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Between the Devil and the HostImagining Witchcraft in Early Modern Poland$
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Michael Ostling

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199587902

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199587902.001.0001

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Broken Bodies

Broken Bodies

(p.165) 7 Broken Bodies
Between the Devil and the Host

Michael Ostling

Oxford University Press

The Eucharistic host was believed to be Christ’s body, sacrificed for the sins of humankind. Pious sorrow could transform into rage when Christians believed this sacrifice had been desecrated by Jews or witches. Host-desecration trials, blood libels, and some witch-trials are best understood as the flip-side to adoration of the host. Desecrated hosts were imagined to be used in malefice against children, emblems of the innocent Christ-Child. The chapter closely examines one trial in which a young accused witch confessed to host desecration and killing a ‘beautiful baby’ as a way to reflect on her own innocence, lost in a rape or seduction. This and other trials suggest that those accused of the worst anti-Christian crimes might themselves have been the most pious of Christians.

Keywords:   sacrifice, Christ-Child, host desecration, inversion, malefice against children, blood libel, piety

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