Christian Demonology and Popular Mythology (review)

Bailey, Michael
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This is the second volume in a planned series of three emerging from an international conference held in 1999 in Budapest (for a review of the first volume, Communicating with the Spirits, by this reviewer, see Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 1.2 [2006], 257–60). The focus of this volume is human conceptions of and purported interaction with spirit-entities that traditional Christianity would label as demons. The essays collected here do not limit themselves to explorations of what Christian authorities had to say on the subject of demons, however, but also address folkloric spirit beliefs (the "popular mythology" as opposed to the "Christian demonology" of the title), and explore how these two realms of understanding spirits influenced one another. The organizing principle of the volume is therefore quite explicitly that of "popular" and "elite" cultures and their interactions. In the introduction, the editors acknowledge that this model has been strongly challenged by much recent research on magic, witchcraft, and demonology. Nevertheless, they hold that their use of the model is justified by real differences between the official demonology espoused by Christian authorities (theologians, magistrates, etc.) and conceptions of demonic/spirit entities held by the common laity. They also note that this volume does not privilege elite over popular conceptions, but instead seeks to explore the interaction and influence that spread in both direction. In fact, the potential problematics of the model do not really come into play here because most of the articles collected are too short and theoretically simplistic for the framework to matter.


This is a book review from Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 3 (2008): 99, doi:10.1353/mrw.0.0097. Posted with permission.