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Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom

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Europe's Inner Demons is a fascinating history of the irrational need to imagine witches and an investigation of how those fantasies made the persecutions of the middle ages possible. In addition, Norman Cohn's discovery that some influential sources on European witch trials were forgeries has revolutionized the field of witchcraft, making this one of the most essential bo Europe's Inner Demons is a fascinating history of the irrational need to imagine witches and an investigation of how those fantasies made the persecutions of the middle ages possible. In addition, Norman Cohn's discovery that some influential sources on European witch trials were forgeries has revolutionized the field of witchcraft, making this one of the most essential books ever written on the subject.


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Europe's Inner Demons is a fascinating history of the irrational need to imagine witches and an investigation of how those fantasies made the persecutions of the middle ages possible. In addition, Norman Cohn's discovery that some influential sources on European witch trials were forgeries has revolutionized the field of witchcraft, making this one of the most essential bo Europe's Inner Demons is a fascinating history of the irrational need to imagine witches and an investigation of how those fantasies made the persecutions of the middle ages possible. In addition, Norman Cohn's discovery that some influential sources on European witch trials were forgeries has revolutionized the field of witchcraft, making this one of the most essential books ever written on the subject.

30 review for Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    The intellectual, historical, and cultural/sociological origins of the European Witch-Trials are explored in Europe’s Inner Demons. A thought-provoking and compelling introduction to the issue. Norman Cohn looks at early/Medieval Christianity, early European history, and the role of mass hysteria coupled with cunning political manipulations that led to the outburst of mass-murder in the 15th through the 17th century. Thereafter the trials slowly decreased and finally vanished—though there have b The intellectual, historical, and cultural/sociological origins of the European Witch-Trials are explored in Europe’s Inner Demons. A thought-provoking and compelling introduction to the issue. Norman Cohn looks at early/Medieval Christianity, early European history, and the role of mass hysteria coupled with cunning political manipulations that led to the outburst of mass-murder in the 15th through the 17th century. Thereafter the trials slowly decreased and finally vanished—though there have been periodic outbursts of this in the world since. There is also an interesting chapter on the Knights Templar that is sure to interest many people. If there is a negative to Prof. Cohn’s book it is that it focuses on the Witch Trials as a fundamentally European activity. Certainly, the particular expression of this pathology was European, but Witch Trials and killings [judicial or extra-judicial] have been and continue to be a fact of world history and current events. The greatest and most disturbing of these trials came from Europe – no doubt about that. Still, what is needed is a global study of these and the causes behind them. Because this book was first published in 1975 Prof. Cohn was bounded by the perspectives and data of the time. What is needed, however, is a global history of this phenomenon. That being said, this is a wonderful introduction to the history of the origins of the European Witch Trials. Europe’s Inner Demons is not a history of the Witch Trials, but, rather, a history of the origin of these…which is something readers interested in the history need to take into consideration. The work is thoughtful, comprehensive [within the limits of space], erudite, and insightful. Also, and this is no small thing, it is accessible to general readers with a little patience and the willingness to spend 288 pages of reading time on such a bleak subject. Highly Recommended for readers of European History in general and those readers interested in the Witch Trials in particular. Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    Cohn spends a great deal of time in deconstructing the work of other scholars, and although I was pretty much expressly forbidden from doing that in my dissertation (and I still don't quite understand why), I enjoy that kind of analysis, and Cohn is very good at it. His intellectual project is largely about the ways in which those arguments got constructed. Cohn is taking apart the myths modern scholars have invented and perpetuated about the origins of the European witch-hunts. His focus is the Cohn spends a great deal of time in deconstructing the work of other scholars, and although I was pretty much expressly forbidden from doing that in my dissertation (and I still don't quite understand why), I enjoy that kind of analysis, and Cohn is very good at it. His intellectual project is largely about the ways in which those arguments got constructed. Cohn is taking apart the myths modern scholars have invented and perpetuated about the origins of the European witch-hunts. His focus is the way that European commentators, scholarly and otherwise, chose stories that they wished to be true, and folded, spindled, and mutilated their source material until it seemed to be telling that story. It is not an accident that one of Cohn's other books is on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Warrant For Genocide: The Myth Of The Jewish World Conspiracy And The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion), which is one of the most ineradicable, evil fictions in the history of Western thought. Cohn emphasizes the necessity of going back to the primary sources and paying attention to what they actually say, rather than our preconceived notions of what they should say.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    Half and half. We are as subject as ever to conspiracy theories, so that a stranger messaged me on Twitter with 'do you have information that the Jews did 9/11?' and three of my uncles believe Obama is a secret Muslim. Norman Cohn has been a bit of an expert on these matters, from the Protocol of the Elders to -- Chaucer's Jew tale, which proves that conspiracy theories can last for centuries. Here he examines one that did. It's the back story to the witch trials, and traces the set of accusatio Half and half. We are as subject as ever to conspiracy theories, so that a stranger messaged me on Twitter with 'do you have information that the Jews did 9/11?' and three of my uncles believe Obama is a secret Muslim. Norman Cohn has been a bit of an expert on these matters, from the Protocol of the Elders to -- Chaucer's Jew tale, which proves that conspiracy theories can last for centuries. Here he examines one that did. It's the back story to the witch trials, and traces the set of accusations through previous centuries -- how and when they surface, in what contexts: eating babies, for instance, and incestuous orgies. It's an old book now, and the second half, where he disproves those historians who have believed there was substance to the conspiracy theory -- whether the throwback Montague Summers, who in the 20th century saw witches and the devil as a present danger, or those who want to see the survival of a non-Christian cult -- is old news. But I was engrossed in his early chapters, up to and including the Templars; he knows how to tell a tale.

