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Browsing by Author "Pöysälä, Tuomas"

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  • Pöysälä, Tuomas (2017)
    The purpose of this study is to create a comprehensive picture of exorcisms performed on the British Isles between 1550 – 1700. By reading all of the pamphlets from England, Scotland and Ireland that include exorcism narratives, a much more varied picture is formed when compared to older studies. The end of the 16th century saw a growing conflict between the Calvin-leaning Church of England, Luther-leaning Puritans and the Roman Catholics regarding the performance of exorcisms. The Church of England saw exorcisms as an example of 'popish' superstition and denied the possibility of successful exorcisms. The dissenting sect of Puritans wanted to modernize the rite from superstitious influences and the Catholics saw the performance of exorcisms as a way to convert the laity back to the Catholic faith. The pamphlets published during the late 16th century are mostly polemic and contain extensive prefaces detailing the author's stance regarding exorcism. The Church of England was able to solidify its power and effectively disallow the clergy from performing exorcisms and drive out the Catholics at the start of the 17th century and effectively stopped the publication of both witchcraft and exorcism pamphlets as a result. However, the creation of a Protestant unity had not been succesful. The Catholic connections of King Charles I, the following civil war and interregnum around the middle point of the 17th century caused a fragmentation of religious unity and made witchcraft fears increase once again. Witchcraft pamphlet publishing saw a revival first, followed a decade later by new exorcism pamphlets. As the clerical exorcisms were still seen as 'popish' superstition, the exorcists of these new pamphlets came from the laity and medical professions. Superstitious 'white magic' cures performed by the laity, cunning-folk as they were known, made up a large portion of healing during the early modern era, so they also had to deal with demonic possession and witchcraft quite often. The witchcraft trials of England and Scotland were secular affairs due to legislation, and usually involved medical professionals in order to distinguish between natural and supernatural symptoms. Thus medical professionals had a working understanding of possession and made up the majority of the late 17th century exorcists. The fragmentation of the authority on exorcism methods in England, as opposed to the Catholic continent, meant that both the performers and the methodology became mixed; elements of old conjuration magic, superstitious spells and medicine were used side by side. The later pamphlets either told of miraculous events and cures or advertised the accomplishments of various physicians. The very end of the 17th century saw the release of heavily sceptical pamphlets, as the scepticism towards the supernatural in English society was at its highest. The most revealing were the mentions of unsuccessful exorcism attempts that usually preceded the main exorcist’s successful attempt. The pamphlets, whether they told of actual events or were works of fiction, were merely the tip of the iceberg, many attempted exorcisms were either unsuccessful or didn't even end up on print. By going beyond the previous focus on the exorcism controversy of the end of the 16th century, a very different view of the scope and depth of the beliefs in possession and exorcism and how strong they were well into the 17th century is gained.