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Volume 1:1: Popular and Elite Magics

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Nancy Caciola, Moshe Sluhovsky

Spiritual Physiologies: The Discernment of Spirits in Medieval and Early Modern Europe


From the later Middle Ages throughout the Early Modern period, the Biblical injunction to “test the spirits” became the subject of an increasing number of treatises and practical case-studies. The phrase was understood as an imperative to verify whether the preternatural abilities claimed by some individuals––chiefly women––derived from a divine, or rather from a demonic, spiritual origin. Efforts to locate spirits within the body, to map their interactions with individuals, and to exorcize them if they were determined to be evil in character, all were implicated in this centuries-long effort to distinguish good from evil inspiration. While it is self-evident that such practices had religious implications, this article argues that they also had much broader ramifications for the intellectual history of European culture. As the discernment of spirits grew and flourished, it helped foster the development of a culture of testing unseen dimensions of reality more broadly. The discourse of discernment of spirits represents a form of epistemological inquiry––a concern with verification of assumed truths, and with testing evidence––that challenges conventional narratives about the rise of experimental science.


Michael A. Ryan

“The Horn and the Relic: Mapping the Contours of Authority and Religiosity in the Late Medieval Crown of Aragon.”


In their quests to acquire preternatural objects and exchange them with their social and economic peers, the last two count-kings of the Crown of Aragon, Joan el Caçador, “the Hunter” (r. 1387-1396), and Martí l’Humà, “the Humane” (r. 1396-1410) applied the full range of mechanisms available in their courts and bureaucracies. The kings’ vigorous participation in a late medieval spiritual economy is evidenced in their choice of quest-objects––respectively pieces of unicorn horn and relics of local and transnational Christian saints––and their use of diplomatic means to acquire these tangible pieces of the preternatural. This article investigates the reigns and spiritual proclivities of these sibling sovereigns, Joan and Martí, illuminating to scholars of the medieval past the kings’ markedly different personalities and ruling styles.


Lara Apps

Motive Hunting in the Case of Richard Hathaway


Richard Hathaway, a London blacksmith’s apprentice, was convicted of fraud and imposture in 1702 for falsely accusing Sarah Morduck of bewitching him. Historians of English witchcraft have cited this case as evidence of judicial skepticism toward the crime of witchcraft and of continuing popular belief in it; however, detailed and thorough analysis of the primary sources has been lacking in the scholarly literature. Through a comparative analysis of the four major contemporary accounts, this paper explores the motives and representational strategies of the participants in the case and of those who composed the accounts. Hathaway’s accusation against Morduck was malicious; a desire to profit from selling the story of Hathaway’s bewitchment was a likely motive for the false accusation. The very different versions of Hathaway and Morduck that emerge from this research illustrates the dangers of relying on single sources for witchcraft cases.



Joseph P Laycock

Carnal Knowledge: The epistemology of sexual trauma in witches’ Sabbath, Satanic ritual abuse, and alien abduction narratives


There are strong similarities between the confessions taken from accused witches in early modern Europe, the testimony of Satanic ritual abuse taken by modern therapists, and accounts of alien abduction given under hypnosis.  In each of these narratives, a subject describes horrible sexual transgressions performed upon them at the hand of a mysterious other: the thorny penis of the Devil, the bizarre anal insertions of Satanists, and the mysterious probing of aliens. The motive behind these sexual acts is never revealed and the existence of the perpetrators is usually in doubt. This article suggests that sexual trauma serves an epistemological function. For such apparent victims, a belief in demons, Satanists, or aliens provides a meaningful worldview and narratives of sexual transgressions that maintain and even compound these beliefs. “Carnal knowledge”––knowledge through sexual encounters––is privileged above visual or auditory encounters and is therefore more useful for constructing meaningful cosmologies in which human beings may interact with the divine.  Carnal knowledge was a privileged form of epistemology in pre-Christian cultures. Since the days of the early Christian church and the equation of sexuality with sin, carnal knowledge it has survived in the form of masochistic and traumatic sexual encounters.


Short Edition

John C. Hirsh

“Credulity and Belief: The Role of Postconditions in the Late Medieval Charm” [with charm texts from Oxford, Bodleian Library MS e Museo 243]

This article is concerned with the perception and the use of magic in the practice of charms, and the way certain charms involve religious or quasi-religious elements in their makeup. It focuses on the use of religious texts as one of the conditions for the invocation of charms, and is concerned to show the ways in which charms and religion interacted throughout the late medieval period, particularly in England. In order to accomplish this examination, it identifies three distinct kinds of postconditions, that is, conditions for employing charms without which the charms would not be effective, that were attached to a group of originally medieval English charms now preserved in Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS e Museo 143. The article shows the ways in which the practitioners of the charms often employed orthodox Christian prayers in the course of their use, and illustrates both the secular and religious contexts within which charms were performed, and the interactions that took place between magic and religion in the course of their operation.

Book Reviews

Cameron, Euan. Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion, 1250-1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. [Review by Michelle Brock]

Collins, Derek. Magic in the Ancient Greek World. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. [Review by Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe]

Gutierrez, Cathy. Plato’s Ghost: Spiritualism in the American Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. [Review by Kristy L. Slominski]

Lecouteux, Claude. The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind. Translated by Jon. E. Graham. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2009. [Review by Stephen Gordon]

Mitchell, Stephen A. Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. [Review by Stuart McWilliams]

Reider, Noriko. Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2010.  [Reviewed by Miri Nakamura]

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