Publication details

Foolhardy Exorcists and Cautious Conjurers in Caesarius of Heisterbach's Dialogus Miraculorum


NOVOTNÝ František

Year of publication 2019
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description The medieval imagination about the devil was not a monolithic phenomenon. Varying from the metaphysical enemy of human salvation through a tempter to sin to a physically dangerous wraith-like being, the devil could take shape of many different characters. Similarly, this imagination included numerous conceptions of possible encounter with the devil, constituting a threat, but also offering the opportunity to gain some advantage. Since long ago it has been suggested by scholars that legitimate high medieval practices of exorcism and the illicit practices of conjuring the demons were conceptually close. The conjurers, coming usually from the clerical milieu, understood their practices not as devil worship, but as a craft designed to bind the demons to their will, and obtain exclusive information from them. Similarly, exorcisms included interrogations of the demons regarding various topics. This paper will focus on the motifs of the interrogation of the devil by an exorcist or a conjurer, included in the collection of short moral stories (exempla) by the Rhineland Cistercian Caesarius of Heisterbach, entitled Dialogus Miraculorum (ca. 1220). In several stories, the devil and the demons are approached by perilous rituals, successful or failing – and, despite the morally educative purpose of Caesarius’ work, it is not always the exorcist who succeeds and the conjurer who fails. Analysing the seemingly paradoxical stories about successful conjurers and failing exorcists, the paper will discuss how, within the genre of the exempla, different kinds of imagination about the evil forces interacted. It will argue that besides various conceptions of the devil, a shared area of imagination about dangerous supernatural beings existed within the high medieval culture, where the elements of learned and popular imagination merged. It will further argue that this shared area of imagination often played a key role for cultural exchanges between different levels of medieval society.
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