. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Notes on the Nature of Beliefs in Witchcraft: Folklore and Classical Culture in Fifteenth Century Mendicant Traditions
Religions 2019, 10(10), 576; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100576 - 15 Oct 2019
Abstract
Witchcraft is a varied historical phenomenon with changing sociocultural aspects according to the times and the places considered. Nonetheless, it is possible to trace the different cultural substrata giving shape to witch-beliefs in order to shed light on their process of amalgamation. The [...] Read more.
Witchcraft is a varied historical phenomenon with changing sociocultural aspects according to the times and the places considered. Nonetheless, it is possible to trace the different cultural substrata giving shape to witch-beliefs in order to shed light on their process of amalgamation. The aim of this study is to show how the folkloric and the Classical literary motives were intertwined in the fifteenth century by figures lauded as the high intellectuals of the time, Franciscan and Dominican preachers and inquisitors, to produce a coherent and multifaceted picture of witchcraft-related beliefs. By putting some of the most significant sources that I have analyzed in my monograph Witchcraft, Superstition, and Observant Franciscan Preachers in relation to others that I have not considered before composed by the same or different authors, my aim is to show how this process of combination of various cultural traditions gave shape to the creation and the understanding of the witchcraft phenomenon. Furthermore, I also intend to highlight how the at times contradictory views concerning witch-beliefs, pointing either to realistic or to skeptical stances, are related to specific declensions of those different traditions on the part of the friars. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Treasure Hunt—Roman Inquisition and Magical Practices Ad Inveniendos Thesauros in Southern Tuscany
Religions 2019, 10(7), 444; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070444 - 22 Jul 2019
Abstract
Resorting to the supernatural to find something lost is a practice that can be observed over a very large range of times and places. With the affirmation of Christianity, these kinds of habits and beliefs were considered superstitious by the Church. During the [...] Read more.
Resorting to the supernatural to find something lost is a practice that can be observed over a very large range of times and places. With the affirmation of Christianity, these kinds of habits and beliefs were considered superstitious by the Church. During the early modern era, the institution appointed to control the integrity of the faithful in the Italian peninsula was the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, which had a significant number of local tribunals spread over the territory. This essay aims to study the diffusion of the practice of finding treasures by using magical items and rituals in the area under the jurisdiction of the Sienese tribunal of the Holy Office (approximately the entire southern Tuscany), whose trial sources are preserved in the Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Vatican City). The research, based on around seventy individual cases, shows an interesting belief from a historical–anthropological point of view, namely: although in most cases people were looking for everyday objects that they had lost, sometimes, they used the same rituals to search for ancient treasures that they heard were buried or hidden in a particular place (church, field, or cellar), with the presence of guardians like spirits or demons, that had to be driven away with a prayer or an exorcism before taking possession of the treasure. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
“Charming Sorcerers” or “Soldiers of Satan”? Witchcraft and Magic in the Eyes of Protestant/Calvinist Preachers in Early Modern Hungary
Religions 2019, 10(5), 328; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050328 - 16 May 2019
Abstract
The present study is the translation of Chapter 3 of the book of Ildikó Sz. Kristóf, entitled “Ördögi mesterséget nem cselekedtem.” A boszorkányüldözés társadalmi és kulturális háttere a kora újkori Debrecenben és Bihar vármegyében (“I have not done any diabolic deeds.” The Social [...] Read more.
The present study is the translation of Chapter 3 of the book of Ildikó Sz. Kristóf, entitled “Ördögi mesterséget nem cselekedtem.” A boszorkányüldözés társadalmi és kulturális háttere a kora újkori Debrecenben és Bihar vármegyében (“I have not done any diabolic deeds.” The Social and Cultural Foundation of Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Debrecen and Bihar County) published in Debrecen, Hungary in 1998. The book examined the witch-hunting in Bihar county and its largest city, the headquarters of the Calvinist church in Eastern Hungary between 1575 and 1766. During this period, 217 trials were conducted against 303 accused, and the book explored the social and religious foundations of the accusations. The witch-hunts in Bihar county were of rather small size (1–3 accused per annum) and intensity. A possible explanation for this relative mildness could be provided by a complex consideration of legal, religious, and local social circumstances. Chapter 3, published here in English, discusses Hungarian Calvinist demonology which remained rather sceptical about the concepts of diabolical witchcraft (e.g., the “covenant” or pact with the devil, the witches’ attendance at regular meetings (sabbath), etc.) throughout the early modern era. The author has studied several Calvinist treatises of theology published between the late 16th and the early 18th century by the printing press of Debrecen, those, for example, of Péter Mélius (1562), Tamás Félegyházi (1579), Péter Margitai Láni (1617), János Kecskeméti Alexis (1621), Mátyás Nógrádi (1651), Johannes Mediomontanus (1656), Pál Csehi (1656), István Diószegi Kis (1679; 1681), Gellért Kabai Bodor (1678) and Imre Pápai Páriz (1719). According to her findings, Calvinist demonology, although regarded the wordly interventions of the devil of limited scope (excepting, perhaps, the Puritans of the 1650s/1680s), urged the expurgation of the various forms of everyday magic from urban and village life. The suspicion of witchcraft fell especially on the practitioners of benevolent magic (popular healers/”wise women”, midwives, fortune-tellers, etc.) who were presumed to challenge and offend divine providence. The official religious considerations sometimes seem to have coincided with folk beliefs and explanations of misfortune concerning, among others, the plague epidemic in which witchcraft played an important role. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Angels or Demons? Interactions and Borrowings between Folk Traditions, Religion and Demonology in Early Modern Italian Witchcraft Trials
Religions 2019, 10(5), 326; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050326 - 15 May 2019
Abstract
In 1638 Caterina di Francesco, from the town of Siena (Tuscany), was accused by the Roman Inquisition of invoking the devil through a spell called “the white angel spell” or “the spell of the carafe” (incantesimo della caraffa). She was interrogated, [...] Read more.
