This podcast features Dr Hilary Powell on ‘Picturing Thought: Voices, Visions and Demonic Encounters in the Early Middle Ages‘.  It was recorded at a Hearing the Voice Research Seminar in Hatfield College, Durham University on 13 March 2014.

Abstract: “Hearing demonic voices or experiencing demonic visions was a familiar theme in medieval hagiographical literature. For many modern scholars, accounts of demonic assaults merely distract from the historical authenticity of the narrative. They are often dismissed as fantastical digressions, either products of authors’ unbridled imaginations or hagiographical commonplaces drafted in to spice up the Life of a long-dead saint. Thus demonic encounters are assumed to have been little more than entertainment or, at best, edifying tales which warned against the dangers of demonic temptation and helped perpetuate patterns of religious conduct. Little attention has been paid to how demonic episodes operate within these texts, the referential traditions into which they tap and how they may have been read by the monastic audiences for whom they were written. Still less attention has been devoted to their cognitive utility and the way in which the images they conjure may have been memorised and subsequently recalled and redeployed by their readers. This paper focuses on the hagiography of St Dunstan, exploring how the demonic  encounters found in the different texts encouraged different ways of engaging with the narrative and supplied monastic readers with innovative cognitive tools to ward off signs of mental distraction and intrusive thoughts. Moreover, it will draw attention to the significance that hearing demonic voices had in the world of the medieval cloister.”

As part of the introduction to her lecture, Hilary refers to the ‘waterworks drawing’ from the Eadwine Psalter, which presents a bird’s eye view of the twelfth century hydraulic system that provided Canterbury Cathedral and its monastic buildings with water. For more information and a link to the image, please click here.

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