Discerning Women

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:
Discerning Women

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In early modern Europe, the guides for exorcists and the manuals for the discernment of spirits were addressed strictly to male clerics—theologians, Inquisitors, and exorcists. Their descriptions of discerning activities, just like their instructions concerning the performance of exorcism, assumed the familiarity of the practitioner with specific bodies of knowledge, among them the structure of the soul, the multiple names or residences of demons and their history, and chapters in Satan's permanent struggle to deceive humans. But the fact that most of the literature about exorcism and discernment was written by and for male clerics should not distract us from remembering that discernment of spirits was a divine grace, one of the seven gifts. Discernment of spirits, just like exorcism, was always a social praxis and not merely an abstract theological enterprise. Women's practices of discernment were restricted by their self-doubts, their discretion, and their careful avoidance of crossing an invisible line and stepping into the domain of male clerics.

Keywords: Europe; discernment; women; male clerics; exorcism; spirits; soul; demons; divine grace

Chapter.  10546 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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