Devil Worship in the Middle Ages

The Devil and witches

The Devil and witchesDevil Worship in the Middle Ages

Denise Horton

Loyala University: The Student Historical Journal, Vol.18 (1987)


The chaos and upheaval that characterized European society in the Middle Ages served as a breeding ground for many peculiar ideas and events. One of the most interesting is undoubtedly the explosion of witch hunts and related activity. This “witch mania” eventually spread throughout most of the continent leaving behind it a trail of death and distorted ideas that made an impression upon popular opinion which is still felt in the 20th century. The scope of this subject is so wide that it cannot be satisfactorily discussed in a paper this size; therefore, it will be necessary to narrow the area of concentration. Devil worship was a very common element in much of the witchcraft controversy of this period, and it is this topic that we will confine our inquiry. At this point it would be helpful to define exactly what is meant by “the devil.” For our purposes, the concept will be confined to the devil, the “Satan” of Christianity. The reason for this is that it is in relation to the Christian idea of god that the devil became such a symbol of iniquity.

The reasons set forth by scholars for the epidemic of Devil worship are many and varied. One of the most popular is that witchcraft and devil worship could be traced to pre-Christian Europe’s ancient religious practices. As Christianity spread in the years following the disintegration of Greco-Roman practices, it is thought that it did not fully penetrate outlying areas for some centuries. In many cases, Christianity was observed simultaneously with the old nature religions. Elements of the two fused, and hybrids such as Dualism (which will be discussed in detail later) emerged which were considered heretical by the Church, and called “Devil worship.”


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