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Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief

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Cover of Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief by Walter Stephens.

Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief is a novel written by Walter Stephens. The book takes a close examination of the role of Demonic beings in the 15th and 16th century religious world. In doing so, the author brings the view that these were not simply stories or dreams, but instead important considerations to the growth of religion at that time.


  • Title: Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief
  • Author: Walter Stephens
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press
  • Pages: 478
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226772624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226772622
  • Release Date: August 15, 2003


Throughout the centuries of witch trials in Europe, many Christian thinkers were interested in a certain recurring theme of the witches' testimonies: their stories of sex with demons. Walter Stephens, a Johns Hopkins Italian studies professor, looks at this preoccupation in his scholarly work, Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief. Using 15th- and 16th-century writings on witchcraft from various European countries, the author argues that theories of demon copulation are more than just misogynistic expressions of ambivalence toward female sexuality: they were vital to Christian thought, a way for theologians to resolve perennial questions about the existence of God and the supernatural.

Book Review

The following reviews are from the listing in the External Links below:

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Hunting Demons to Boost Faith
  • Reviewed On: July 15, 2002
  • Reviewed By: R. Hardy

Walter Stephens points out, in Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief (University of Chicago Press) that the notoriety of the misogyny of witch hunters of centuries ago is misplaced. He has read extensively in the Malleus Maleficarum and similar documents, and has written a scholarly, large, comprehensive, and well referenced work demonstrating that such books were written to prove that demons were real, and by so doing prove that God, Jesus, and the other articles of faith were inarguably true. Stephens has turned customary reasoning about the Malleus and other writings about witchcraft on its head, but lucidly provides enough evidence to prove his case. "Witch theorists" wanted some sort of physical demonstration of the existence of demons, but had no recourse but to rely on the testimony of experts. Unfortunately, the experts were witches. Their testimony was inherently unreliable, not only because it was often obtained under torture, but because they were, well, witches. The most material manifestation of demons would be not just that they appeared to witches, nor flew them through the air, but that they actually had physical sex with them. "If demonic copulation had been an obvious and axiomatic fact of life, it would not have received the minute, voluminous exposition and vehement defense that these writers devoted to it." The enquiries about demonic sex were not an ethical effort, but rather a scientific one, although the science was rudimentary and full of error. Pope Innocent VIII had issued a bull which proclaimed the naughtiness of those who "...transgressed with incubus and succubus demons," and so the witch theorists were therefore on firm ground in maintaining that demonic sex was happening, and happening often. There is a wealth of curious detail in this book, about the nature of souls, exorcisms, how witches flew, and why they stole men's penises.

What is not to be found here, despite its amusingly lurid title, is much in the way of titillation. Even the illustrated section wittily called "Filthy Pictures" is composed mostly of weirdly comic artistic visions of demons. Casual curiosity will not do, as this is a massive and serious study by an author with extensive erudition. (It does not keep him from writing amusingly at times, which is welcome in such weird subject matter; he writes, for instance, that confronting demons with such sacramentals as holy water or signs of the cross represents resorting to a sort of "demonic pest control.") Although this book deals with issues of centuries ago, they are still active issues. Stephens doesn't mention all the modern parallels, but shows how adepts of creation "science" make similar attempts to force the physical world to follow a spiritual belief. He also demonstrates that UFO believers and abductees are still flying through the air and being sexually violated just as much as their predecessors were, and with as little physical evidence. He does not mention the millions of people who are convinced that they are watched by angels, or the demons one can see cast out daily on religious television programs, or the witches recently killed in Africa for stealing men's penises. We may no longer look for demons in exactly the same way that churchmen did six centuries ago, but people are still the same, and demons still afflict us.

External Links