Gothic Hybridity: the Nature of Demons

Hybridity is something that I have always found interesting to explore in relation to the gothic. I’ve blogged about fairy tale hybridity in relation to Beauty and the Beast and commented on the Wellcome’s ‘Making Nature’ exhibition on faux taxonomy and hybrid creatures as well as responding to a BBC article on fictional and folkloric representations of hybridity: Hybrid Creatures from the Owl Man to the Demon Dog   In this post I approach hybridity via demonology for the first time.

One of the reasons why a negative view of hybridity has developed (apart from those taxonomies which outlawed anything that was not ‘pure’ stock labelling them ‘monstrous’) is because of the iconography surrounding demons. The process of cross-fertilisation can of course create something new, more than the sum of the original parts. It moves us away from notions of identity which are either/or, either one thing or another. Demons work against this positive idea of hybridity because they are shown to be flawed, malformed, and akin to the devil, and also because they are cast out and forever in a state of exile or unbelonging.

In Christianity demons have their origins in the Fallen Angels who follow Satan when he was cast out of heaven. As Christianity spread, Pagan gods, goddesses, and nature spirits were incorporated into the ranks of demons. Descriptions from antiquity portray demons as shapeshifters who can assume any form, animal or human or hybrid. Some theologians and witch hunters say that demons have no corporeal form,  and only give the illusion that they are in animal or human form (they create voices out of air that mimic people, for example).

In Judaic lore, demons are invisible, but can see themselves and each other. They cast no shadows (linking them to Dracula). They only assume bodies to copulate. In Christian lore demons assume forms that are black, such as black dogs, and other animals. Because they are evil they are imperfect, shown in flaws such as malformed limbs and cloven feet. Demons are described as unclean, if they make their bodies out of air, or occupy a living body, they exude a stench. Throughout history the activities of demons has been thought to cause illness and disease. Demons can send bad weather, pests such as armies of rats and mice and swarms of locusts. Such belief holds that humankind is in constant danger of demonic attack in some form, and constant vigilance is required. The greatest danger occurs at night when sleeping humans are at their most vulnerable, births and deaths are perilous times, as are nights on which marriages are consummated. At these times demons are better able to wreak havoc!

Demons were believed to aid witches during the inquisition, they acted as familiars, taking the form of animals, participating in sabbats. They can also assume beautiful and seductive forms, acting as sexual predators. By the C14th it was accepted that demons had sex with humans, in the form of Incubi and Succubi, or even as Satan himself. They are organised into hierarchies, according to GRIMOIRES or inquisition writings. Such magic books give the names, duties, seals, incantations and rituals around summoning and controlling demons.

The DICTIONNAIRE INFERNAL describes demons which are organised into hierarchies. It was written by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy and first published in 1818. There are several editions of the book; perhaps the most famous is the 1863 edition, which included illustrations by Louis Le Breton depicting the appearances of several of the demons. I am excited to say that the Bibliothèque nationale de France has scanned this book and made it available for download here

This work together with James, George Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890) and a used copy of Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology (2009), inspired my initial interest in demons. My research is not about poltergeists or demonic possession, it is instead focused on discovering wonderfully hybrid, magical creatures. You might like to browse some of my favourites below:

MARCHOSIAS. Fallen angel and 35th of 72 Spirits of Solomon. He is a marquis ruling 30 legions of demons. He appears as a she-wolf with griffin wings and a serpent’s tail. A shapeshifter he will take human form. Once a member of the angelic order of dominions, he is set to return after 1,200 years.

ADREMLECH. A Chieften of hell. Grand Chancellor of Demons, President of the Devil’s General Council. Governor of the Devil’s Wardrobe. Often portrayed as a mule with a peacock’s tail.

ANDRAS. Fallen angel and 6rd of the 72 Spirits of Soloman. Wonderfully hybrid, he appears in the form of an owl-headed demon who rides a black wolf! He creates discord and kills his enemies with a gleaming silver sword.

