Friday, 21 October 2016
What was the role of the Devil in history and what can this teach us today?
Those are the questions that a University of Worcester historian will explore in a free public talk that sets the tone for the night of Halloween.
He said: “The Devil has been a huge figure in our culture, and the festival of Halloween reminds us of his continuing appeal. Halloween is light-hearted, of course, and people have always made jokes and had fun with the idea of the Devil, even when his existence was widely accepted. This Halloween I want to show people a little more about this fascinating character.”
He said that in Tudor and Stuart England people believed that the Devil was everywhere, but that he operated insidiously in the thoughts and desires of men and women as a powerful spirit of temptation.
“The Devil was busy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as both sides in the Reformation associated their opponents with him,” he said.
“This was also the great age of witch trials. For the experts on witchcraft in this period, if not for ordinary people, the crime involved colluding with the Devil.
“The Devil has been a central figure in Christianity since its inception, and it is hard to understand the history of the religion without him.
“The great thinkers of the church grappled over centuries with deep questions about the origin and nature of what we call “evil", and we can still learn from their insights - even if we no longer believe in a personal Devil.”
He said attitudes to evil were a key to understanding better the actions and decisions made during this period of history.
“It is good, I think, to try to imagine the world from different perspectives. The people of sixteenth and seventeenth-century England were sure that evil spirits were real, and they acted accordingly. If we can appreciate that, we can understand better the things they did.
“Fear of the Devil and damnation gave an edge to the religious conflicts of the age. It also played a role in some witch trials. People in the past were not irrational; they just believed different things to us. That knowledge can enrich our understanding of the past and increase our sympathy for other people, past and present.”
Professor Oldridge also believes that we can learn from attitudes to the Devil in this period, using them to inform our modern understanding.
He said: “Christian writers always understood that Satan pretends to be "an angel of light". We will often do bad things because we think we are doing good ones, or at least persuade ourselves that this is so. Also, our bad choices are influenced by external things: our friends, our culture, the people we work for.
“We may no longer believe in a personal Devil, but it is naive to assume that we are wholly free agents capable of always ‘doing the right thing’. Evil is more complicated.”
The lecture is not suitable for children under 16. To book a ticket visit www.thehiveworcester.org.uk.