Caesarius of Heisterbach (ca. 1180 – ca. 1240) was a monk in the abbey of Heisterbach, where instructing novices was one of his responsibilities. He wrote a number of spiritual treatises, and the best known was his “Dialogue on Miracles,” which takes the form of a dialogue between a master and a novice. His works were popular because the stories conveyed important theological truths in an engaging format.
Many parts of his book deal with demons and the devil in various guises, and in a few of these he ascribes black skin to these fallen beings. In this excerpt, which has been excerpted and edited and thus is not as complete as the English translation, the monk tells the novice of an abbot named Herman, who was blessed with the gift of seeing demons. He proceeds to survey the panoply of forms demons could take. Many of them are terrifyingly insubstantial and monstrous. Others occupy the bodies of monks who are prone to impious acts. But note also the three demons that take clearly human form: a veiled woman dressed all in black, a brutish peasant, and an Ethiopian burned black by hellfire.
These represent three figures who all provoked some measure of anxiety among elites, women because of their seductive potential and weakness for extravagance, peasants because of their superstitions and passions, and blacks because of an association both with darkness and sin and with the Muslim enemies of Christianity.
Source: Alexander Kaufmann, Hg., Wunderbare und denkwürdige Geschichten aus den Werken des Cäsarius von Heisterbach, Bd. 2 (Köln: J.&.W. Boisserée’s Buchhandlung, 1891), 7-11.
An Ethiopian among the demons (before 1240) [German] by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.