Saturday, February 20, 2010


A Powerful Weapon in Spiritual Warfare

Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 24 (tr. K.S. Guthrie):
Since food, used properly and regularly, greatly contributes to the best discipline, it may be interesting to consider Pythagoras' precepts on the subject. Forbidden was generally all food causing flatulence or indigestion, while he recommended the contrary kinds of food that preserve and are astringent....Beans also were interdicted, due to many causes, physical, psychic and sacred.
Photius, Life of Pythagoras 6 (tr. K.S. Guthrie):
Beans they also avoided, because they produce flatulency, over-satiety, and for other reasons.
Not all spiritual masters avoid flatulence. Some find it to be a powerful weapon in warfare against demons. Martin Luther perfected this technique, according to Karl P. Wentersdorf, "The Symbolic Significance of Figurae Scatologicae in Gothic Manuscripts," in Clifford Davidson, ed., Word, Picture, and Spectacle (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1984), p. 9, with notes on p. 17:
Non-literary evidence regarding this technique comes from a book on demons and sorcerers by Jean Wier, a noted Belgian physician and demonologist. Wier describes how Luther, according to the testimony of Melanchthon, had on one occasion, been drawn into a temptation by a devil and how, after an argument with the tempter, he had exorcized him by expelling wind: Hoc dicto uictus daemon, indignabundus secumque murmurans abijt eliso crepitu non exiguo, cuius sufflamen tetri odoris dies aliquot redolebat hypocaustum39 ("After this had been said, the devil was driven away, filled with indignation and muttering to himself, by a loud expulsion of wind, the evil-smelling odors of which stank like a furnace for several days"). Another report, also originating with Luther, tells of a lady who, when bothered by a devil, adopted the same defensive tactic: Sathanam crepitu ventris fugavit40 ("Satan was put to flight by a noisy burst of wind from the bowels").

39 Ioannes Wierus, De Praestigiis Daemonvm, et Incantationibus ac Ueneficiis (Basel, 1568), I.xvi (p. 93). The copy cited is in the Library of the University of Marburg, West Germany.

40 Gustave Brunet, Martin Luther: Les Propos de Table (Paris: Garnier, 1844), p. 22.
The ablative absolute eliso crepitu non exiguo in the quotation from Wier could possibly mean that the devil, not Luther, broke wind, although the parallel passage about the lady (which I would translate as "She put Satan to flight by breaking wind") from Luther's table-talk lends some support to Wentersdorf's interpretation.

See also Wentersdorf p. 7, with note on p. 16:
These beliefs provide the rationale for a bizarre method of exorcism described in a passage in Martin Luther's table-talk, as recorded by his friends and colleagues and published in 1566. The reformer told how, on more than one occasion, the Devil had appeared to him but had been driven off by scornful words and "tricks" (namely, crepitation or evacuation):
Doktor Luther sagte, wenn er des Teufels mit der heiligen Schrifft vnd mit ernstlichen worten, nicht hette können los werden, so hette er jn offt mit spitzigen worten vnd lecherlichen bossen vertrieben. Vnd wenn er jm sein Gewissen hette beschweren wollen, so hette er offt zu jm gesaget, Teufel ich hab auch in die Hosen geschissen, hastu es auch gerochen, vnd zu den andern meinen Sünden in dein Register geschrieben?25

(Doctor Luther said that whenever he had been unable to get rid of the Devil with the aid of Sacred Scripture and serious words, he had often driven him away with sarcastic words and contemptuous tricks. And when the Devil had tried to burden his conscience, he had often said to him, "Devil, I have just defecated in my breeches. Did you smell it, and have you added it to those other sins of mine written down in your register?")
At the literal level of meaning, Luther evidently meant that his "tricks" either neutralized the evil power of the Devil or else expelled a demon residing temporarily in the reformer's bowels; at the metaphorical level, the faecal evacuation connoted successful resistance to sin though the expulsion of temptation.

25 Tischreden oder Colloquia Doctoris Martin Luthers (Eisleben, 1566), p. 290.


<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?