Most histories of spiritualism start inside the walls of a small cottage in Hydesville, a little town in upstate New York. According to the story, several tenants had abandoned the house due to some mysterious rapping noises.
We all experience the uncanny: that “horrible, eerie, shuddery feeling”, as a character in one of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s short stories describes it. This we feel in response to certain phenomena — such as strange coincidences, identical twins, and waxwork figures — which are characteristically eerie, creepy, and weird.
In December 1861, a few months after he published the first instalment of his supernatural masterpiece, ‘A Strange Story’, the distinguished novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton told his friend John Forster that he wished to make philosophers inquire into [spirit manifestations] as I think Bacon, Newton, and Davy would have inquired. There must be a natural cause for them — if they are not purely imposture. Even if that natural cause be the admission of a spirit world around us, which is the extreme point. But if so, it is a most impartial revelation in Nature.
‘‘Demon’’ is technically a neutral word that refers to any spirit, whether good or evil, that is neither divine nor mortal but inhabits the intermediate realm between gods and humans. Thus, even angels belong to the general class of beings known as demons. But in common usage, owing to habits established between roughly 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E., ‘‘demon’’ has come to refer solely to the evil members of the category.
In contrast to witchcraft historiography, recent reliable academic treatises on werewolves are exceedingly scanty. This is due both to a lack of interest in them, and a dearth of the source material. New presentations on the subject also have to position themselves against the many existing interpretations, which are inversely proportional to the research.