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Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief [Paperback]

Walter Stephens
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 15, 2003 0226772624 978-0226772622
On September 20, 1587, Walpurga Hausmännin of Dillingen in southern Germany was burned at the stake as a witch. Although she had confessed to committing a long list of maleficia (deeds of harmful magic), including killing forty—one infants and two mothers in labor, her evil career allegedly began with just one heinous act—sex with a demon. Fornication with demons was a major theme of her trial record, which detailed an almost continuous orgy of sexual excess with her diabolical paramour Federlin "in many divers places, . . . even in the street by night."

As Walter Stephens demonstrates in Demon Lovers, it was not Hausmännin or other so-called witches who were obsessive about sex with demons—instead, a number of devout Christians, including trained theologians, displayed an uncanny preoccupation with the topic during the centuries of the "witch craze." Why? To find out, Stephens conducts a detailed investigation of the first and most influential treatises on witchcraft (written between 1430 and 1530), including the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches).

Far from being credulous fools or mindless misogynists, early writers on witchcraft emerge in Stephens's account as rational but reluctant skeptics, trying desperately to resolve contradictions in Christian thought on God, spirits, and sacraments that had bedeviled theologians for centuries. Proof of the physical existence of demons—for instance, through evidence of their intercourse with mortal witches—would provide strong evidence for the reality of the supernatural, the truth of the Bible, and the existence of God. Early modern witchcraft theory reflected a crisis of belief—a crisis that continues to be expressed today in popular debates over angels, Satanic ritual child abuse, and alien abduction.

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Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief + Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History (Middle Ages Series)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Throughout the centuries of witch trials in Europe, many Christian thinkers were interested (perhaps a little too interested) in a certain recurring theme of the witches' testimonies: their stories of sex with demons. A Johns Hopkins Italian studies professor, Walter Stephens, looks at this preoccupation in his scholarly but accessible work, Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief. Perusing 15th- and 16th-century writings on witchcraft from various European countries, Stephens argues that theories of demon copulation are more than just misogynistic expressions of ambivalence toward female sexuality: they were vital to Christian thought, a way for theologians to resolve perennial questions about the existence of God and the supernatural.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Rosemary's Baby fans be forewarned: there is little entertainment but much ponderous discussion about theological history in this book on the Christian obsession with sex and demons during the 15th and 16th centuries. To explain this phenomenon, Stephens (Italian, Johns Hopkins; Giants in Those Days: Folklore, Ancient History and Nationalism) turns his attention to the witchcraft treatises written during that time rather than to accounts of the trials themselves. A conscientious historian and writer, he places his work in the context of what has already been done and is careful to point out the dangers of foisting the concerns of one's own era on the goings-on of another. Instead, Stephens attempts to show at great length and with considerable scholarship that this preoccupation had to do with nothing less than theologians' uncertainty about the realness of demons, without whose existence the very precepts of Christianity could be called into question. Recommended for academic libraries. Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 478 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (August 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226772624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226772622
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,238,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hunting Demons to Boost Faith July 15, 2002
Walter Stephens points out, in _Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief_ (University of Chicago Press) that the notoriety of the misogyny of witch hunters of centuries ago is misplaced. He has read extensively in the _Malleus Maleficarum_ and similar documents, and has written a scholarly, large, comprehensive, and well referenced work demonstrating that such books were written to prove that demons were real, and by so doing prove that God, Jesus, and the other articles of faith were inarguably true. Stephens has turned customary reasoning about the _Malleus_ and other writings about witchcraft on its head, but lucidly provides enough evidence to prove his case.
"Witch theorists" wanted some sort of physical demonstration of the existence of demons, but had no recourse but to rely on the testimony of experts. Unfortunately, the experts were witches. Their testimony was inherently unreliable, not only because it was often obtained under torture, but because they were, well, witches. The most material manifestation of demons would be not just that they appeared to witches, nor flew them through the air, but that they actually had physical sex with them. "If demonic copulation had been an obvious and axiomatic fact of life, it would not have received the minute, voluminous exposition and vehement defense that these writers devoted to it." The enquiries about demonic sex were not an ethical effort, but rather a scientific one, although the science was rudimentary and full of error. Pope Innocent VIII had issued a bull which proclaimed the naughtiness of those who "...transgressed with incubus and succubus demons," and so the witch theorists were therefore on firm ground in maintaining that demonic sex was happening, and happening often.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't Let the Title Fool You June 25, 2007
By D
A very good book, well thought out and reasoned, with a wealth of supporting evidence and facts. I can only imagine that the publishers thought that the title would somehow help to sell books, though the type of reader who is looking for books about demonic copulation would do better to browse the Anime section. For anyone who wishes to learn a little bit more about a very dark time in human history and an intriguing theory as to the driving motivations behind it will find this book invaluable.
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