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theology, Christianity, William of Auvergne


Theologian and bishop of Paris during St. Louis’ early reign, William of Auvergne (d. 1249) aimed in his life and writings to combat the myriad threats he perceived as facing Christianity. The early thirteenth century saw many potential competitors to official doctrines concerning the natural and supernatural worlds—Arabic philosophy imported into the universities, heretical attacks on the institutional church, and persistent folk beliefs and practices. William attributed these challenges to an underlying demonic conspiracy directed against humankind. This paper examines William’s treatment of popular beliefs on the Wild Hunt, a mysterious congregation of spirits, and related beliefs about female spirits and night terrors. William applies to these legends his learned conceptions about the natural and supernatural worlds. He argues that although God might cause or encourage the morally salutary visions of the male riders of the Wild Hunt, visions of female spirits such as Lady Abundia represent a demonic ploy to secure the idolatrous worship of human women. William’s treatment of phenomena thus depends heavily on his moral evaluation of the groups witnessing and accepting them to the marked detriment of women and their faith.