Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe

Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe

Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe

Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe

Synopsis

Bringing together scholars from Europe, America, and Australia, this volume explores the more fantastic elements of popular religious belief: ghosts, werewolves, spiritualism, animism, and of course, witchcraft. These traditional religious belief and practices are frequently treated as marginal in more synthetic studies of witchcraft and popular religion, yet Protestants and Catholics alike saw ghosts, imps, werewolves, and other supernatural entities as populating their world. Embedded within notarial and trial records are accounts that reveal the integration of folkloric and theological elements in early modern spirituality. Drawing from extensive archival research, the contributors argue for the integration of such beliefs into our understanding of late medieval and early modern Europe.

Excerpt

Kathryn A. Edwards

INCORPORATING THE ANOMALOUS

When Huguette Roy was visited by a ghost for two months in 1628, the event was believed to be so extraordinary that a local clergyman left a detailed chronicle of the haunting. A mixture of Counter-Reformation piety, demonological theory, and folkloric assumptions guided his “history,” which he wrote from his own observation of the event as well as from information provided by the myriad lay and ecclesiastical observers, by the haunted woman, and by the spirit itself. Unlike many similar visionaries, however, Huguette was never tried for witchcraft nor was she put through detailed and dramatic exorcisms, events that engender the documents by which such cases are most commonly known. For this reason, the vast synthetic literature on early modern witchcraft can seem tangential to understanding Huguette’s haunting. A central problem for research on stories like Huguette’s thus becomes where to find information about similar cases in early modern Europe.

This problem does not arise because of a lack of early modern reports about visions, spirits, and other “supernatural” or “paranormal” phenomena, to use perhaps anachronistic modern terminology. Embedded in the records of Inquisitorial and other courts, as well as in diverse other sources, are records about mysterious ladies in white, werewolves, poltergeists, and other less classifiable occurrences. Millennial prophets see visions, and souls stride purposefully through castles. Integrating folkloric and theological elements in

1. Kathryn A. Edwards, Visitations: The Haunting of an Early Modern Town (forthcoming).

2. See the discussion of these beliefs in Jean-Claude Schmitt, Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The
Living and the Dead in Medieval Society
, trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1998).

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