Document Type

Book Chapter


Demonic possession in Western Christianity is, like witchcraft, a discourse into which questions of gender can be articulated/ and often have been articulated historically, with the sex of the possessed seen as relevant to both causes and symptoms. As with witchcraft, too, it is a discourse within which gender can, nonetheless, seem irrelevant at times or, rather, to have no prima facie significance: its documentation can be surprisingly gender-neutral. The purpose of this chapter is to assist scholars approaching the analysis of possession from a gender perspective, and particularly those writing about cases of possession among males} by delimiting a few of the questions that need to be asked before the question of gender can be addressed effectively. It begins with some methodological comments, then addresses the gender demographics of possession, and moves to a consideration of the early modern era, with particular reference to the questions of volition and responsibility on the part of the possessed. With these issues in mind, it will address two French cases of possession in adult males from the same period, in order to consider them in the light of the more famous female cases of that time and place. In this context, it will make a personal disclosure of a humbling misreading which (at best) can point to the pitfalls of hasty conclusions about the nature of the gender divide in relation to possessed males and females. The chapter does not provide a complete gender history of possession in the early modern era, but sets out avenues of enquiry that might serve as guidelines for a more sustained examination of the historical phenomenon of adult male possession.