The Prevalence of a Mundane Practice

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:
The Prevalence of a Mundane Practice

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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Demonic possessions were part and parcel of daily life in early modern Europe. Evil spirits could possess the body as well as the soul and inflict physiological pains as well as mental disturbances. They could exhibit themselves in purely natural signs (such as ongoing pain) as well as in preternatural signs (such as the ability to move mountains). Historians have tended to follow the post-Tridentine church's definitions of authorized and unauthorized practices, and have focused their attention on liturgical texts, relegating into the realm of folklore alternative popular healing techniques and formulas that Europeans practiced to cast out demons. Exorcism was a routine and non-dramatic occurrence that was practiced by many thousands of individuals, some of them ecclesiastics, but the large majority members of the laity. In order to re-create the lived experience of exorcism in Catholic early modern Europe, it is necessary first to unravel the clerical classification system, at the center of which was the concept of “superstition.”

Keywords: Europe; demonic possessions; body; soul; evil spirits; exorcism; superstition; demons; natural signs; preternatural signs

Chapter.  12501 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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