Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Scholasticism and witchcraft theory 7

In the last post, I pointed out that for Scotus, when an angel or a demon possesses a physical body, it can only move the parts of that body. It cannot cause that body to perform any of its basic biological functions (nutrition, growth, and reproduction). This does not mean, however, that a possessing angel or demon cannot simulate these basic biological functions, and there are some wonderful passages where Scotus describes how this could be done.

For instance, a possessing demon could make a body appear to consume and process food. The demon could make the hand put the food in the mouth, then make the jaws grind up the food, and then make the tongue and mouth send the food down the throat into the stomach. And then, Scotus explains, the demon could excrete those tiny bits of food through gaseous excretions.

Similarly, Scotus explains that a possessing body could take the food that it makes its possessed body eat, and then add that material to the body, thereby making it appear to onlookers that the body is growing.

But perhaps the most interesting biological function here is reproduction. According to Scotus, since a possessing angel or demon can do nothing more than make a body move, it obviously cannot make the body of, say, a human male produce semen. But the angel can pull of a sneaky trick to bring about reproduction.

A possessing spirit can make the body that it possesses appear to be a woman, and it can then use that female body to seduce a man. When that man deposits his semen in the female body (traditionally called a succubi), the spirit can preserve that semen within its body (though many medieval thinkers were careful to point out that the demon would have to keep its semen deposit warm, for without its vital heat, the semen would become inefficacious --- I guess they didn’t know about the possibilities of freezing sperm in those days). Then, once the spirit has a warm semen deposit trapped within its body, it can then transform its body into a man (traditionally called an incubi). As a man, it can seduce a woman, at which point it can deposit the preserved semen into her. She might then become pregnant, and viola! The possessing spirit has brought about reproduction.

So, even though Scotus maintains that angels and demons can be nothing more than puppeteers of the bodies they possess, Scotus takes the time to point out that, with a little bit of ingenuity, angels and demons can certainly generate rather life-like behavior in the bodies that they possess. Still, even though a possessed body might appear to behave in rather life-like ways, Scotus insists that the real mechanics of this comes down to nothing more than occupying the same space as, and being the puppeteer of, a physical body.

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