CC + tutorial: Allies of the Devil: Pagans, Heretics, Magicians, Antichrists and Witches

Course Description: 

The Devil (Satan, Lucifer) , the supernatural personification of evil is a central figure in the history of Christianity. We will begin with examining the formation of this figure from New Testament times through Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. We will deal with the most spectacular public manifestation of the presence of the devil: diabolic possession and its treatment by exorcism. Subsequently, the course will concentrate on how, in different historical situations, various representatives of ‘evil’ had been singled out as being directly influenced by the Devil. In the times of conversion ‘pagans’ were accused to be venerating the devil with their religious rituals and this type of accusation persisted in the fight against ‘superstition’, seen as a remnant of paganism. Another important candidate for diabolic alliance was medieval heresy, especially its dualist versions: this is expressed by the Black Mass accusations against heretics (Gnostics, Manichaeans, Paulicians, Bogomils, Cathars). In moments of apocalyptic fears or acute ecclesiastical-political crisis, the satanic Antichrist is suspected to come in the shape of the highest authorities: the emperor or the pope. The notion of a Faustian “pact” with the Devil emerges with the early medieval legend of Theophilus, which gets gradually generalized around the figure of the magician, and the fear of diabolic magic in the 14th century. The late medieval multiplication of scape goat images around heretics, lepers, Jews, and the crystallization of the generic scape-goat figure of the witch, made the suspicion of the allies of the devil all-pervasive. The construction of the concept of the diabolic witches’ Sabbath, and the lurid speculations of demonologists on how the witches are sexually seduced by the Devil is a supreme manifestation of this mode of thought. For understanding this historical problem, one needs the involvement of historical anthropology, art history, mythology, theology and psychology.

The organization of our work: The course can be taken also without tutorial, but the tutorial cannot be taken without the course. The courses will consist of lectures, and student presentations. The tutorials will consist of discussion of selected readings (sources and secondary literature), relating to the lectures the day before.

The goals of the course – to make the students familiar with

- the logic of the medieval concepts of evil, and the logic of its uses in accusations against pagans, heretic, political enemies, ‘witches’.

- the type of sources related to heretics, witches and magic (sermons, demonological treatises, inquisitorial documents, treatises of learned magic).

- a sociological/anthropological approach to scape-goat formation.

Learning Outcomes: 

The students will be asked to make individual enquiries in topics of their choice within these fields. There will be an attempt to chart with each student, how the general topic might intersect with their own MA thesis topics.


Assignments and grading for those taking both the Lecture course and the Tutorial:

- three class journals (4-5 page accounts reproducing some of the problems discussed in the course, with references to the readings) (40%)

- one in-class presentation at the Tutorial (30%)

- weekly reading of one of the assigned pieces from the reading list and regular participation in the common discussions (30%)


for those only taking the Lecture course

- An in-class presentation of c. 10 minutes on a selected  topic (40 %)

- A final paper of 1500-2000 words on the basis of the presentation (40 %)

- Contribution to class discussions (20 %)