Recently, I've been thinking a lot about demons. Not in a satanic ritual kind of way, mind you. Yet they keep on popping up everywhere it seems. In my early modern history class, we've been discussing the fine line between the natural and supernatural in the mind of an sixteenth century person. In between these two points lies the idea of preternatural, that which stretches the boundaries of natural law. This includes angels, demons, and yes indeed, witches. These individuals twist and manipulate the elements, throwing the natural order off-balance without necessarily defying it. They remain part of the natural world. According to Thomas Aquinas and various other philosophers, God alone can break nature's laws. Therefore witches and demons can not perform miracles but rather produce "wonders" using their intelligence and power to create something extraordinary.
I've also been looking at images of The Temptation of St. Anthony. St. Anthony is a third century hermit, who lived as an ascetic in the Egyptian desert. While hiding in a cave, a pack of demons came to plague him with images of sin and torment. This temptation has been represented in art throughout history. The demons' mockery of Anthony reminds me a lot of the dynamic we've been creating between the witches and the Macbeth clan, a whirlwind of creatures twisting around these poor mortals. Here are some more pictures, in addition to the one by Salvador Dali at the beginning. Click the image to enlarge.
L: Martin Schongauer, 1470's R: H. Bosch, 1505