Haunting Matters: Demonic Infestation in Northern Europe, 1400-1600

Haunting Matters: Demonic Infestation in Northern Europe, 1400-1600
Rex Delno Barnes III
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. Continue Reading →