  4. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    Long the standard work on the subject of the rise of witch persecution in the late medieval/early modern era, it still stands strong despite some cracks in Cohn's assumptions. Cohn's main concern here is to trace how the great witch-hunts began and, more importantly, how they did not. He demolishes past theses, most famously Margaret Murray's contention that there was a European cult of fertility magic at work, and shows how other documents were fake, documents that historians made use of for var Long the standard work on the subject of the rise of witch persecution in the late medieval/early modern era, it still stands strong despite some cracks in Cohn's assumptions. Cohn's main concern here is to trace how the great witch-hunts began and, more importantly, how they did not. He demolishes past theses, most famously Margaret Murray's contention that there was a European cult of fertility magic at work, and shows how other documents were fake, documents that historians made use of for various arguments. Cohn shows the strand of stereotype and intolerance that bridges early Christianity in Europe up to the terroristic ecclesiastical persecution of usually poor women in various pockets. The weak points are in his contentions, or maybe just passing thoughts, that the idea of the witch and witchcraft grew out of persecutory actions and ideas, without paying much attention to the idea that there were "good witches" and "bad witches". He brings this up and makes brief mention of Ginzburg, for example, but dismisses it, perhaps because it plays to close to Murray.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Christoforos Nikolaou

    Quite a broad piece of work that is full with very interesting passages directly from the sources. The chapters on the initial views on Christians during the end of the Roman Empire and on the Crashing of the Templars were excellent. I was however left with a sense of unfullfillment since even in the last two chapters (How the Great Witch Hunt Really Started I, II) Cohn did not provide a solid framework on the anthropological background. The idea that superstition and malice bloomed explosively Quite a broad piece of work that is full with very interesting passages directly from the sources. The chapters on the initial views on Christians during the end of the Roman Empire and on the Crashing of the Templars were excellent. I was however left with a sense of unfullfillment since even in the last two chapters (How the Great Witch Hunt Really Started I, II) Cohn did not provide a solid framework on the anthropological background. The idea that superstition and malice bloomed explosively on the fertile ground of inquisitorial zeal is well-founded but the author does not question the singularoty of the phenomenon. Why this has never happened before or since (to that extent at least)? I was hoping for more insightful views.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Irene Lázaro

