Alexander Makhov

title.none: Klaniczay, Christian Demonology (Alexander Makhov)

identifier.other: baj9928.0705.017 07.05.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Alexander Makhov, Institute of Scientific Information in the Social Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Klaniczay, Gabor and Éva Pocs. Chrsitian Demonlogy and Popular Mythology. Demons, Spirits, Witches, vol. 2. New York and Budapest: Central European University Press, 2007. Pp. viii, 284. $39.95 (hb) 963-7326-76-6 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.05.17

Klaniczay, Gabor and Éva Pocs. Chrsitian Demonlogy and Popular Mythology. Demons, Spirits, Witches, vol. 2. New York and Budapest: Central European University Press, 2007. Pp. viii, 284. $39.95 (hb) 963-7326-76-6 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Alexander Makhov
Institute of Scientific Information in the Social Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

This collection of seventeen essays is the second in a three-volume series. Though the main subject of volume is declared as the interrelation between learned and popular cultures, popular magic and demonology received much more attention than learned Christian tradition. An impressive panorama of views, ideas and practices from the early Middle Ages up to modern times is formed by very different data taken from Polish, Hungarian, Jewish, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Slovenian, Macedonian, and (quite unexpectedly) Mongolian ethnic traditions. The book is divided into three parts: "Learned Demonology, Images of the Devil," "Exchanges between Elite and Popular Concepts," and "Evil Magic and Demons in East European and Asian Folklore." This division, however, seems to be somewhat inconsistent; thus, an article about the devil and birth-giving (from Part I) has nothing in common with "learned demonology" and belongs rather to a popular one; magical practices examined in a first essay of Part I can hardly be associated with the demonology announced in the title.

Nevertheless, one can recognize in the volume, regardless of this division, at least three main great themes which serve as a framework for the whole text: the demon in its social context (devil and man), the demon in the context of visuality (the devil as visual image), and the demon in its mythological context (the demon as a mythological figure).

Any relation of between man and devil implies one of three social roles: magician, witch, or saint. The first of these three roles is discussed by Benedek Láng, György E. Szönyi and Ilana Rosen. Láng ("Demons in Krakow, and image magic in a magical Handbook") deals not so much with medieval magical handbooks as tries to define the social position of their authors and readers. He came to the conclusion that "such handbooks were present on the bookshelves of some important doctors of Krakow University in the middle of the fifteenth century" (32). György E. Szönyi ("Talking with demons. Early modern theories and practice") continues to investigate the correlation between the social roles of magician and academic scholar. Pointing out the fact that "magical practices were propagated and conducted by distinguished humanists" (73), he regards a magician, following Frances Yates, as the direct predecessor of the natural scientist. Ilana Rosen's "Saintly and sympathetic magic in the lore of the Jews of Carpatho-Russia between the two world wars" is also devoted to social functions of the magician and, especially, to the magical "curser" in his relation to the cursed. Soili-Maria Olli ("Church demonology and popular beliefs in early modern Sweden") turns to sorcery and to the figure of the witch, analyzing in social and demographic aspects a group of those who had made a pact with the devil in Sweden during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (most of them appeared to be young soldiers between 19 and 24 years of age). Worthy of attention is the likeness between the devil's pact and modern business agreements (the custom of shaking hands, etc.). At least two articles deal with positive social functions of the devil in popular beliefs (this is the point where popular demonology differs completely from learned one, since Christian theology excludes any possibility of the devil's "positive" influence on human life). In Monika Kropej's "Magic as Reflected in Slovenian Folk Tradition and Popular Healing Today," the devil with his sorcerers are presented as healers; in Ulrika Wolf-Knuts' "The devil and birthgiving," the devil in Swedish folklore in Finland turns out to be a helper in childbirth. A panorama of the devil's social engagements would be incomplete without his relation to saints: this subject is under consideration in Anna Kuznetsova's "'A wall of bronze' or demons versus saints: Whose victory?" A struggle between the devil and an ascetic saint hides a paradox: the more the saint is winning over the devil, the more he himself becomes subdued to the deadly sin of pride ("superbia"). Awareness of this paradox leads saintly fathers to somewhat strange modes of behavior--for example, to the complete denial of any battle with an adversary or to the refusal to fulfill acts of exorcism. There is only one way to solve this paradox: humiliation, which is at once the only human quality unavailable for to demon and an absolutely irresistible weapon against him.

