Haunting Matters: Demonic Infestation in Northern Europe, 1400-1600
By Rex Delno Barnes III
PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 2019
Abstract: A profound concern with demonic spirits was central to a large body of literature from the Latin Middle Ages and early modern period. This dissertation will show the ways in which learned writings about demons reveal insights into the cultural and intellectual history of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century western Europe.
In particular, an interest in how and in what (visible or invisible) form demonic beings afflicted humanity emerged as larger issues of theological debate from approximately 1400-1600 CE. As I will demonstrate, orthodox theologians maintained that demons existed solely as fallen angels, and that they were the primary culprits of myriad haunting phenomena (e.g., visible apparitions, unsettling movements, and wayward sounds and feelings). In rebellion against the Christian divinity, these wicked spirits were consistently associated with sinful behavior, temptation, and illusory tricks.
At the same time, vernacular and folk storytelling suggest that fallen angels were but one of many possible spiritual creatures inhabiting the cosmos. Rather than a strict binary between good and evil spirits, many instantiations of spiritual creatures resisted and survived alongside ecclesiastical teachings on the subject. Informed by multiple overlapping traditions, the premodern Christian imaginary perceived a world filled with invisible agents of both benevolent and malevolent intentions, as well as other ethereal forces with moral ambiguities.
Top Image: British Library MS Harley 4431 f. 108v