    Siempre puedes contar con Norman Cohn para darte una visión cabal y basada en las fuentes primarias. Este libro pueda enfadar a algunos, porque critica bastante duramente ciertas visiones de la historia de la brujería que se mantienen aún en la actualidad. Pero en mi opinión es bastante sensato y pone muchas cosas en tela de juicio.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    A difficult book to read because you get so disgusted with human behavior and persecutions; very influential and original.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I found I simply couldn't overcome Cohn's biases and so I questioned his research and conclusions. I found I simply couldn't overcome Cohn's biases and so I questioned his research and conclusions.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    This book was nothing short of brilliant. Cohn seeks to make the reader understand what the witch-trials were and what they were not. By doggedly pursuing the origins of the many facets that made the stereotype of the “witch” in the Middle Ages, Cohn is able to show that the instinct to demonize the other can be traced back as far back as the classical era. Cohn emphatically shows how the same accusations of incest, impiety and infanticide that were lobbed by the Romans against the early Christi This book was nothing short of brilliant. Cohn seeks to make the reader understand what the witch-trials were and what they were not. By doggedly pursuing the origins of the many facets that made the stereotype of the “witch” in the Middle Ages, Cohn is able to show that the instinct to demonize the other can be traced back as far back as the classical era. Cohn emphatically shows how the same accusations of incest, impiety and infanticide that were lobbed by the Romans against the early Christian communities were recycled by these same Christians against the multiple “heresies” they sought to discredit. Cohn also seeks to liberate the reader of the misconceptions that have surrounded this dark episode of human history. By tracking the “sources” of some of the most popular fomenters of misconceptions, he is able to show how all of these arose from historical hoaxes created in the intervening centuries or from quite selective reading of the available records. In short, this has been a fascinating and illuminating look at what gave rise to the witch-trials as well as a depressing look at humankind’s penchant of scapegoating our problems into other people.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mary Kate

    I liked this book, definitely, but it also had many problems. I'm just not sure it actually gets to the bottom of any of the historical issues behind witchcraft. Why was this happening? Did it come from the lay culture or the clergy? Are those two cultures REALLY distinct? It seems completely unlikely to me that these two cultures were completely separate. I think there was probably a lot more bleeding between the two than either Cohn or Kieckhefer suggests. I must admit, however, that the chapt I liked this book, definitely, but it also had many problems. I'm just not sure it actually gets to the bottom of any of the historical issues behind witchcraft. Why was this happening? Did it come from the lay culture or the clergy? Are those two cultures REALLY distinct? It seems completely unlikely to me that these two cultures were completely separate. I think there was probably a lot more bleeding between the two than either Cohn or Kieckhefer suggests. I must admit, however, that the chapter in which Cohn debunks the Lamothe-Langon documents is excellent. I'd never given significant attention to historical forgery as a concept before, and this was a lovely little introduction. I would recommend that you read that one chapter out of this book, and the others are worth a skim, but on the whole, this book was just fine.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris Lovejoy

    Or as I call it, "The Devil Bulks Large". Or as I call it, "The Devil Bulks Large".

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cat Williams

    I found this book to be quite intriguing. Mr. Cohn's linguistic abilities gave him access to reading and understanding original texts that he draws upon to uncover the history of "witchcraft" persecutions in Medieval Europe. Starting as early as the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, Mr. Cohn gives an excellent account of how Christians, most specifically Catholics, used what had been done to them to persecute others who did not follow or conform to the Christian beliefs as prescribe I found this book to be quite intriguing. Mr. Cohn's linguistic abilities gave him access to reading and understanding original texts that he draws upon to uncover the history of "witchcraft" persecutions in Medieval Europe. Starting as early as the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, Mr. Cohn gives an excellent account of how Christians, most specifically Catholics, used what had been done to them to persecute others who did not follow or conform to the Christian beliefs as prescribed by the Catholic Church. Moreover, Mr. Cohn also points out how much of the persecutions and claims of heresy and witchcraft were political power plays, not only by the Catholic Church, but by reigning monarchs. He specifically goes into detail about the destruction of the Knights Templar and the false accusations against them that were brought by King Philip the Fair of France, because the King wanted the Templar's property, money, and power. Mr. Cohn details how other kingdoms either refused to try the Templars or pardoned them completely and how Philip, unable to get full support from Pope Boniface VIII, conspired with the enemies of the Pope to have him tried, posthumously, for witchcraft and heretical ritual magic. One of the best parts of this book is that Mr. Cohn engages the reader in a conversation, a literary and historical debate as to the why and how the Great Witch Hunts came about and the events and literary documentation that led to common beliefs that were not common until they were written down in the Catholic Church records by those who were attempting to prove their own power by accusing others of heresy. Mr. Cohn uses this conversational tone to not only answer his own questions, but the questions of the reader - as each step is a new discovery in why the next step in the development of the concept of witchcraft happened. From the way that Mr. Cohn tells it in the book, the reader gets the very real understanding that History has been written by the winners and that those made up stories and fancies became a reality only because the Church said it was so. I cannot recommend this book enough.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jonatan

