A Candle for the Devil

Michael Ostling

in Between the Devil and the Host

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199587902
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731228 | DOI:

Series: The Past & Present Book Series

A Candle for the Devil

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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A tradition of Polish historiography sees the Polish devil as a comical figure of fun, in strong contrast to the terrifying Satan of western Christianity. While overdrawn, this tradition has a basis both in early modern literature and in later folklore: often by the word ‘devil’ Poles have meant beings such as house-elves, treasure-hauling demons, or the spirits of unbaptized infants. This is true in the witch-trials as well: the devils there described bear a resemblance to the familiars of English tradition. The chapter argues against too strong a causal role for the ‘mild’ Polish devil in ‘mild’ witch-trials, but also suggests that early modern Polish women could have dealings with ‘devils’ while remaining Christian, to their own satisfaction.

Keywords: comical devil; Satan; house-elf; treasure-hauling demons; unbaptized infants; familiars

Chapter.  6580 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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