Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History

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Overview

"David Frankfurter's valuable, well-written study takes us to the far reaches of demonology. In documenting the harm done by labeling others evil, he poses a challenge to those of us who believe, however regretfully, in the necessity of the concept."—Robert Jay Lifton, author of The Nazi Doctors and The Genocidal Mentality

"David Frankfurter has taken a sensationalist topic and given it a serious, sober, and thoroughly enlightening treatment. At the heart of moral panics—witch crazes, red scares, rumors of Satanic ritual abuse, and others—he perceives not evil as an entity or sinister force, but rather a discourse of evil that draws on old traditions and common fantasies to stimulate horror, shock, and also prurient pleasure. Repeatedly, this volatile mix proves capable of inflaming passions and spawning violent campaigns whose excesses all too predictably fall on society's most marginal, and therefore most vulnerable, members. Drawing on a great many examples and much prior research, he makes a strong—and profoundly moral—argument."—Bruce Lincoln, University of Chicago

"David Frankfurter's valuable, well-written study takes us to the far reaches of demonology. In documenting the harm done by labeling others evil, he poses a challenge to those of us who believe, however regretfully, in the necessity of the concept."—Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., Distinguished Professor Emeritus, City University of New York

"Challenging the idea of evil being a reality beyond human comprehension, David Frankfurter's sharp and original analysis explores how this very idea produces a terrifying, unsettling reality of its own. The great merit of this elegantly written, substantial book is that it moves us beyond a rather particularistic attitude toward separate, locally bounded cases and shows that there is a system in the variegated realm of evil."—Birgit Meyer, Free University Amsterdam

"A significant contribution to several fields including comparative religions, ancient and contemporary religious history, and even literary criticism. Frankfurter's approach—looking at evil not as some force or essence but as a discourse—is highly original."—Hugh Urban, Ohio State University

"Engrossing and well-informed, Evil Incarnate presents a cornucopia of amazing material in lucid prose, cogently organized and constructed into an engaging argument. Few authors have the range, the vision, and the boldness to break through the disciplinary and chronological boundaries to bring off a book like this."—Charles Stewart, University College London

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Mr. Frankfurter . . . shows just how similar stories about evil have been. . . . [E]vil recurs in predictably familiar form. . . . Mr. Frankfurter outlines these repeated elements with illuminating clarity and wide-ranging learning. . . . Using the term evil, he argues, prevents us from understanding context and cause; it places something beyond the human and that's when trouble starts. . . . But when the word is applied to an act, we know just precisely what it means: There is no human excuse.
— Edward Rothstein
PsycCRITIQUES
Frankfurter has written an excellent account of how panics about Satanism have periodically erupted in Europe, North America, and postcolonial Africa. He pulls no punches in concluding that 'no evidence has ever been found to verify the atrocities as historical events.' The terrible irony that emerges from Frankfurter's work is that 'the real atrocities of history seem to take place not in the perverse ceremonies of some evil cult but rather in the course of purging such cults from the world.
— Richard J. McNally
Journal of the Ecclesiastical History
This book raises many questions and provides some answers in attempting to elucidate the process of demonisation.
— Michaela Valente
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Frankfurter explores the social phenomenon of belief in evil conspiracy throughout Western history from the second century C.E. to the very recent past. . . . Evil Incarnate quite successfully does what it claims to do, namely explore a social phenomenon, the way in which a certain kind of myth has functioned in different historical circumstances to produce social cohesion and to provide a medium for thinking about danger, inversion and otherness. . . . Evil Incarnate also provides scholars with a wide range of interesting avenues for further study.
— Heidi Marx-Wolf
PhycCRITIQUES

