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Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief.

Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief. By Walter Stephens. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. xvi + 451 pp. $35.00 cloth.

Stephens revisits the thorny question of witch persecution with a new question: cui bono? Whose interests were best served by belief in witches copulating with demons and stealing priests' penises? Beginning with the observation that demonic corporeality was not universally accepted in the Middle Ages and thus needed constant reinforcement, Stephens shows how "scholastic pornography" was related to Christian theological issues of materiality. Are demons real? Can their bodies interact with human bodies? Can demons give human bodies powers such as transvection, extraordinary movement? These questions (closely related to Christian doctrines of Incarnation and the Eucharist) were, Stephens suggests, what drove the witch craze of the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

Stephens shows overwhelming evidence for the invention of a theory of demonology in the mid fifteenth century, specifically as a tradition of the ecclesiastical elite. It bucked significant odds, including Aristotle and canons of venerated councils. That is why, to take one example, the earliest version of the Malleum maleficarum was overwhelmingly concerned with proof that demons were real.

Stephens also points to connections with larger issues in Christian history, including the tensions of belief leading to the Protestant Reformation, twentieth-century preoccupation with ritual child abuse, contemporary Wiccan movements, and belief in alien abductions. Cui bono? This learned and fascinating book argues that witchcraft exists because Christianity finds it useful.

E. Ann Matter University of Pennsylvania
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Author:Matter, E. Ann
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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