Trivializing Possession

in Believe Not Every Spirit

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780226762821
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226762951 | DOI:
Trivializing Possession

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter trivializes diabolic possession and shows the banality of such cases in early modern Europe. It argues that demonic possession was originally a catch-all term that was used in premodern times to describe all sorts of both physiological and psychological afflictions, the causes of which were not self-evidently organic, or afflictions that failed to respond to standard naturalist medical cures. Starting in the late Middle Ages, however, the diagnosis of possession was expanded to include disturbances that had their origins as well as their manifestations solely in the soul. This widening of the scope of possession was a response to the unprecedented growth of ecstatic behaviors that characterized both divine and demonic possessions. With more people claiming direct interactions with the divine, self-described visionaries, prophets, and prophetesses were scrutinized more and more thoroughly by the church. More often than not, they were found to be possessed by malevolent, rather than divine, spirits. Thus, the boundaries between natural and supernatural causalities and between physiological and psychological symptoms were completely porous.

Keywords: demonic possessions; prophetesses; Europe; afflictions; soul; diabolic possession; spirits; psychological symptoms

Chapter.  8897 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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