Psychotic reactions? Witchcraft, the devil and mental illness



Publication Details

Ferber, S. (2016). Psychotic reactions? Witchcraft, the devil and mental illness. In L. Kounine & M. Ostling (Eds.), Emotions in the history of witchcraft (pp. 231-245). London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.


The idea that belief in magic, witchcraft and demons has inherently to do with extreme emotions is open to question and qualification. In keeping with the project outlined for the history of emotions in the pioneering 1985 essay by Peter Stearns and Carol Stearns, 'emotionology', one way to pursue questions on the historicity of emotions is through the study of the 'agencies and institutions' which can embed assumptions about the naturalness of an emotion. The first agency considered in the present chapter is the Dewey Decimal System of library cataloguing, which positioned ideas about magic and witchcraft close to madness and at a safe distance from religion. The second is modern psychotherapy, when its theorists and practitioners appraise violent acts of claimed exorcism in a legal setting. Here I consider how law and mainstream psychotherapy address extreme violence conducted in the name of culturally sanctioned religious orthodoxy. My discussion is underpinned by reference to the views of Stuart Clark in a classic 1983 Past and Present article that questioned historians of mentalité who equated emotionality and belief in demons with ignorance. Such assumptions bear with them a politics of emotion which continues to warrant our attention.

Please refer to publisher version or contact your library.



Link to publisher version (DOI)