Fallen Bodies

Dyan Elliott. Fallen Bodies; Pollution, Sexuality and Demonology in the Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.
This book deals with the medieval church's struggles with sexuality, and the notion of fallen bodies, polluted by origmal sin. The arguments over the nature of the bodies of demons and how they were able to impregnate women find echoes in the modem abduction literature. If in the Middle Ages it was suggested that demons could build up their bodies from semen produced by nocturnal emissions, today we have hybrid babies concocted from stolen eggs and semen. We should also not forget the late nineteenth and early twentieth spiritualist belief that spirits could materialise using 'tissue' stolen from the medium and sitters at seances and converted into ectoplasm. These beliefs are part of a tradition of unnatural generation, and thus part of a much larger set of beliefs concerning sexuality and pollution. One of the main causes of uncleanness was a mixed origin or having attributes which appeared to cut across categories. We can certainly put 'hybrid' babies into that category.

In such a study of medieval beliefs about demonic sexuality, we can see how much they are reproduced in modem abduction lore, despite a faint pseudo-scientific gloss. Medieval demons were sometimes said to be hollow or have no backs, modem greys are curiously light and insubstantial, Aquinas argued that angels and devils were pure disembodied intellect, without human emotions an idea echoed in the emotionless 'glacial indifference' of the Grays. Perhaps the most piquant expression of the merging of traditional demonology and modem technology is the recent case from Australia in which an alleged pubic hair of a succubus was subjected to DNA testing. If our intrepid 'scientific ufologists' had consulted the Church Fathers they would have learnt that the said hair had come from a mortal women seduced by the same demon in the form of an incubus' The more sceptically minded would tend to cut out the middle demon from the equation.

This should remind us that the medieval world is not as removed from our own as we think. Much of its intellectual structure has survived in folk religion in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions to this day, from whence it has been imperfectly secularised into wider culture. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 68, September 1999.


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