Christendom v. Clericus: The Punishment of Clerical Necromancers During the Period 1100-1500 CE
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“The power of Christ compels you!” is probably the most infamous line from the 1973 film The Exorcist. The movie, as the title suggests, follows the journey of a priest as he attempts to excise a demon from within the body of a young girl. These types of sensational pop culture depictions are what inform the majority of people’s conceptions of demons and demonic magic nowadays. Historically, however, human conceptions of demons and magic were more nuanced than those depicted in The Exorcist and similar works. Demons were not only beings to be feared but sources of power to be exploited. Necromancy, a form of demonic magic, was one avenue in which individuals could attempt to gain control over a demon. During the period this thesis explores, 1100-1500 CE, only highly educated men, like clerics, could complete the complicated rituals associated with necromancy. Thus, this study examines the rise of the learned art of clerical necromancy in conjunction with the re-emergence of higher learning in western Europe that developed during the period from 1100-1500 CE. By examining stories of allegations of necromancy against popes and regular clergy, this thesis attempts to add to the body of existing literature on demonic magic by expanding our understanding of how clerical necromancers were punished for their foray into demonic magic (as necromancy and other forms of magic were deemed “heretical,” or banned, in the eyes of the Catholic Church). The findings suggest that allegations of clerical necromancy were often part of a “common toolbox of accusations” lodged against an opponent, often personally or politically motivated, and did not stem from true concerns over clerics attempting magic. Moreover, if one was accused of necromancy, the punishment one received was often positively correlated to the amount of political power one possessed or had access to.