Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past)

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9780801473340: Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past)

Trance states, prophesying, convulsions, fasting, and other physical manifestations were often regarded as signs that a person was seized by spirits. In a book that sets out the prehistory of the early modern European witch craze, Nancy Caciola shows how medieval people decided whom to venerate as a saint infused with the spirit of God and whom to avoid as a demoniac possessed of an unclean spirit. This process of discrimination, known as the discernment of spirits, was central to the religious culture of Western Europe between 1200 and 1500.

Since the outward manifestations of benign and malign possession were indistinguishable, a highly ambiguous set of bodily features and behaviors were carefully scrutinized by observers. Attempts to make decisions about individuals who exhibited supernatural powers were complicated by the fact that the most intense exemplars of lay spirituality were women, and the "fragile sex" was deemed especially vulnerable to the snares of the devil. Assessments of women's spirit possessions often oscillated between divine and demonic interpretations. Ultimately, although a few late medieval women visionaries achieved the prestige of canonization, many more were accused of possession by demons.

Caciola analyzes a broad array of sources from saints' lives to medical treatises, exorcists' manuals to miracle accounts, to find that observers came to rely on the discernment of bodies rather than seeking to distinguish between divine and demonic possession in purely spiritual terms.

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From the Back Cover:

"Nancy Caciola explores the deep misogyny in medieval culture as it appears in the treatment of female demoniacs, in clerical reactions to women’s extraordinary piety, and in the literature on discernment of spirits. She traces the ambiguous boundary between sainthood and demonic possession. And she shows with unusual clarity how thinking about these matters developed in the specific circumstances of later medieval culture. Discerning Spirits will fascinate readers interested in sainthood, possession, women’s history, and medieval culture generally."—Richard Kieckhefer, Northwestern University

"In thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Europe, theologians and preachers could not decide how to interpret the behavior of certain inspired women who experienced trances and ecstatic states: were they possessed by the devil or filled with the Holy Spirit? With no objective criteria for ‘discerning spirits’—evaluating the soul based on outward appearances—it was generally accepted that the signs were ambiguous and the nature of the women’s souls uncertain. By exploring the historical record, Nancy Caciola helps us understand that the strict opposition between Good and Evil is not an intrinsic aspect of religious and political discourse. Such a book is urgently needed today!"—Jean-Claude Schmitt, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, author of Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society

About the Author:

Nancy Mandeville Caciola is Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Afterlives: The Return of the Dead in the Middle Ages and Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages, both from Cornell.

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Book Description Cornell University Press, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. New edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. Trance states, prophesying, convulsions, fasting, and other physical manifestations were often regarded as signs that a person was seized by spirits. In a book that sets out the prehistory of the early modern European witch craze, Nancy Caciola shows how medieval people decided whom to venerate as a saint infused with the spirit of God and whom to avoid as a demoniac possessed of an unclean spirit. This process of discrimination, known as the discernment of spirits, was central to the religious culture of Western Europe between 1200 and 1500. Since the outward manifestations of benign and malign possession were indistinguishable, a highly ambiguous set of bodily features and behaviors were carefully scrutinized by observers. Attempts to make decisions about individuals who exhibited supernatural powers were complicated by the fact that the most intense exemplars of lay spirituality were women, and the fragile sex was deemed especially vulnerable to the snares of the devil. Assessments of women s spirit possessions often oscillated between divine and demonic interpretations. Ultimately, although a few late medieval women visionaries achieved the prestige of canonization, many more were accused of possession by demons. Caciola analyzes a broad array of sources from saints lives to medical treatises, exorcists manuals to miracle accounts, to find that observers came to rely on the discernment of bodies rather than seeking to distinguish between divine and demonic possession in purely spiritual terms. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780801473340

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Book Description Cornell University Press, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. New edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. Trance states, prophesying, convulsions, fasting, and other physical manifestations were often regarded as signs that a person was seized by spirits. In a book that sets out the prehistory of the early modern European witch craze, Nancy Caciola shows how medieval people decided whom to venerate as a saint infused with the spirit of God and whom to avoid as a demoniac possessed of an unclean spirit. This process of discrimination, known as the discernment of spirits, was central to the religious culture of Western Europe between 1200 and 1500. Since the outward manifestations of benign and malign possession were indistinguishable, a highly ambiguous set of bodily features and behaviors were carefully scrutinized by observers. Attempts to make decisions about individuals who exhibited supernatural powers were complicated by the fact that the most intense exemplars of lay spirituality were women, and the fragile sex was deemed especially vulnerable to the snares of the devil. Assessments of women s spirit possessions often oscillated between divine and demonic interpretations. Ultimately, although a few late medieval women visionaries achieved the prestige of canonization, many more were accused of possession by demons. Caciola analyzes a broad array of sources from saints lives to medical treatises, exorcists manuals to miracle accounts, to find that observers came to rely on the discernment of bodies rather than seeking to distinguish between divine and demonic possession in purely spiritual terms. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780801473340

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Book Description Cornell University Press. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Paperback. 352 pages. Dimensions: 9.2in. x 5.7in. x 0.9in.Trance states, prophesying, convulsions, fasting, and other physical manifestations were often regarded as signs that a person was seized by spirits. In a book that sets out the prehistory of the early modern European witch craze, Nancy Caciola shows how medieval people decided whom to venerate as a saint infused with the spirit of God and whom to avoid as a demoniac possessed of an unclean spirit. This process of discrimination, known as the discernment of spirits, was central to the religious culture of Western Europe between 1200 and 1500. Since the outward manifestations of benign and malign possession were indistinguishable, a highly ambiguous set of bodily features and behaviors were carefully scrutinized by observers. Attempts to make decisions about individuals who exhibited supernatural powers were complicated by the fact that the most intense exemplars of lay spirituality were women, and the fragile sex was deemed especially vulnerable to the snares of the devil. Assessments of womens spirit possessions often oscillated between divine and demonic interpretations. Ultimately, although a few late medieval women visionaries achieved the prestige of canonization, many more were accused of possession by demons. Caciola analyzes a broad array of sources from saints lives to medical treatises, exorcists manuals to miracle accounts, to find that observers came to rely on the discernment of bodies rather than seeking to distinguish between divine and demonic possession in purely spiritual terms. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Bookseller Inventory # 9780801473340

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