In 1638 Caterina di Francesco, from the town of Siena (Tuscany), was accused by the Roman Inquisition of invoking the devil through a spell called “the white angel spell” or “the spell of the carafe” (incantesimo della caraffa). She was interrogated, tortured and kept in and out of prison for nine years. Despite the accusations of the witnesses being focused on her practice of love magic, specifically her ability to bind men to “other” women rather than their wives and to help the disgruntled wives to have their husbands back with the use of a baptised magnet, the Inquisition focused its attention on her practice of the white angel spell, a divination spell to find lost or stolen objects with the help of shadows seen inside the carafe. This was a well-known spell not only among all levels of Italian lay society but also well known to the Inquisition, so much so that the 17th-century Inquisition manual Prattica per Procedere nelle Cause del Sant’Officio lists this spell among the sortilegij qualificati: Those spells presenting serious heretical elements. Using archival sources, this article will examine the effects of borrowed concepts between the theological/elite and folk witchcraft traditions within a specific case-study. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
“Such Fictitious Evil Spirits”: Adriaan Koerbagh’s Rejection of Biblical Demons and Demonic Possession in A Light Shining in Dark Places (1668)
Religions 2019, 10(4), 280; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040280 - 19 Apr 2019
Abstract
This paper traces Adriaan Koerbagh’s interpretation of biblical devils and scriptural instances of demonic possession in his 1668 Een Ligt Schijnende in Duystere Plaatsen (A light shining in dark places). Koerbagh’s book is a radical exponent of the early Dutch Enlightenment, [...] Read more.
This paper traces Adriaan Koerbagh’s interpretation of biblical devils and scriptural instances of demonic possession in his 1668 Een Ligt Schijnende in Duystere Plaatsen (A light shining in dark places). Koerbagh’s book is a radical exponent of the early Dutch Enlightenment, and its views on demonology are of importance if we want to assess the extent to which traditional scholastic pneumatology was challenged in the second half of the XVIIth century. This paper will also address Thomas Hobbes’ positions regarding demons and demonic possession in Leviathan (1651), given that Hobbes’ interpretations were fundamental to Koerbagh’s own positions. We will focus on the Hobbesian exegetical strategies of etymology, naturalization, and metaphorization, which helped Koerbagh to point at diseases, evil thoughts, figures of speech, or human enemies as plausible explanations for scriptural passages concerning devils and possession. But we will also see that Koerbagh’s Cartesian definition of spirits led him to a more radical stance than that of Hobbes: demons do not exist at all. This paper will end by claiming that Koerbagh’s interpretation of Christian demonology both as a remnant of Pagan and Jewish superstitions, and a knowledge indifferent to salvation—themselves Hobbesian principles—went hand in hand with his attempt to secularize the biblical text. Thus, the devil, once a part of the sacred truth, could now be seen as a fragment of a human cultural heritage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
The Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Democratisation of Magic in Post-Reformation England
Religions 2019, 10(4), 241; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040241 - 31 Mar 2019
Abstract
The dissolution of the monasteries in England (1536–1540) forced hundreds of former inmates of religious houses to seek livelihoods outside the cloister to supplement meagre pensions from the crown. Among the marketable skills these individuals possessed were Latin literacy, knowledge of liturgy, sacramental [...] Read more.
The dissolution of the monasteries in England (1536–1540) forced hundreds of former inmates of religious houses to seek livelihoods outside the cloister to supplement meagre pensions from the crown. Among the marketable skills these individuals possessed were Latin literacy, knowledge of liturgy, sacramental authority and a reputation for arcane learning: all qualities desirable in magical practitioners in early modern Europe. Furthermore, the dissolution dispersed occult texts housed in monastic libraries, while the polemical efforts of the opponents of monasticism resulted in the growth of legends about the magical prowess of monks and friars. The dissolution was a key moment in the democratisation of learned magic in sixteenth-century England, which moved from being an illicit pastime of clerics, monks and friars to a service provided by lay practitioners. This article considers the extent of interest in magic among English monks and friars before the dissolution, the presence of occult texts in monastic libraries, and the evidence for the magical activities of former religious in post-dissolution England. The article considers the processes by which monks, friars and monastic sites became associated with magic in popular tradition, resulting in a lasting stereotype of medieval monks and friars as the masters of occult knowledge. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
“Paltrie Vermin, Cats, Mise, Toads, and Weasils”: Witches, Familiars, and Human-Animal Interactions in the English Witch Trials
Religions 2019, 10(2), 134; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020134 - 23 Feb 2019
Abstract
This article explores the role played by the relationship between witch and familiar in the early modern witch trials. It positions animal familiars at the intersection of early modern belief in witchcraft and magic, examining demonologies, legal and trial records, and print pamphlets. [...] Read more.
This article explores the role played by the relationship between witch and familiar in the early modern witch trials. It positions animal familiars at the intersection of early modern belief in witchcraft and magic, examining demonologies, legal and trial records, and print pamphlets. Read together, these sources present a compelling account of human-animal interactions during the period of the witch trials, and shed light upon the complex beliefs that created the environment in which the image of the witch and her familiar took root. The animal familiar is positioned and discussed at the intersection of writing in history, anthropology, folklore, gender, engaging with the challenge articulated in this special issue to move away from mono-causal theories and explore connections between witchcraft, magic, and religion. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Witchcraft, Demonology and Magic) Printed Edition available
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