Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Article excerpt

Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe. Edited by Kathryn A. Edwards. [Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, Vol. 62.] (Kirksville, Missouri: Truman State University Press. 2002. Pp. xxii, 226. $44.95.)

The essays in this eclectic collection highlight early modern beliefs about a wide variety of supernatural phenomena, analyzing popular culture at its broadest. Edwards explains in a thoughtful introduction that historians dealing with witchcraft have often tended to marginalize the folklore and supernatural aspects of popular belief in their attempts to synthesize witchcraft practices; the ten essays brought together here are meant to correct this oversight by bringing some of the more peripheral cases to the forefront. The work also serves to complicate ideas of confessionalization, illustrating that the boundaries between popular and elite culture were always rather blurry.

For example, Sarah Ferber argues in her very persuasive essay that cults of possession and exorcism in early modern France were at the heart of Catholic reform. Her analysis of possession cases shows that elites participated in these cults and that the use of the body and holy objects-central in possession and exorcism-are crucial to understanding what Catholic reform meant in the reforming era. David Lederer shows that ghosts did not disappear with the confessional era either; the Bavarian trial records he examines make it clear that people of all levels of society believed in the presence of ghosts in everyday life. Robin Briggs studies witchcraft trials in Lorraine and discovers that werewolves and other shapeshifters were considered commonplace by both the witnesses in the trials and by the judges. Ulrike Krampl argues that witches in eighteenth-century Paris were transformed through the legal system into the less harmful but ever-present fortune-tellers, alchemists, and talisman peddlers. The police called them false witches and treated them as a threat to public order, although not as individuals truly able to channel demonic power.

The aforementioned authors rely heavily on trial and police records, but three others use texts to highlight a more elite view of folkloric practices. Nicole Jacques-Lefèvre examines the usefulness of werewolves as a symbol in three sixteenth-century French texts, and Bruce Gordon analyzes the views of Heinrich Bullinger, chief minister of the Zurich Reformed church in the late sixteenth century, on the role of the devil and demons in everyday life. …

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