In the imagination of thousands of Europeans in the not-so-distant past, night-flying women and nocturnal orgies where Satan himself led his disciples through rituals of incest and animal-worship seemed terrifying realities.
Who were these “witches” and “devils” and why did so many people believe in their terrifying powers? What explains the trials, tortures, and executions that reached their peak in the Great Persecutions of the sixteenth century? In this unique and absorbing volume, Norman Cohn, author of the widely acclaimed Pursuit of the Millennium, tracks down the facts behind the European witch craze and explores the historical origins and psychological manifestations of the stereotype of the witch.
Professor Cohn regards the concept of the witch as a collective fantasy, the origins of which date back to Roman times. In Europe's Inner Demons, he explores the rumors that circulated about the early Christians, who were believed by some contemporaries to be participants in secret orgies. He then traces the history of similar allegations made about successive groups of medieval heretics, all of whom were believed to take part in nocturnal orgies, where sexual promiscuity was practised, children eaten, and devils worshipped.
By identifying' and examining the traditional myths — the myth of the maleficion of evil men, the myth of the pact with the devil, the myth of night-flying women, the myth of the witches' Sabbath — the author provides an excellent account of why many historians came to believe that there really were sects of witches. Through countless chilling episodes, he reveals how and why fears turned into crushing accusation finally, he shows how the forbidden desires and unconscious give a new — and frighteningly real meaning to the ancient idea of the witch.