CRM 1301 : Reading #1 Jan 18 2012
The Demonic Perspective: Otherworldly Interpretations of Deviance :
Occurring between the 15 19 centuries
Secularization: refers to the process of sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination
of religious institutions and symbols.
Put simply: this means that the modern west has produced an increasing number of individuals who look
upon the world and their own lives without the benefit of religious interpretations.
The demonic perspective is the oldest of all known perspectives on deviance. It suggests that we look for
the cause and the cute of deviant behavior in the realm of the supernatural.
When we succumb to the influence of evil forces we are drawn into deviant behavior. This happens through
1. temptation: a road in which humans are afforded some measure of choice
2. possession: the road of possession. A possessed person is believed to be literally taken over by the devil
or by some evil spirit. Once possessed, a person may be viewed as no longer responsible as no longer
able to choose between good and evil, sin or conformity.
The second is less deterministic than the second. Behind every act lurks the devil.
Ex: Adam and Eve, lured and seduced to eat the forbidden fruit and now are susceptible to the dark
forces of evil.
Cosmic Consequences: from the demonic viewpoint deviant acts are believed to harm more than a
particular or immediate victim. Each act of sin or deviance is also a transgression against God. Beyond
that, it is also an act against the whole order of nature itself against the entire cosmos. Every creature in the
cosmos all plants, rocks, animals and fellow humans is affected by the deviant behaviors of others.
Ex: Shakespeare’s Macbeth Macbeth and Lady Macbeth tragically succumb to the temptations of
ambition and greed.
Identifying Demonic Deviance:
Trial by ordeal quite frankly meant trial by torture.
While such tortuous diagnostic practices may today seem horrific, during the demonic period there was
nothing particularly sacred about the body.
Trial by battle was another method commonly used to identify demonic deviance during the Middle Ages.
The image most associated with this strategy is that of two knights jousting.
The good person would be victorious, while the deviant would fail.
Strength in combat was thus a sign of innocence.
Reserved more for those of wealth.
Discerning the Devil in Colonial America:
While trial by ordeal was common in continental Europe, inquisitional techniques of extracting evidence of
the devil were largely absent in England. There, and in the American colonies, a system of common law
evolved which emphasized such things as trial by jury, separation of prosecution and judge, the right to
confront one’s accusers and to appeal a verdict of guilt.
Ex: historical record of the Salem witch trials of 1692
Salem Witch trials:
Animals died suddenly, children were born dead. Good people such as Ann Putham, lost several children
at birth. The search for more witches continues because more signs of the devil appeared. Soon the whole
Salem community was caught up in a mania of witches. The devil and his disciples were everywhere. Such
deviants were to be identified and put to death.
5 types of evidence were accepted to identify the Salem witches:
1. trial by the clever test it involved making accused witches say the Lord’s prayer in public. Since witches
were believed to say this prayer backwards, it was believed that they would slip up.
2. Simply involved the testimony of those who attributed their own bad fortune to the demonic activities of
3.Directed examiners to search for “physical marks of the devil;” warts, moles, scars or other bodily
imperfections through which the devil might have penetrated the alleged deviant.
4. Confession of guilt.
5. “Spectral evidence” ost commonly relied upon, involved reports of persons who had supposedly seen
“floating specters,” or ghostly forms which had taken the shape or appearance of one of the accused.
Social Control of Demonic Deviance:
Whether a murderer, adulterer or heretic, you were subject to the same general strategy of control a
religiously administered ritual of public punishment. The purpose of such punishment was to purge the body
of a sinner of traces of the devil and thereby restore the body of the community as a whole to its proper
relation to God.
By purging evil, restore humans to their proper relationship as servants of the divine.
During the reign of medieval Christianity obedience to God meant obedience to the church.
Priests acted as official mediators between God, the sinner and a spiritual community afflicted with the
In presiding over the ritual sacrament of penance, priests granted God’s forgiveness and prescribed
punishments which cleansed an infested body of evil. Church officials also acted to prevent demonic
temptation, particularly those associated with heresy and sins of the flesh. Often immense, brutal and searingly powerful, the ritual execution of such punishments symbolized the
supremacy of spirit over matter. Burning was a form of punishment which reached its peak during the high
point of demonically generated deviance the Spanish Inquisition.
Burning evoked the image of hell as the ultimate resting place for unpurged sinners.
Another symbolic as[ect of religious punishment was found in the principle of Lex Talionis or “an eye for
an eye, tooth for a tooth, stroke for a stroke, burning for a burning.”
This principle was used to justify the mutilation of sinners, Thus the theif had a hand cut off. While the penis
of a rapist, the tongue of a liar or the heart of a traitor might be ritually exercised.
“Breaking the Wheel” this form of purging may be traced back to the practice of apotympanismos in
ancient Greece. After the deviant was pegged to a board with irons, an executioner proceeded to break all
his major bones with a heavy metal bar.
Because in breaking bones of a sinner, one breaks the hold that an evil spirit exercises over an earthly
Casting the ashes of a burned sinner to the wind, drawing and quatering, sinking a drowned body into a
bog, staking a body into a fixed position, beheding, and even hanging. In a world enchanted by all kinds if
spirits there was fear that demons within the body of the executed might seep into the earth and thereby
Compare the ritual of beheading with death by hanging. Beheading was largely reserved for offenders of
the highest status.
Hanging and other lesser forms of execution were appropriate to a class that was held in disdain contrast to
beheading, throughout history, being hanged has been a disgrace, particularly if one was stripped naked.
The public execution involved the application of purfying pain inch by inch to the demonically infested body.
Other Rituals of Religious control: more shame than pain:
These punishments symbolized the supernatural subjugation of the body without taking pain to its human
limits. Thus the bakes who shortweighted his loaves was punished by having brad tied around his neck.
In medical Europe heretics accused of advocating Judaism were forced to feed on pork in public.
The cleft sick or Whispering stick was inserted into the mouths of children