RUSSIAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOR THE HUMANITIES
RUSSIAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOR THE HUMANITIES
Demons and fiends as objects of academic discussion
21.05.2020

Demons and fiends as objects of academic discussion

The doctrine of the world of fallen spirits has its own system of ordered signs, which can be traced through oral tradition, books, iconography, popular culture and post-folklore.

Presentation on the topic were made at the VI International Conference “Demonology as a semiotic system”, which began on May 19 online.

“Demonological representations are an essential part of mythology in folk traditions. They occupy a significant place in the European culture of different eras at all levels: from theological thought to "popular Christianity", ”said Dr. Olga Khristoforova, Director of the Center for Typology and Semiotics of Folklore, one of the organizers of the conference.

The conference opened with a presentation by Dr. Dmitry Antonov, Director of the Center for Visual Research of the Middle Ages and the New Age, on visual models of idol-fighting in Russian iconography.

“This is the topic of confronting the statues of false gods, the struggle with pagan cults, shrines, temples and idols,” the speaker explained. - I want to focus on one curious moment - Russian images of Avraamy (Abraham) of Rostov, founder of the Epiphany Monastery, and some features related to his iconography. According to his vita, he defeated the idol of Veles. On the icon of the XVIII century, the scene is presented in a fantastic way. On it, Abraham strikes the idol down with a staff, and the strangest details are not immediately apparent. They are found in the idol’s hairstyle: he has long, flowing hair down to his shoulders, a beard and a mustache, and a crown on his head, indicating royal status. He looks straight at us and his type of hairstyle is similar to the hairstyle of Christ. His hands are spread apart. The staff of Abraham ends with a tip of a spear striking the idol in the rib, drawing blood. This microcomposition is an implicit replica of the scene of the crucifixion of Christ.

Idols claimed to be holy, so likening a false god to a true deity in the framework of Christian culture is perfectly acceptable. But for Russian iconography, this is nonsense! This makes the icon itself completely unique and once again shows how important a detailed analysis of iconography is, how much, given its external stability, the Russian iconography is varied at a symbolic level."

Other presentations were no less interesting: “Saint Nikitas and their demons”, “Disputes about the Jewish nose: physiognomy of demons and sinners in the Middle Ages”, “Daniel Hopfer's engraving Gib Frid and the history of the motive of the old woman the vanquisher of demons”, “The Devil and his substitutes in the temple”, “Anthropology of demon possession and the existence of the phenomenon of exorcism in the regional aspect of modern society”, “Prophetic motives in the Old Believer lubok about the computer concentration camp”, “Visual demonology of modern spiritualism (devil images and his verbal descriptions by fortune-tellers)”, "Visualization of the image of the house spirit in modern house charms", "On the demons old and new: the case of Nadezhda Kokhanova", "Deal with the demon in American comics" , “Visual Demonology: review of 2018–2020 publications.”

The topics of the second day of the conference were investigative experiments of witch hunters, image of the devil in early English novel, relationship of man and demon in the context of necromancy and witchcraft, image of hell of Bosch, powers of devil forces in the late Middle Ages according to the grimoire “The Small Key of Solomon ”, the degradation of the folklore motif “Husband/groom as a demon from the other world ”, the Roman myth of the strixes and Etruscan demons of the underworld, horses in medieval magic of the Western Slavs, demonization of the frog, images of demons in the Persian Ramayana, folk witchcraft and healing practices of the Pennsylvania Germans in the XX century, protective charms of mountain Jews, stories about the dybbuk or possession by an evil spirit in Jewish Eastern European written sources of the 19th century.

The third day focused on the specifics of the mythical characters of Komi-Perm, Mari, Mongolia, Altai. At the closing of the conference, a separate topic was discussed, that of St. Macarius and the demon in pumpkins.

Organizers: Center for Typology and Semiotics of Folklore, Center for Visual Research of the Middle Ages and the New Age.