    I'd give it 3.5 stars, but since it is not possible I rate it 4 stars. I´ve always been fascinated with the topic of witch hunt and persecutions, so this book was quite interesting to me. Most chapters were very informative and illuminating, especially the first ones where Cohn traces popular beliefs about witches to their origins in the Roman Empire when Christians were object of suspicions, accusations and persecutions. Many of the accusations can even be traced back to the Jews living in Alex I'd give it 3.5 stars, but since it is not possible I rate it 4 stars. I´ve always been fascinated with the topic of witch hunt and persecutions, so this book was quite interesting to me. Most chapters were very informative and illuminating, especially the first ones where Cohn traces popular beliefs about witches to their origins in the Roman Empire when Christians were object of suspicions, accusations and persecutions. Many of the accusations can even be traced back to the Jews living in Alexandria. However, I feel a few chapters were a bit repetitive and did not provide truly relevant information but kept repeating the same idea unnecessarily. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject. Cohn was a great expert on persecutions and fanatism. I will definitely read The Pursuit of the Millennium.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alfredo González

    Los demonios familiares de Europa narra la historia de la creencia en brujas, magos, hechiceros y otras supersticiones todas ellas productos de la imaginacion fertil en los tiempos del oscurantismo. Desgraciadamente esas creencias han ocasionado persecuciones tanto por parte de los estados europeos y mas allá, y de la institucion eclesiastica. Para combatir estas creencias se ha utilizado la tortura para obtener confesiones y miles de personas han sido quemadas vivas, todo ello por creer en stup Los demonios familiares de Europa narra la historia de la creencia en brujas, magos, hechiceros y otras supersticiones todas ellas productos de la imaginacion fertil en los tiempos del oscurantismo. Desgraciadamente esas creencias han ocasionado persecuciones tanto por parte de los estados europeos y mas allá, y de la institucion eclesiastica. Para combatir estas creencias se ha utilizado la tortura para obtener confesiones y miles de personas han sido quemadas vivas, todo ello por creer en stupideces. Hoy en dia somos muy politicamente correctos y respetamos las estupideces de mucha gente inculta, pero la brujeria está pasada de moda. Believing Bullshit tiene sus consecuencias. This is not a critique, its an opinion.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    I first read this book in college and have re-read it about half a dozen times. Now published in a significantly revised edition, it's even better than it was before. A concise history of witchcraft in Europe from antiquity to the early modern era, it's a fascinating study of how the essential judicial concern with witchcraft was based on earlier stereotypes of heretical groups and, before them, of pagan slurs against Christians. It's also a thorough demolition of Margaret Murray's ridiculous th I first read this book in college and have re-read it about half a dozen times. Now published in a significantly revised edition, it's even better than it was before. A concise history of witchcraft in Europe from antiquity to the early modern era, it's a fascinating study of how the essential judicial concern with witchcraft was based on earlier stereotypes of heretical groups and, before them, of pagan slurs against Christians. It's also a thorough demolition of Margaret Murray's ridiculous thesis that the witch persecutions were directed against practitioners of a surviving, pre-Christian faith. Essential.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Boehning

    An exemplary history of ideas that clarifies a murky aspect of Medieval history. Like Cohn's other work, the modern parallels are largely left up to the reader to discern, but they are deep and wide-ranging. Without making it an explicit intention, the book is devastating to Christianity, exposing it's method of maintaining orthodoxy through the vicious dehumanization of any and all who strayed from Church doctrine. Impeccably sourced ans lucidly written, Europe's Inner Demons is essential histo An exemplary history of ideas that clarifies a murky aspect of Medieval history. Like Cohn's other work, the modern parallels are largely left up to the reader to discern, but they are deep and wide-ranging. Without making it an explicit intention, the book is devastating to Christianity, exposing it's method of maintaining orthodoxy through the vicious dehumanization of any and all who strayed from Church doctrine. Impeccably sourced ans lucidly written, Europe's Inner Demons is essential history.

  17. 5 out of 5

    elvedril

    Though there are a number of unfortunate editing errors in the revised edition, the book is an excellent resource for learning about the rise of the early modern notion of the witch out of medieval notions and events.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    I couldn't get through it. I couldn't get through it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    fascinating.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hildegart

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

  22. 5 out of 5

    William

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stacy Lewis

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karen Witzler

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  26. 4 out of 5

    Floreta

  27. 5 out of 5

    David

  28. 5 out of 5

    Devin Morrill

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aleister Moore

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark Brunke

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