Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (review)

Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (review) Book Reviews nancy caciola. Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003. Pp. xvi 327. In Discerning Spirits, Nancy Caciola considers the apparent similarity between the behaviors of saintly women and those of female demoniacs in the last centuries of the Middle Ages. She argues (1) that those behaviors constituted a ``loosely unified data set'' (p. 23)--that is, they were fundamentally similar and distinguishable from each other only by the different constructions placed upon them by social groups that had a stake in the women's reputations--and (2) that the constructions themselves followed an identical structural pattern, determined by the concept of ``possession'': just as demoniacs were seen as possessed by demons, so saints were seen as possessed by the divine. The bulk of the book elaborates these theses, on the basis of sources that include hagiographies, chronicles, liturgies, and scientific and theological texts. The behaviors that appear as the common denominator in stories about the women in question include physical symptoms such as swelling, frenzy, or trance, and the exercise of ``intellectual gifts'' such as the power to prophesy or discern the secret sins of others. The notion that it http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft University of Pennsylvania Press

Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (review)

Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, Volume 2 (1) – May 11, 2008

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University of Pennsylvania Press
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Copyright © 2007 University of Pennsylvania Press
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1940-5111
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Abstract

Book Reviews nancy caciola. Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003. Pp. xvi 327. In Discerning Spirits, Nancy Caciola considers the apparent similarity between the behaviors of saintly women and those of female demoniacs in the last centuries of the Middle Ages. She argues (1) that those behaviors constituted a ``loosely unified data set'' (p. 23)--that is, they were fundamentally similar and distinguishable from each other only by the different constructions placed upon them by social groups that had a stake in the women's reputations--and (2) that the constructions themselves followed an identical structural pattern, determined by the concept of ``possession'': just as demoniacs were seen as possessed by demons, so saints were seen as possessed by the divine. The bulk of the book elaborates these theses, on the basis of sources that include hagiographies, chronicles, liturgies, and scientific and theological texts. The behaviors that appear as the common denominator in stories about the women in question include physical symptoms such as swelling, frenzy, or trance, and the exercise of ``intellectual gifts'' such as the power to prophesy or discern the secret sins of others. The notion that it

Journal

Magic, Ritual, and WitchcraftUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: May 11, 2008

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