AMDUSCIAS. Fallen angel 67th of the 72 Spirits of Solomon. Appears first as a unicorn. He will take on human shape but this will cause musical instruments to be heard but not seen. Trees sway at the sound of his voice  He gives humans the power to make trees fall and he gives excellent familiars!

HALPAS. Fallen angel and demon. He is an Earl who appears in the form of a giant female stork and speaks with a croaky voice. He burns whole towns and takes a sword to the wicked. He rules over 26 legions of Hell.

BAAL. Fertility deity now a fallen angel and demon. 1st of the 72 Spirits of Solomon. A King ruling 66 legions of demons. He is triple-headed with a cat, human and toad head. He can bestow the gift of invisibility and wisdom.

GAAP. Fallen angel and 33rd of the 72 Spirits of Solomon. Prince in Hell, ruling 66 legions of demons. Humanlike, with huge bat wings, he can make you insentient or move you from place to place. Takes familiars away from magicians!

OGOM presented a panel entitled ‘Gothic Hybridities: Ambiguous Creatures and Ambivalent Morals’ at the IGA conference in Manchester in July 2018. OGOM research into the hybrid nature of demons has been further disseminated via our #GothicHybridity hashtag and #DemonoftheDay

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CFPs: Hans Andersen, fairy tales, The Vampire Diaries

Despite everything, research goes on and there are some calls for submissions here that have come to our attention.

1. The Swan’s Egg: A Student Journal of Hans Christian Andersen Studies. Deadline: 15 January 2021

The editors of The Swan’s Egg invite submissions for the journal’s first issue. Essays on Hans Christian Andersen by undergraduate, MA, and PhD students written in English or in Danish are welcome, and should be around 4,000 words in length.

2. Gramarye, The Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. Deadline: 21 September 2020.

The Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction seeks articles, book reviews and creative writing relating to literary and historical approaches to fairy tales, fantasy, Gothic, magic realism, science fiction and speculative fiction for Gramarye, its peer-reviewed journal published by the University of Chichester.

3. Critically Reading The Vampire Diaries, edited collection. Deadline: 14 August 2020.

This call for papers reaches out to scholars interested in working on interpretations of the CBS series The Vampire Diaries. This American supernatural teen drama features a diverse set of characters, both dead and undead, while touching on topics such as friendship, romance, adulthood, as well as depression, and aging. So far, no book length work has dealt with this complex series, and it is our aim to publish an in-depth analysis consisting of 10-11 chapters that offer critical and creative readings of this series

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Congratulations, Prof. Sam George!

Prof. Sam George at the Polidori symposium, 6-7 April 2019, Keats House, Hampstead

It is with great pleasure that I announce the promotion of Sam George to Associate Professorship. I’ve known Sam for many years and for the last ten we have worked together founding and developing the Open Graves, Open Minds Project.

Sam began her academic vocation with research into the ambivalent production and reception of eighteenth-century women’s writing on botany; this was her PhD thesis and culminated in her monograph Botany, Sexuality and Women’s Writing, 1760-1830: From Modest Shoot to Forward Plant (MUP, 2007).

She then turned her attention to the literary vampire, particularly in Young Adult fiction, and has published research on that, notably in our edited collection Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day (MUP, 2013) and the special issue of Gothic Studies, 15.1 (May 2013). This research has fed productively into her teaching, culminating in the first MA module devoted to the vampire, ‘Reading the Vampire: Science, Sexuality and Alterity in Modern Culture’.

Sam’s research (and that of the OGOM Project) broadened to embrace other veins of Gothic and fabulous narrative, fostered by her many public talks and the conferences for which she was a driving organisational force. Thus the 2015 Company of Wolves conference addressed wolves, werewolves, and the wild children associated with them, resulting in our latest book, In the Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves, and Wild Children (MUP, 2020). This is reflected, too, in Sam’s undergraduate module, ‘Generation Dead: Young Adult Fiction and the Gothic’. Sam has cultivated younger researchers, supervising the PhDs of Drs Kaja Franck, Jillian Wingfield, and Matt Beresford, and currently Daisy Butcher.