Frankfurter has written an excellent account of how panics about Satanism have periodically erupted in Europe, North America, and postcolonial Africa. He pulls no punches in concluding that 'no evidence has ever been found to verify the atrocities as historical events.' The terrible irony that emerges from Frankfurter's work is that 'the real atrocities of history seem to take place not in the perverse ceremonies of some evil cult but rather in the course of purging such cults from the world.
— Richard J. McNally
The New York Times - Edward Rothstein
Mr. Frankfurter . . . shows just how similar stories about evil have been. . . . [E]vil recurs in predictably familiar form. . . . Mr. Frankfurter outlines these repeated elements with illuminating clarity and wide-ranging learning. . . . Using the term evil, he argues, prevents us from understanding context and cause; it places something beyond the human and that's when trouble starts. . . . But when the word is applied to an act, we know just precisely what it means: There is no human excuse.
Church History - Dale B. Martin
[A] fascinating, even gripping, study. . . . [It] merits widespread attention and careful study.
Religious Studies Review - Dennis P. Quinn
[A] brilliant, if terrifying, study.
Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews - Heidi Marx-Wolf
Frankfurter explores the social phenomenon of belief in evil conspiracy throughout Western history from the second century C.E. to the very recent past. . . . Evil Incarnate quite successfully does what it claims to do, namely explore a social phenomenon, the way in which a certain kind of myth has functioned in different historical circumstances to produce social cohesion and to provide a medium for thinking about danger, inversion and otherness. . . . Evil Incarnate also provides scholars with a wide range of interesting avenues for further study.
Numen - Asbjorn Dyrendal
Interpreting and explaining stories and activities, Frankfurter takes us far away and long ago. He also takes the reader through a lot of different ground with regard to the subjects of analysis, and thus he produces and uses many theoretical perspectives.... It does, however, make for fascinating reading.... In addition to his chapter on 'rites of evil,' I was particularly taken with his ritual analysis of the performance of evil.
Journal of Religion - Phillip Cole
This meticulously researched and clearly argued book questions the reality of evil and will be welcomed by those, including myself, who join David Frankfurter in casting doubt upon the meaning of this dangerous and destructive idea.
PhycCRITIQUES - Richard J. McNally
Frankfurter has written an excellent account of how panics about Satanism have periodically erupted in Europe, North America, and postcolonial Africa. He pulls no punches in concluding that 'no evidence has ever been found to verify the atrocities as historical events.' The terrible irony that emerges from Frankfurter's work is that 'the real atrocities of history seem to take place not in the perverse ceremonies of some evil cult but rather in the course of purging such cults from the world.
Culture & Society - Sue Grand
Frankfurter's book, Evil Incarnate, is a scholarly, interdisciplinary work grounded in meticulous research. . . . What is riveting, here, is the way the myth of evil incarnate takes on new shapes with the arrival of new cultural collisions. What is exciting is his non-reductive causal approach, and the fluid, multi-layered perspectives from which he engages his topic.
Doctor; Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae - Rodney Moss
This is indeed a thought-provoking study and is strongly recommended for students of religion, culture and society. The discourses of evil are real in all our lives and understanding the dynamics that propagate them and turn them into unspeakable violence can liberate people and assist humanity in the journey towards peace and integration.
Journal of the Ecclesiastical History - Michaela Valente
This book raises many questions and provides some answers in attempting to elucidate the process of demonisation.
Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae - Dr. Rodney Moss
This is indeed a thought-provoking study and is strongly recommended for students of religion, culture and society. The discourses of evil are real in all our lives and understanding the dynamics that propagate them and turn them into unspeakable violence can liberate people and assist humanity in the journey towards peace and integration.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2007 Award of Excellence in the Study of Religion, Analytical-Descriptive Studies category, American Academy of Religion

"Mr. Frankfurter . . . shows just how similar stories about evil have been. . . . [E]vil recurs in predictably familiar form. . . . Mr. Frankfurter outlines these repeated elements with illuminating clarity and wide-ranging learning. . . . Using the term evil, he argues, prevents us from understanding context and cause; it places something beyond the human and that's when trouble starts. . . . But when the word is applied to an act, we know just precisely what it means: There is no human excuse."—Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

"In a thought-provoking . . . study . . . Frankfurter draws on religion, sociology and anthropology to uncover the reasons that societies publicly raise cries of demonic conspiracies to explain various social evils. . . . Frankfurter convincingly demonstrates that demonic conspiracies and satanic ritual abuse bare simply myths of evil conspiracies that provide societies an excuse for bullying those who are already considered suspect. He observes trenchantly that those seeking to purge demonic conspiracies have done more violence than the devotees of those so-called evil groups. . . . [H]is judicious insights about the nature of evil in our world provide thoughtful glimpses at the ways societies demonize the Other."—Publishers Weekly

