Friday, October 04, 2013

Luther on Melusine, the Devil, and the Succubus

Over on the CARM Lutheran board comes the following:

This sounds like a strange topic for the Lutheran Forum but I thought it would be a change. I am watching the TV Series The White Queen, The Red Queen and the Kingmaker's Daughter on cable. It is the story of Edward IV, his wife Elizabeth and their families. Elizabeth's mother was reported to be a witch that could call up storms. She claimed to be a descendant of Melusine.
The reason I posted this here is because I read that Luther wrote something about this "Fairy Goddess" and that he believed in her. I thought it would be an interesting look into the history of Luther. Are there any historical writings about supernatural beings in our church's history?

Posted with this question was a link to a Wikipedia entry: Melusine. The entry recounts the various renditions of the "feminine spirit of fresh waters in sacred springs and rivers." The article states,

Martin Luther knew and believed in the story of another version of Melusine, die Melusina zu Lucelberg (Lucelberg in Silesia), whom he referred to several times as a succubus (Works, Erlangen edition, volume 60, pp 37–42).

"Erlangen edition, volume 60, pp 37–42" as cited in this Wiki article refers to the Tabletalk. This is page 37 (cf TR 3, 517 ff). Note the use of the word "succubus" in the first paragraph. The entries in question appear to be around Tabletalk entries 3676, not included in the English edition of LW.

This brief sentence has been cut-and-pasted all over the Internet, showing once again the power of  Wikipedia.  The entry is correct that the source referred to mentions the Melusine and also a succubus. The article doesn't mention that the source in question is the Tabletalk, something Luther did not actually write. The various Tabletalk statements referenced refer to Luther's belief that the devil could take the form of a woman and seduce men. In the Tabletalk entry in question, The Melusine is briefly mentioned and said to be the devil.

Philip Schaff says of Luther's beliefs in the devil:
Luther was brought up in all the mediaeval superstitious concerning demons, ghosts, witches, and sorcerers. His imagination clothed ideas in concrete, massive forms. The Devil was to him the personal embodiment of all evil and mischief in the world. Hence he figures very largely in his theology and religious experience. He is the direct antipode of God, and the archfiend of Christ and of men. As God is pure love, so the Devil is pure selfishness, hatred, and envy. He is endowed with high intellectual gifts, as bad men often surpass good men in prudence and understanding. He was originally an archangel, but moved by pride and envy against the Son of God, whose incarnation and saving work he foresaw, he rose in rebellion against it. He commands an organized army of fallen angels and bad men in constant conflict with God and the good angels. He is the god of this world, and knows how to rule it. He has power over nature, and can make thunder and lightning, hail and earthquake, fleas and bed-bugs. He is the ape of God. He can imitate Christ, and is most dangerous in the garb of an angel of light. He is most busy where the Word of God is preached. He is proud and haughty, although he can appear most humble. He is a liar and a murderer from the beginning. He understands a thousand arts. He hates men because they are creatures of God. He is everywhere around them, and tries to hurt and seduce them. He kindles strife and enmity. He is the author of all heresies and persecutions. He invented popery, as a counterpart of the true kingdom of God. He inflicts trials, sickness, and death upon individuals. He tempts them to break the Ten Commandments, to doubt God’s word, and to blaspheme. He leads into infidelity and despair. He hates matrimony, mirth, and music. He can not bear singing, least of all "spiritual songs." He holds the human will captive, and rides it as his donkey. He can quote Scripture, but only as much of it as suits his purpose. A Christian should know that the Devil is nearer him than his coat or shirt, yea, than his own skin. Luther reports that he often disputed with the Devil in the night, about the state of his soul, so earnestly that he himself perspired profusely, and trembled. Once the Devil told him that he was a great sinner. "I knew that long ago," replied Luther, "tell me something new. Christ has taken my sins upon himself, and forgiven them long ago. Now grind your teeth." At other times he returned the charge and tauntingly asked him, "Holy Satan, pray for me," or "Physician, cure thyself." The Devil assumes visible forms, and appears as a dog or a hog or a goat, or as a flame or star, or as a man with horns. He is noisy and boisterous. He is at the bottom of all witchcraft and ghost-trickery. He steals little children and substitutes others in their place, who are mere lumps of flesh and torment the parents, but die young. Luther was disposed to trace many mediaeval miracles of the Roman Catholic Church to the agency of Satan. He believed in daemones incubos et succubos.
Some of the older English translations of the Tabletalk include Luther's understanding of the Devil abilities. In his later exposition of Genesis, Luther states:
So far as incubi and succubi are concerned, I do not deny, but believe, that the devil may happen to be either a succubus or an incubus; for I have heard many relate their very own experiences. Augustine, too, declares that he heard the same sort of story from trustworthy people whom he felt compelled to believe. It delights Satan if he can delude us by taking on the appearance either of a young man or of a woman. But that anything can be born from the union of a devil and a human being is simply untrue. Such an assertion is sometimes made about hideous infants that resemble demons very much. I have seen some of these. But I am convinced either that these were deformed, but not begotten, by the devil, or that they are actual devils with flesh that they have either counterfeited or stolen from somewhere else. If with God’s permission the devil can take possession of an entire human being and change his disposition, what would be so remarkable about his misshaping the body and bringing about the birth of either blind or crippled children? (LW 2:11)
On a related subject, see the article, Martin Luther and Childhood Disability in 16th CenturyGermany, in which the author discusses the alleged children (or "changelings") produced by such unions between the devil and humans.

1 comment:

Brigitte said...

Interesting article on Childhood Disability.