The second theme--the devil as visual image--is handled in articles of ErzsÉbet Tatai, Éva Szacsvay and Wanda Wyporska. E. Tatai ("An iconographical approach to representations of the devil in medieval Hungary") proposes a classification of the devil's iconographical types in accordance with three main groups: pictorial representations of the devil (the devil "in its own form"), pictorial representations of the devil's appearance (that is, so to speak, visual allegories of devil--dragon, serpent and so on), devil-like pictorial motifs (representations of various beings closely connected with the devil--such as sinner, Antichrist). Reviewing the Hungarian demonological iconography, E. Tatai, along with ordinary and widespread iconographic types, points out several quite rare images (the devil as a dog, a child, and a dead man). Éva Szacsvay ("Protestant devil figures in Hungary") has also found a few uncommon, specifically Hungarian iconographic types (for example, historically determined depictions of the devil as Turk). W. Wyporska's article ("Jewish, noble, german, or peasant?--The devil in early modern Poland") provides us with a lot of interesting details concerning the devil's names, his image and style of dress in the popular imagination.

At least six essays are more or less connected with the third theme--devil in the context of popular mythology. Karen P. Smith ("Serpent-damsels and dragon-slayers: Overlapping divinities in a medieval tradition") draws parallels between a legend of St. Margaret of Antioch, known for defeating the devil in the dragon's image, and snake-maiden local legends popular throughout Central and Northern Europe. L'upcho S. Risteski ("Categories of the 'Evil Dead' in Macedonian Folk Religion") and Vesna Petreska ("Demons of fate in Macedonian Folk Beliefs") turn to such borderline situations as man's separation from life and human community (death) and coming into existence (birth): demons and demon-like figures seems to play an important and very ambiguous role on these borders of human existence. Anna Plotnikova ("Balkan demons protecting places") distinguishes different types of protecting demons ("masters of the land," "masters of buildings," "masters of buried treasure"), Zmago Smitek ("Gog and Magog in the Slovenian Folk Tradition") investigates the correlation between a motive of "walled-up peoples," locked in some remote region, and some other motives of popular mythology (lost Hebrew tribes, cynocephali, cannibalism etc.). Ágnes Birtalan ("Systematization of the Concept of Demonic and Evil in Mongolian Folk Religion") defines the place of evil in the Mongolian world picture: "originating from Heaven evil began to exist in the middle, human world" (253). She makes a very interesting remark while discussing the formation of Mongolian idea of hell: Russian influence was an important one in this process, since "the hells are constructed similarly to Russian administrative units, with different types of clerks, spies, informers" (254).

Almost all the articles provide us with a lot of facts borrowed from both demonological traditions--learned and popular--but the intriguing mechanics of interrelation between them remains almost unexplored. Should we describe this interrelation in terms of confrontation, "friendly" interaction or maybe appropriation? Perhaps the only article in which this problem is seriously discussed is Jonas Lilequist's "Sexual encounters with spirits and demons in early modern Sweden: Popular and learned concepts in conflict and interaction." The interaction of the above-mentioned traditions is conceived here as "appropriation" followed by certain transformations--such as, for example, "demonization" (a figure from popular mythology turns to be a demon) or "bestialization" (the demon turns out to be a beast). Summing up his analysis, Lilequist characterizes this system of interrelations as highly complicated and dynamic: "The way these stories [about sexual intercourse with spirits and demons] were appropriated and modified by representatives of the state and the elite culture were, however, transformed from demonization of popular notions to the bestialization of the same phenomena associated with an emerging general trend in search for naturalistic and rationalistic explanations of the world. At the popular level, there was an almost reverse development--from the bestialization of demonic sexuality to the demonization of bestiality" (166).

The volume prepared by Central European University displays a great variety of methods and scientific approaches; nevertheless, one can trace throughout the whole book a unifying idea--that of an ambivalence inherent in the notion of the demon, who is at once creator and destroyer, the one who helps and who harms: a fiend who may become a friend, and a friend who always is a fiend.