"[A] fascinating, even gripping, study. . . . [It] merits widespread attention and careful study."—Dale B. Martin, Church History

"[A] brilliant, if terrifying, study."—Dennis P. Quinn, Religious Studies Review

"Frankfurter explores the social phenomenon of belief in evil conspiracy throughout Western history from the second century C.E. to the very recent past. . . . Evil Incarnate quite successfully does what it claims to do, namely explore a social phenomenon, the way in which a certain kind of myth has functioned in different historical circumstances to produce social cohesion and to provide a medium for thinking about danger, inversion and otherness. . . . Evil Incarnate also provides scholars with a wide range of interesting avenues for further study."—Heidi Marx-Wolf, Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews

"Interpreting and explaining stories and activities, Frankfurter takes us far away and long ago. He also takes the reader through a lot of different ground with regard to the subjects of analysis, and thus he produces and uses many theoretical perspectives.... It does, however, make for fascinating reading.... In addition to his chapter on 'rites of evil,' I was particularly taken with his ritual analysis of the performance of evil."—Asbjorn Dyrendal, Numen

"This meticulously researched and clearly argued book questions the reality of evil and will be welcomed by those, including myself, who join David Frankfurter in casting doubt upon the meaning of this dangerous and destructive idea."—Phillip Cole, Journal of Religion

"Frankfurter has written an excellent account of how panics about Satanism have periodically erupted in Europe, North America, and postcolonial Africa. He pulls no punches in concluding that 'no evidence has ever been found to verify the atrocities as historical events.' The terrible irony that emerges from Frankfurter's work is that 'the real atrocities of history seem to take place not in the perverse ceremonies of some evil cult but rather in the course of purging such cults from the world."—Richard J. McNally, PhycCRITIQUES

"Frankfurter's book, Evil Incarnate, is a scholarly, interdisciplinary work grounded in meticulous research. . . . What is riveting, here, is the way the myth of evil incarnate takes on new shapes with the arrival of new cultural collisions. What is exciting is his non-reductive causal approach, and the fluid, multi-layered perspectives from which he engages his topic."—Sue Grand, Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society
"This is indeed a thought-provoking study and is strongly recommended for students of religion, culture and society. The discourses of evil are real in all our lives and understanding the dynamics that propagate them and turn them into unspeakable violence can liberate people and assist humanity in the journey towards peace and integration."—Dr. Rodney Moss, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

"This book raises many questions and provides some answers in attempting to elucidate the process of demonisation."—Michaela Valente, Journal of the Ecclesiastical History