Sam’s current research is exploring Gothic fairies, with the prospect of a book on the topic (see, too, our forthcoming ‘Ill met by moonlight’ conference). She is also formulating ideas towards an ethical Gothic; this is included in an impact case study for REF entitled ‘Open Graves, Open Minds: Promoting empathy and interrogating difference through public engagement with Gothic narratives’ and there will be a symposium and publications. And she is conducting an investigation into the cultural significance of the shadow, which will bear fruit as her next monograph, In the Kingdom of Shadows; Optics, Dark Folklore and the Gothic.

I am very proud of what Sam has achieved with OGOM; it has been immensely rewarding to work with her and it is wonderful that her work has been recognised in this way.

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Resources: Fairies, fairy tales, YA and children’s literature, preternature

We’ve added some useful links to various resources from the website. These appear in the Related Links and Journals sections on the right-hand side of the Blog and Resources pages.

The International Fairy-Tale Filmography is a fantastic database of film adaptations of fairy tales.

The Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index–the standard way of classifying folk tales–is on line.

We now have a link to The Fairy Investigation Society website.

There is a link to the newly-formed YA Studies Association–we wish them all the best on their exciting new project!

We’ve added a link under Journals to the new journal Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural.

There’s also a link to the Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies journal’s website.

And, finally, a link to The Lion and the Unicorn, the journal of children’s literature.

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Links for talks and interviews: In the Company of Wolves, Vampires

We’ve added some new links to the website for online talks and so on.

I have a short talk for Manchester University Press, describing our In the Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves and Wild Children book. A link to this has been added to the page for the book.

We also have created a new page for general online talks and interviews under the Resources menu. Here, you can find my recent interview with Brian from Toothpickings on vampires and werewolves, the folklore of these creatures and its transmutation into literature.

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The Folklore Society Announces a New President

Congratulations to Prof. Owen Davies who has just become the new President of The Folklore Society. The Folklore Society is a learned society devoted to the study of traditional culture in all its forms. It was founded in London in 1878 and was one of the first organisations established in the world for the study of folklore.

Owen, a historian with expertise in witchcraft, magic and ghosts, is my mentor and esteemed colleague at the University of Hertfordshire; he’s a long standing friend of OGOM. We are excited to announce that he will be joining us for our fairy conference ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’ 8-10 April, 2021. His plenary talk is entitled ‘Print Grimoires, Spirit Conjuration, and the Democratisation of Learned Magic’. We wish Owen success and happiness in his new role and look forward to future collaborations.  

We recommend taking a look at Owen’s long list of publications. His most recent works include the Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic (2017); a Wellcome Trust-funded Open Access book with Francesca Matteoni entitled Executing Magic in the Modern Era: Criminal Bodies and the Gallows in Popular Medicine (2017); and a new major monograph for OUP, A Supernatural Struggle: Magic, Divination and Faith during the First World War (2018).

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Review: CoronaGothic Conference, 30 June 2020, University of Macau Gothic

Dr Joan Passey has written an excellent review of the recent online CoronaGothic conference organised by the Gothic Research Network at the University of Macau in China. Sam’s earlier post with further details of the conference and the paper she presented is here.

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Coronagothic 30th June 2020

Those who are wondering how the Gothic might respond to the current crisis will be interested in this new event. It is called Coronagothic and it is an online flash conference hosted by @UMGothic (Gothic Research Network at the University of Macau in China). It takes place via Zoom 10am BST Tues 30 June. I will be one of nine academics from Asia, Europe, and the UK and we will discuss the cultural implications of Covid-19. It is free to register but there are limited places .

Amabie Festival

My paper is entitled ‘Analysing Amabie: A fragment in the Life of the monstrous mermaid revived to ward off coronavirus’.

I will draw on Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s seven theses of monster culture to examine Amabie, a Japanese mermaid monster from the Edo- period, revived to ward off Coronavirus in 2020. I argue that in cultural moments such as this, our understanding of crises is best understood via the hybrid creatures they engender.


