The Devil Is in the Details: Witchcraft Materiality and Systems of Belief in Early Modern France
Date of Degree
Francesca Canadé Sautman
French and Francophone Literature
magic, witchcraft, popular culture, elite culture, materiality
My approach to the early modern French witch figure, as defined by their materiality, considers the representation of things, objects, and substances in texts. It was inspired by the surge in material culture studies, whose genesis in the 1980s and 1990s spurred theoretical approaches to (re)considering human interactions with objects, the way in which materials can be manipulated to serve various ends, and which objects were deemed culturally significant. I employ this approach to a (re)assessment of the witch figure as illustrated in demonologies, medical texts, and imaginative literature as early as the 14th century spanning into the early 17th century. This body of writing provides a unique opportunity to deconstruct the materiality of this imaginary space: how do otherwise “normal” objects and substances fit into the witchcraft imagination? How (and to what aim) were these objects, materials, and substances purportedly used and exchanged among witches, demons, and the Devil? It is thus interesting to delve into the various interactions and associations between witches and their fictitious stockpile, by considering the value and use of the objects and substances in question, while systematically interrogating the ambiguous and fluctuating concept of belief. Indeed, I extend my analysis of “witchcraft materiality”, as I define it, to better understand commonalities and differences between elite and popular culture and which materials and substances derived from each system of belief. A scrutiny of such texts suggests that this type of materiality forms the fabric of an imaginary, yet startingly complex universe, one that mimics our own in hauntingly precise ways and encompasses what we term both elite and (recycled) popular conceptions of culture.
Evelyn, Ryan, "The Devil Is in the Details: Witchcraft Materiality and Systems of Belief in Early Modern France" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.
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