Church History
[A] fascinating, even gripping, study. . . . [It] merits widespread attention and careful study.
— Dale B. Martin
Religious Studies Review
[A] brilliant, if terrifying, study.
— Dennis P. Quinn
Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews
Frankfurter explores the social phenomenon of belief in evil conspiracy throughout Western history from the second century C.E. to the very recent past. . . . Evil Incarnate quite successfully does what it claims to do, namely explore a social phenomenon, the way in which a certain kind of myth has functioned in different historical circumstances to produce social cohesion and to provide a medium for thinking about danger, inversion and otherness. . . . Evil Incarnate also provides scholars with a wide range of interesting avenues for further study.
— Heidi Marx-Wolf
Numen
Interpreting and explaining stories and activities, Frankfurter takes us far away and long ago. He also takes the reader through a lot of different ground with regard to the subjects of analysis, and thus he produces and uses many theoretical perspectives.... It does, however, make for fascinating reading.... In addition to his chapter on 'rites of evil,' I was particularly taken with his ritual analysis of the performance of evil.
— Asbjorn Dyrendal
Journal of Religion
This meticulously researched and clearly argued book questions the reality of evil and will be welcomed by those, including myself, who join David Frankfurter in casting doubt upon the meaning of this dangerous and destructive idea.
— Phillip Cole
Culture & Society
Frankfurter's book, Evil Incarnate, is a scholarly, interdisciplinary work grounded in meticulous research. . . . What is riveting, here, is the way the myth of evil incarnate takes on new shapes with the arrival of new cultural collisions. What is exciting is his non-reductive causal approach, and the fluid, multi-layered perspectives from which he engages his topic.
— Sue Grand, Psychoanalysis
Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae
This is indeed a thought-provoking study and is strongly recommended for students of religion, culture and society. The discourses of evil are real in all our lives and understanding the dynamics that propagate them and turn them into unspeakable violence can liberate people and assist humanity in the journey towards peace and integration.
— Dr. Rodney Moss
Publishers Weekly
From the Salem witch trials in 1692 to the alleged satanic ritual abuse of children in day care centers in California in the 1980s, individuals have sought to restore moral order by rooting out what they regard as evil conspiracies. In a thought-provoking if sometimes pedantic study, University of New Hampshire historian Frankfurter draws on religion, sociology and anthropology to uncover the reasons that societies publicly raise cries of demonic conspiracies to explain various social evils. During the Salem witch trials, for example, the fascination with and the terror of the mysterious Witches' Sabbat gave rise to a cadre of so-called experts who claimed to judge accurately the behavior of a witch. Both the experts and the defendants performed their roles in the social ritual of identifying and persecuting the accused. Frankfurter convincingly demonstrates that demonic conspiracies and satanic ritual abuse are simply myths of evil conspiracies that provide societies an excuse for bullying those who are already considered suspect. He observes trenchantly that those seeking to purge demonic conspiracies have done more violence than the devotees of those so-called evil groups. Frankfurter's conclusions will likely be hotly contested, especially among those who claim to have been ritually abused, but his judicious insights about the nature of evil in our world provide thoughtful glimpses at the ways societies demonize the Other. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691136295
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,058,059
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David Frankfurter is Professor of Religious Studies and History at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of the acclaimed "Religion in Roman Egypt" (Princeton), which won the 1999 award for excellence in the historical study of religion from the American Academy of Religion.

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Read an Excerpt

Evil Incarnate

Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History
By David Frankfurter

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-691-11350-5


Chapter One

INTRODUCTION

BASQUE VILLAGERS of the sixteenth century had always known that some people could be malevolent, dangerous; and they had long speculated on how such people perverted human custom and brought catastrophe down on their neighbors, how they got their powers to strike ill, what made them different. But as rumors filtered up the mountain valleys that French judges to the north were discovering organized groups of witches, and then when, around 1610, Franciscan friars arrived with the first, horrific details of a witches' aquellare, or Sabbat, with its orgies, feasts on infant flesh, desecration of Christian sacraments, and obscene contracts with the Devil, people grew anxious: malevolence was much bigger than anyone had thought-much worse than one or two village malcontents. It was coordinated by Satan himself, in the form of an anti-Church; and women were particularly bound to the sect through their sexual pleasure with demons. So when children began to let it be known that they had seen these aquellares, that they had been taken to them by strange means, and that they had seen people there-neighbors, playmates-panic swept themountain villages. Lynch mobs formed to deal with those whom the children accused, to root out this Satanic conspiracy from their midst. Local judiciaries tortured those whom the mobs brought in, extracting some of the details of what was going on and how far the conspiracy reached.

By early 1611, responding to the mountain villages' appeal for official help against the witch conspiracy, a formal inquisition was established in a number of towns, using the most authoritative books on the witches' Sabbat. The Inquisition also drew on the best means of extracting testimony, so that the confessions demanded of each village suspect could be fit to a scenario of widespread Satanic conspiracy and witch-evil that had riveted ecclesiastical minds since the late fifteenth century. Hundreds in Basque country were tortured and burned to death as examples of the Inquisition's omnipotence in saving Christendom from Satanic corruption.

The Basque case is but a microcosm of a much broader series of Satanic witchcraft panics that took place in many parts of Europe between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Of course, there were no witches or Sabbats or Satanic conspiracies, just the typical village tensions and suspicions-that one person has the evil eye, another has the power to bless; that one has always borne a cloud of hostility, another enjoys mysterious fortune. How such rudimentary, even inchoate beliefs about evil people or people's consort with spirits could be transformed into the terrifying Satanic conspiracy epitomized in the Sabbat has been the subject of extensive historical analysis for each witchcraft panic. Historians have gone far to comprehend what intellectual, judicial, and political circumstances framed this kind of transformation and why other cultures (like early modern England) could be gripped with witch-fears without any rumors of the Sabbat to integrate them.