So who is Amabie?  Japanese Twitter is currently inundated with depictions of this yōkai , a squat, duck-billed creature with a scaly body, long hair and three webbed feet. But why? For the answer, you have to go back to mid-May 1846, when a town official from what is now Kumamoto prefecture on the island of Kyushu went down to the sea to investigate reports of glowing lights. There he encountered a strange mermaid-like creature. “I am Amabie who lives in the sea,” it said. “For the next six years, there will be abundant crops across the land, but there will also be epidemics. Show my picture to people as soon as you can.” Then Amabie was gone.

Continue reading about the pandemic defeating monster here

If you are intrigued, please do register and keep an eye on @UMGothic on Twitter

The Proposed Schedule

Prposed 30 June 2020

30th June 10 a.m. British Summer Time / 5.p.m Macau time

09.55 – Welcome from Prof. Victoria Harrison (University of Macau)

10.00 – Prof. Nick Groom (University of Macau)

10.10 – Prof. Bill Hughes (University of Macau)

10.20 – Questions

10.30 – Prof. Mariaconcetta Costantini (G. D’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara)

10.40 – Dr Sam George (University of Hertfordshire)

10.50 – Questions

11.00 – Prof. Steve Hinchliffe (University of Exeter)

11.10 – Prof. Darryl Jones (Trinity College, Dublin)

11.20 – Questions

11.30 – Prof. David Punter (University of Bristol)

11.40 – Prof. Corinna Wagner (University of Exeter)

11.50 – Questions

12.00 – Closing questions/remarks from Prof. Victoria Harrison (University of Macau)

You should draw Amabie to ward off Coronavirus!!

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Betsy Cornwell: Steampunk Faerie at ‘Ill met by moonlight’ Conference

We are delighted to announce an addition to the guest speakers at our ‘Ill met by moonlight’ Gothic Faery conference. Betsy Cornwell, the esteemed author of YA fantasy, will be talking about her creative adaptation of fairy lore in her novels.

Betsy’s first novel, Tides (2013), is a brilliant and sensitive exploration of young love, sexuality, and body image through a paranormal romance that reworks the selkie figure—that liminal creature of Celtic Faerie which transforms from seal to human and transverses ocean and land. Sam teaches this novel on her ‘Generation Dead: Young Adult Fiction and the Gothic’ BA module.

Betsy’s later novels Mechanica (2015) and its sequel Venturess (2017) recreate the ‘Cinderella’ tale in a dazzling encounter of steampunk technology with Faery. There is here an urge towards a re-enchantment of the modern world—an impulse found in similar fantasy and paranormal romance novels which feature fairies. In the world of these novels, the land of Faerie is depicted as the colonised Other (there is a suggestion of Britain’s domination of Ireland, the source of much fairy lore). Cornwell’s heroine, Nicolette first refashions herself into entrepreneurial engineer, then helps liberate the fairy realm through a war of independence. Faerie challenges the utilitarian rationality of Esting (the colonising power) but it also offers an alternative way of loving that resists the gendered rigidities of conventional couplings. And Betsy Cornwell is cleverly metafictional in the way that she subtly analyses how fairy stories themselves shape reality; Nicolette develops her autonomy through resisting and rewriting such narratives. Cornwell has also written a feminist adaptation of the Robin Hood story, The Forest Queen (2018) which takes place in the same world as Mechanica. And in 2020, her queer retelling of the Grimms’ tale ‘Snow White and Rose Red’ will appear.

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Twins for Kaja – Big Congratulations from OGOM

Some wonderful news to stave off all the gloom, OGOM’s Kaja has given birth to twins named Frederick Ewen Franck-Howells and Casper Wolf Franck-Howells. Big names for little people!! On behalf of OGOM I’d like to send huge congratulations to Kaja and Duncan on the birth of their first born (hopefully there is no evil fairy waiting in the wings to carry off the children). Twins though – uncanny, there’s got to be a gothic link!! Casper will in future undoubtedly be known as Wolf Howells awww woohoo!!!

double trouble – delightful doppelgangers
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