Literally, demonology is the science of demons and their actions. The word ‘daimon’ is Greek and simply means a supernatural being, or a lesser divinity. In classical ancient Greece ‘daimones’ were perceived as guardian spirits, or as either good or evil spirits who try to influence the human psyche. However, in Christian theology, demons were always considered evil, whereas angels were thought to serve as God’s messengers or agents. Since the evil spirits were conceived as being masters of deception, an elaborate procedure of evaluation – the discernment of spirits (discretio spirituum) – was deemed necessary. This produced a science of angels – angelology –distinct from demonology. Theologically, demonology was based upon numerous references in the Bible, both in the ancient Jewish tradition and in the New Testament. A belief in spirit beings was fairly universal, as was a belief in related phenomena such as inspiration, spirit possession, and the struggle against possession by exorcism. Archaic religious systems such as shamanism were based on communication with spirits or spirit helpers. Inspiration was an important aspect of Christianity, and still is, as the feast of Pentecost indicates. To the dismay of the authorities, indigenous prophets continued to emerge from all corners of Europe, and various forms of spiritualism and prophecy remained part of European everyday life. Between 1500 and 1660 the medieval concept of demonology remained largely intact. It was shaped by St Augustine’s (354–430) idea that interactions between demons and humans were based on a contract, either explicit or implicit. This assumption was inspired by Roman law which viewed contracts as being mutually binding agreements.
The field of witchcraft studies appears to be holding pace with innovations in scholarly communications just as well as other academic pursuits. The number of international conferences has grown considerably since the 1980s. Their conference volumes offer excellent reference points for acquainting oneself with the latest developments and research in progress throughout Europe and the rest of the world. However, a glance at the catalogue of the Pisan exhibit Bibliotheca Lamiarum or the internationally renowned journal Past and Present give the impression that nationalistic tendencies in scholarship still linger on, indeed may have even hardened in the age of ‘European Unity’.
A closer examination of witchcraft studies and their historiography reveals that this was not always the case. Long before the onset of modern conference tourism, an international forum of witchcraft studies thrived and communicated in the former language of learned discourse, Latin. For this traditional intelligentsia, it was a matter of course that Christian Thomasius (1655–1728) analysed a pan-European array of documents for his Dissertatio de origine ac progressu processus inquisitorii contra sagas. Pierre Bayle (1647–1765) constantly referred back to Thomasius' text and John Wagstaff published a commentary on Thomasius, the De crimine magiae, in 1701. And the cosmopolitan character of witchcraft studies did not end with the use of Latin as the lingua franca. Thomasius himself authorised the translation of several of his English treatises into German.
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