But there have been other historical cases as well whose resemblance to these early modern witch-panics cannot but strike us: Roman rumors about Christians, that they engaged in infant-feasts and orgies and sought the collapse of the moral order, sparking lynchings and executions in the second and third centuries CE. Once again, there was no substance to these rumors in real Christian practice. And in the early 1990s a region in southwest Kenya erupted in a witch-panic following an evangelical Christian preaching campaign that equated traditional witchcraft ideas with the Satanic power that Kenyans were increasingly perceiving around the government and new wealth. Witches abducted children, ate corpses, ran naked at night, killed, corrupted village life with their secret poisons, and-most frighteningly-were now in league with that new global power, Satan. At least sixty people died of burns as local youth, encouraged by other villagers, took the expulsion of Satanic power into their own hands, beating and incinerating those they believed to be Satanic witches.

This book, however, stems not from these distant events but rather from some in the most recent decades of American history. Beginning in 1987, a series of television specials broadcast around the country the idea that a large and insidious network of Devil-worshippers were committing a range of atrocities-from cannibalism and human sacrifice to especially lurid forms of child sexual abuse. These cults, it was said, had enslaved thousands of women to breed babies for sacrifice, and they had insinuated themselves into the upper levels of government to conceal their crimes. Quickly this Satanic conspiracy was adopted as an explanation for the massive day care abuse panics in California, North Carolina, and elsewhere; and Satanic cult details came to figure prominently in the "memories" that a phalanx of psychotherapists were eliciting from patients across the country. These patients-now "Satanic Ritual Abuse survivors"-and the parents of children reporting weird Satanic rites in nursery schools, along with self-proclaimed ritual abuse experts and police cult experts, all began to troop across the nation's television screens, popular magazines, and instant paperback shelves. They even went on international tours, such that the United Kingdom itself succumbed to the SRA panic by the late 1980s. By the mid-1990s, one could buy Joan Baez's CD Play Me Backwards, with a song about recovering real SRA memories, and one could read articles and reviews in professional journals that premised SRA as a real "cult" scourge and source of trauma. Meanwhile, charismatic Christian leaders, for whom the rise of Satanism signalled both the reality of Satan and the imminence of the Last Days, communicated the features of Satanic cult conspiracy even further abroad, such that Nigeria and Kenya absorbed rumors of Satanic cults even while the panic began to subside in the Anglophone West.

This SRA panic repeated many of the ancient and early modern features of evil conspiracy panics, yet it erupted among-and was led by-secular groups like social workers, police, and psychotherapists; and in this way it confronts us with the real endurance and power of rumors of evil conspiracy, right down to the atrocities performed, its pseudo-religious cast, the wide reach of the conspirators' malicious deeds, the utter depravity and perversity of their habits and central rituals, and their basic opposition to everything moral and human. From rumors as far back as second-century BCE Rome concerning the atrocities of the Bacchanalia, through panics in medieval and early modern Europe about Jews' ritual murders of Christian children, to these recent SRA panics, it would seem that rumors about an evil conspiracy, especially of a pseudo-religious character, can take form in almost any ideological system, not simply a Christian one. Furthermore, it would seem that such evil conspiracies can be extended to almost every aspect of experience, from child abduction to moral decline, from sick livestock and storms in the sixteenth century to police departments and day care centers in the late twentieth. All these realities become tentacles of the conspiracy.

Such a conspiracy-of witches, Satanists, Jews, Christians, heretics, or whatever-has never existed, even if (as chapter 7 will discuss further) violent, even homicidal, rituals have certainly been recorded. (Such rituals, it must be said, have been recorded most vividly and extensively in public religious circumstances and by those purging evil rather than celebrating it). So is there something common to all these incidents of conspiracy rumors and panics, a myth of evil conspiracy that, if not transcending history, kicks into action under certain circumstances? How do we explain the similarities across cultures and time periods? And what exactly is similar: the beliefs? The social dynamics of conspiracy panic? Are we "hardwired" to believe in monsters or demonic enemies? Or do the patterns we observe across history and cultures come down simply to influences-books and ideas passed across territories and down through centuries?

