Discerning Spirits in the Early Enlightenment: The Case of the French Prophets

  • Michael B. Riordan
Part of the Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic book series (PHSWM)


Historians of medieval Christendom and early modern Catholicism have written widely about the discernment of spirits. How could people distinguish God’s prophecies from prophets inspired by Satan? Riordan shows what happened to the discourse of spiritual discernment in an eighteenth-century, Protestant, context. He examines the debate among Scottish mystics about the French Prophets who delivered prophecies across Scotland between 1709 and 1716: were their outward prophecies compatible with inward mysticism? Previous historians have studied how Enlightenment critics presented the Prophets as religious extremists. Riordan argues that discernment discourse is a better lens through which to see the Prophets’ own belief system. Both mystics and Prophets used rational tools to police the bounds of acceptable belief.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael B. Riordan
    • 1
  1. 1.Independent scholarEdinburghUK

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