Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief / Edition 1

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Overview

"On 20 September 1587 Walpurga Hausmannin of Dillingen in southern Germany was burned at the stake as a witch. Although she had confessed to committing a long list of maleficia (deeds of harmful magic), including killing forty-one infants and two mothers in labor, her evil career allegedly began with just one heinous act - sex with a demon. Fornication with demons was a major theme of her trial record, which detailed an almost continuous orgy of sexual excess with her diabolical paramour Federlin "in many diverse places,...even in the street by night."" "As Walter Stephens demonstrates in Demon Lovers, it was not Hausmannin or other so-called witches who were obsessive about sex with demons - instead, a number of devout Christians, including trained theologians, displayed an uncanny preoccupation with the topic during the centuries of the "witch craze." Why? To find out, Stephens conducts a detailed investigation of the first and most influential treatises on witchcraft (written between 1430 and 1530), including the infamous Malleus maleficarum (Hammer of Witches)." Far from being credulous fools or mindless misogynists, early writers on witchcraft emerge in Stephens's account as rational but reluctant skeptics, trying desperately to resolve contradictions in Christian thought on God, spirits, and the sacraments that had bedeviled theologians for centuries. Proof of the physical existence of demons - for instance, through evidence of their intercourse with mortal witches - would provide strong evidence for the reality of the supernatural, the truth of the Bible, and the existence of God. Early modern witchcraft theory reflected a crisis of belief - a crisis that continues to be expressed today in popular debates over angels, satanic ritual child abuse, and alien abduction.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Throughout the centuries of witch trials in Europe, many Christian thinkers were interested (perhaps a little too interested) in a certain recurring theme of the witches' testimonies: their stories of sex with demons. A Johns Hopkins Italian studies professor, Walter Stephens, looks at this preoccupation in his scholarly but accessible work, Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief. Perusing 15th- and 16th-century writings on witchcraft from various European countries, Stephens argues that theories of demon copulation are more than just misogynistic expressions of ambivalence toward female sexuality: they were vital to Christian thought, a way for theologians to resolve perennial questions about the existence of God and the supernatural. (Mar. 14) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Rosemary's Baby fans be forewarned: there is little entertainment but much ponderous discussion about theological history in this book on the Christian obsession with sex and demons during the 15th and 16th centuries. To explain this phenomenon, Stephens (Italian, Johns Hopkins; Giants in Those Days: Folklore, Ancient History and Nationalism) turns his attention to the witchcraft treatises written during that time rather than to accounts of the trials themselves. A conscientious historian and writer, he places his work in the context of what has already been done and is careful to point out the dangers of foisting the concerns of one's own era on the goings-on of another. Instead, Stephens attempts to show at great length and with considerable scholarship that this preoccupation had to do with nothing less than theologians' uncertainty about the realness of demons, without whose existence the very precepts of Christianity could be called into question. Recommended for academic libraries. Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Renaissance Quarterly
This book fills an important gap by exploring the often-tangled thought processes of the first generation of ‘witchcraft theorists’ . . . [who] constructed the essentials of the early modern notion of the witch. . . . This provocative, often fascinating, book poses an original and important perspective on the meaning of the witch-figure in the history of late-medieval and Renaissance theology. It is essential reading for those interested in the witch hunts, as well as those with a general interest in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century thought.”

— Elspeth Whitney

Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Scholars of religion must be highly indebted to Walter Stephens for providing a responsible reading of witchcraft theorists. . . . His thesis is well supported, persuasive, and a welcome antidote to sensationalist accounts of witch persecution. . . . Demon Lovers is fascinating and instructive reading for anyone who notices and fears the gulf between human intentions and their effects.”

— Margaret R. Miles

Speculum
This important book moves witchcraft from the periphery to the center of late-medieval and early-modern intellectual and religious culture, challenges the very distinction between medieval and early modern, and forces us to reconsider seriously some basic categories of premodern European thought and life.”

— Michael D. Bailey

The Historian
The book is valuable not only because of its focus on witchcraft the
— Edward Peters
Renaissance Quarterly - Elspeth Whitney
“This book fills an important gap by exploring the often-tangled thought processes of the first generation of ‘witchcraft theorists’ . . . [who] constructed the essentials of the early modern notion of the witch. . . . This provocative, often fascinating, book poses an original and important perspective on the meaning of the witch-figure in the history of late-medieval and Renaissance theology. It is essential reading for those interested in the witch hunts, as well as those with a general interest in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century thought.”
Journal of the American Academy of Religion - Margaret R. Miles
“Scholars of religion must be highly indebted to Walter Stephens for providing a responsible reading of witchcraft theorists. . . . His thesis is well supported, persuasive, and a welcome antidote to sensationalist accounts of witch persecution. . . . Demon Lovers is fascinating and instructive reading for anyone who notices and fears the gulf between human intentions and their effects.”
Speculum - Michael D. Bailey
“This important book moves witchcraft from the periphery to the center of late-medieval and early-modern intellectual and religious culture, challenges the very distinction between medieval and early modern, and forces us to reconsider seriously some basic categories of premodern European thought and life.”
The Historian - Edward Peters
“The book is valuable not only because of its focus on witchcraft theoreticians and witchcraft in a theological context, but also because Stephens focuses on influential, but little-studied, early thinkers. . . . The book is essential reading for all serious students of the subject. It is a major contribution to the rehabilitation of the literature of witchcraft theory.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226772622
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 478
  • Sales rank: 1,109,376
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Stephens is the Charles S. Singleton Professor of Italian Studies at The Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Giants in Those Days: Folklore, Ancient History, and Nationalism and coeditor of Discourses of Authority in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Note on Translations
Introduction: Sex Fiends 1
1 Witchcraft Theory: Copulation with Demons as Carnal Knowledge 13
2 Why Women? The Malleus maleficarum 32
3 Sexy Devils: How They Got Bodies 58
4 Incredible Sex: Confronting the Difficulty of Belief 87
5 From Dreams to Reality: Why Witches Fly 125
6 Experiments with Witches 145
7 The Theory of Witchcraft Power 180
8 "This Is My Body": Witches and Desecration 207
9 Witches, Infanticide, and Power 241
10 Illusion and Reality, Part One: Crib Death and Stealthy Cats 277
11 Illusion and Reality, Part Two: Witches Who Steal Penises 300
12 Interview with the Demon: From Exorcism to Witchcraft 322
13 Witchcraft, Body, and Soul 343
Conclusion: Talking around the Unspeakable 365
Notes 373
Works Cited 421
Index 443
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