Sorting Out Resemblances

Fundamentally, each incident must first reflect a particular situation, an historical and social context, before it can be said to be an example of a pattern. Rumors about early Christians as orgiastic cannibals in the Roman Empire of the second and third centuries CE, for example, clearly reflect Roman traditions of imagining foreign cults as antithetical to Roman morality. The representation of witches in 1692 Salem and the ensuing community panic about diabolical witchcraft must certainly be understood in relationship to the region's experiences of the Indian wars, social tensions in the community, and the lives of the "afflicted" women. Witch panics in contemporary Africa cannot be understood apart from individual regions' particular encounters with modernity, with global economies, and with the new notions of power and exploitation that these forces present to ordinary Africans. A modern American community's inclination to embrace the Satanic cult conspiracy-in a day care center or local families-depends on the books and television shows in circulation and the theories (and even conference attendance) of local detectives and social workers. No myth of evil conspiracy arises apart from distinct historical stresses.

But do these immediate contexts exhaust our understanding of the events or the rumors-the very images of demonic corruption and demonic rituals? How far do they go to explain the passions involved in the panics: the terror communities experienced by facing unseen conspiratorial forces, or the fascination with which people who are beset by these panics bring to contemplating "ritual" perversions and atrocities they believe to take place at the center of conspiracy? We know that the great early modern European witch-panics, for example, arose not simply because of ecclesiastical politics or village tensions but, perhaps most centrally, because of the stark power of the witches' Sabbat, a picture of Satanic conspiracy broadcast through much of Europe through popular preaching and torture. The Sabbat image had a curious hold on audiences, as have Satanic conspiracies in modern America and Kenya, and others before.

So rather than attributing every incident to its particular social, political, and intellectual context, this study suggests that there are meaningful patterns across them: "something" about abducted and abused or sacrificed children, "something" about a secret counter-religion bent on corruption and atrocity, "something" about people whose inclinations and habits show them to be not quite people, and "something" about the authoritative way these stories are presented. There exists, in some sense, a myth of evil conspiracy-using "myth" in the sense of master narrative rather than false belief. The problem is how to explain this myth and its patterns with due regard to their contexts: not as timeless, omnipotent archetypes but-as I will argue-ways of thinking about Otherness, of imagining an upside-down world that inverts our own, of encountering local malevolence suddenly in universal scope, and of sensing the collapse of vital boundaries between "us" and those monstrous "others."

There is, furthermore, a depth to these ways of thinking and imagining. The universality of a child-eating, backwards-walking, misshapen witch, the anthropologist Rodney Needham points out, cannot be explained simply through influences or historical circumstances. The consistency of such witch-figures across time and space, from ancient Mesopotamia and traditional Asia through early modern Europe and modern Africa, bespeaks some kind of "psychic constant," he concludes, some "autonomous image to which the human mind is naturally predisposed." Witches represent the cross-cultural tendency to construct images of inversion-the opposite of what "we" do and are-for diverse social purposes. The historian Norman Cohn, in the first edition of his magisterial study of the roots of the witches' Sabbat, Europe's Inner Demons, proposed some tentative links between the relentless perversity of the Sabbat, so gripping to judges and inquisitors, and the preoccupations with cannibalism and inverse sexuality in the Grimms' tales and children's fantasy. Witches and the fascinated horror that surrounds them seem to correspond to what psychoanalysts call "primary process" thinking. When we describe cross-cultural and transhistorical patterns of a myth of evil conspiracy, we must be as open to this kind of depth as to the immediate contexts. We must also frame the patterns not as immutable archetypes but as clusters of related images or social dynamics, comparing (for example) various images of perversion and savagery, or comparing various forms of charismatic expertise in identifying evil, rather than the child-eating myth or the witch-hunter. (The night-witch, on the other hand, is cross-culturally so consistent an image of predatory monstrosity that we can speak of this image in more monolithic terms). Defining patterns in this way allows us to compare and contrast the discrete historical occurrences-ancient Christians and early modern Jews, putative Nigerian Satanic cults and South African sorcery cults-more productively than simple impressions of resemblance would allow. This book, then, is about the patterns that frame the differences. For we will always understand better the meaning of cultural and historical differences, especially among such conspiracy panics, when we have some framework by which to compare them.

