Fallen spirits and divine grace
Sermons and the supernatural in post-Reformation Scotland
in The supernatural in early modern Scotland
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This chapter examines how Scottish ministers defined, described and used the supernatural in their sermons, both implicitly and explicitly. The supernatural as framed in Reformed sermons was a broad, fluid category that might include God, the Devil, the divinity of Christ, the occasional angel, divine providence or evil more generally. This chapter argues that sermons shaped expectations for consistent engagement with the supernatural in two opposite but mutually constitutive ways: through an emphasis on the external and internal presence of Satan in human lives, and through the cultivation of hope for communion with the supernatural grace of God and Christ. Attention and energy were focused on God, Satan and human depravity – the three pillars of godly life. The world remained as enchanted as ever, but all that was truly mystical, unknowable and good belonged only to God.

Ministers rarely evoked other spiritual entities, like brownies, fairies and other spirits, that fell outside the God–Devil dichotomy. On the rare occasions when fairies were mentioned, this was not so much to denounce beliefs in such beings themselves, as to attack – and arguably to caricature – the pre-Protestant world in which the minister thought that such beings were found. A dichotomous consolidation of the mystical and inexplicable had taken place, at least in theory – though the elimination of a range of spirits and other-worldly beings from sermons did not eradicate them from popular belief.

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