The next seminar in the Hearing the Voice Research Seminar series, featuring a presentation by Dr Hilary Powell (Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Medical Humanities and Department of English Studies) on ‘Picturing Thought: Voices, Visions and Demonic Encounters in the Early Middle Ages’, will take place in the Birley Room at Hatfield College at Durham University (number 20 on this map) on Thursday 13 March 2014, 5 pm – 7 pm.

British Library, MS Harley 315, f. 15v

Abstract: Hearing demonic voices or experiencing demonic visions was a familiar theme in medieval hagiographical literature. For many modern scholars, accounts of demonic assaults merely distract from the historical authenticity of the narrative. They are often dismissed as fantastical digressions, either products of authors’ unbridled imaginations or hagiographical commonplaces drafted in to spice up the Life of a long-dead saint. Thus demonic encounters are assumed to have been little more than entertainment or, at best, edifying tales which warned against the dangers of demonic temptation and helped perpetuate patterns of religious conduct. Little attention has been paid to how demonic episodes operate within these texts, the referential traditions into which they tap and how they may have been read by the monastic audiences for whom they were written. Still less attention has been devoted to their cognitive utility and the way in which the images they conjure may have been memorised and subsequently recalled and redeployed by their readers. This paper focuses on the hagiography of St Dunstan, exploring how the demonic  encounters found in the different texts encouraged different ways of engaging with the narrative and supplied monastic readers with innovative cognitive tools to ward off signs of mental distraction and intrusive thoughts. Moreover, it will draw attention to the significance that hearing demonic voices had in the world of the medieval cloister.

Anyone with an interest in Hearing the Voice research is welcome to attend. If you would like to reserve a place please contact Victoria Patton.

Other Hearing the Voice research seminars scheduled for 2014 include:

Thursday 8 May 2014
Dr Des Fitzgerald (Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, King’s College London) & Dr Felicity Callard (Senior Lecturer in Social Science for Medical Humanities, Durham University) on ‘Experimental Entanglements: Re-thinking the dynamics of interaction across the social sciences and neurosciences’

Thursday 12 June 2014
Dr Sam Wilkinson (Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Philosophy, Durham University) on ‘Hearing identity: the (re)presentation of other agents in auditory verbal hallucinations’

All seminars will take place in the Birley Room at Hatfield College from 5 pm to 7 pm. For more information, please contact Victoria Patton.


Rodney Yates · March 5, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Why do auditory or visionary experiences have to be depicted or construed as Demonic?? Clearly a hi-jack, because no one with lived experiences thinks like this! If you need some explication as to what it is really like, you might read on and find out what it is you do not know what your talking about:-
Anyone who has lived with symptoms of schizophrenia for a considerable length of time will recognize the perspectives given here: the diagnosable symptoms of sz may be incurably lodged within us and May be a part of our make up, but that does not in itself present a grim or hopeless predicament. This is because our disabilities are also our Attributes. Maybe unwittingly, the psychiatrist’s diagnosis undermines these attributes and sets them in a grim light. But really it is a matter of impact, intensity and degree, whether we languish in despair or set about engaging the symptoms as evidence of rare qualities which mark us out as having gifts to be expressed and applied creatively.

What I am saying is: with the right help, a low maintenance dosage of appropriate medication to reduce the intensity of symptom’s extremes -one which does not pile on a burden of disability which excessive medicating is apt to do- and some vocational and training guidance, we can be the creative artists that nature intended us to be, using our gifts to master the medium which is best suited to our attributes.

My ‘pathway to progress’ has been photography. I find that a modicum of seeing things which ‘are not there’ enables me to apply a creative imagination, to use my mind’s eye to envisage the optimal conditions to develop an awareness of the imaging possibilities of any scene I encounter and with my best endeavour, maybe reproduce that on camera.

Well that is photography and visual hallucinations. What then of reconstructing the Dramatist and Playwright, the writer and novelist from auditory hallucinations? Musicians, composers, singers and lyric writers are also only a step away from the same level of creative attribute and giftedness.

The lesson from this is never to underestimate the extent to which we all have gifts to express and with the right opportunities, can re-emerge as part of our restitution after the excesses of ill-health have run their course. Facilitators who work in mental health, please take special note!

    Hilary Powell · March 5, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks Rodney but you have totally missed the point here. I’m not discussing nor have any plans to discuss the contemporary lived experience. My work concerns fictional representations of visions and other anomalous sensory experiences in the 11th century. Furthermore, this paper is focusing on those construed as ‘demonic’ but this is only one way in which these visions were represented in the early Middle Ages and in just one seminar there isn’t time to discuss the myriad of other interpretations.

      Rodney Yates · March 6, 2014 at 9:30 pm

      Since that is the point I am missing, the point you are missing is your complete lack of relevance to any living person! Academic finesse really does pass completely over our heads and in the final analysis, that is not something for which I can be found in any way culpable, but something for which you are being confronted to address if you have any pretensions to credulity. Medical Humanities is not so indulgent as to miss the point which you are lacking.

John C · April 28, 2014 at 2:02 am

Has the text of this presentation been published, or will it be published in the future?

Thank you!

    mdiclhumanities · April 28, 2014 at 8:48 am

    We think it will be in the future, but feel free to contact Hilary directly to confirm!

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