Circumstances for Imagining Evil

Obviously much about these historical occurrences will not subscribe to patterns. Why one culture can hold myths of evil conspiracy as latent assumptions about reality for decades without acting to expel it, while another will become so gripped with fear that it launches full-scale exterminations, are questions that come down to many social and historical factors. The latent patterns that this book addresses, however, do seem to be activated-to shift from legend to preoccupation-in the encounter between local religious worlds and larger, totalizing, often global systems. In those local worlds, experiences of misfortune and dangerous people are negotiated through customs and landscape, often (as we will see in chapter 2) in improvised, situationally specific ways rather than by handbooks or institutionally established procedures. When such worlds come into contact with some larger ideology, like the centralizing Church of fifteenth-century European heresy-hunts or the global capitalist discourse of twentieth-century colonial powers in Africa, several shifts in world-view take place. First, that global or totalizing ideology is granted the authority to define what is sacred, what is prestigious, and often what is subversive or evil-in the sense of counterhuman. Secondly, as a consequence of this authority, those in local worlds begin to think in terms of that global ideology, to appropriate its symbols and terms and even accoutrements (like books or medical instruments, for example) in order to reframe the misfortunes and pollutions of the local world.

By assuming to itself what we may call the "totalizing discourse" of that global ideology, the local world comes to recast the bad or suspicious people in their midst. Their tools for harm, for example, come to resemble the tools of the global system: they are like the Church's sacraments, they are like computers or radios, and they are the more insidious for their modernity. The celebrations of evil people sound like perversions of what the global authorities enjoy. They participate in a global organization, with links to foreign countries. They are organized in just the kind of hierarchies that integrate the global system. Indeed, this encounter of worlds and their worldviews produces notions of conspiracy-of a quintessentially "modern," hierarchical kind of subversion-where beforehand there was seldom more than individual maliciousness and capricious spirits to mobilize communities. What produces panics and mass purges, then, is thinking about familiar anxieties-witches, foreigners, immorality, even economic inequality-in newly ramified terms, and especially (although not exclusively) in the radically polarized Christian terms of Satanic evil.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Evil Incarnate by David Frankfurter Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix
Preface xi
Acknowledgments xv

Chapter 1: Introduction 1
Sorting Out Resemblances 4
Circumstances for Imagining Evil 6
Evil in the Perspective of This Book 9

Chapter 2: An Architecture for Chaos: The Nature and Function of Demonology 13
Thinking with Demons 13
Demonology, Lists, and Temples 15
Beyond the Temple: Demonology among Scribes and Ritual Experts 19
Conclusions 26

Chapter 3: Experts in the Identification of Evil 31
Prophets, Exorcists, and the Popular Reception of Demonology 33
Witch-Finders: Charisma in the Discernment of Evil 37
The Possessed as Discerners of Evil 48
Contemporary Forms of Expertise in the Discernment of Evil: Secular and Religious 53
Conclusions: Expertise and the Depiction of Satanic Conspiracy 69

Chapter 4: Rites of Evil: Constructions of Maleficent Religion and Ritual 73
Ritual as a Point of Otherness 76
Ritual and the Monstrous Realm 85
Ritual as a Point of Danger 101
The Implications of Evil Rites 119

Chapter 5: Imputations of Perversion 129
The Imaginative Resources of the Monstrous 129
Constructing the Monstrous 136
Conclusions 158

Chapter 6: The Performance of Evil 168
Performance and Demonic Realms 169
Direct Mimetic Performance 179
Indirect Mimetic Performance 188
Direct Mimetic Parody 198
Conclusions 203

Chapter 7: Mobilizing against Evil 208
Contemplating Evil, Chasing Evil 208
Matters of Fact and Fantasy 212

Notes 225
Select Bibliography 259
Index 281

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2012

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    Posted March 30, 2012

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    Posted September 21, 2009

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    Posted September 21, 2009

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    Posted September 26, 2009

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    Posted May 17, 2012

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