Prof. Charles Zika

Fellow October 2010 to March 2011 and May to July 2011
Professorial Fellow, School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne, Australia

Born 1945 in Prague, Czech Republic
Studied Mediæval and Early Modern History of Europe and Oriental Studies in Melbourne

Research Project:
The Witch of Endor and Necromancy in Christian Europe

My primary project will be a history of the biblical story of the witch of Endor, a village woman who summoned up the dead prophet Samuel at the request of King Saul (1 Samuel 28). My exploration of the transmission of this story from late antiquity to the eighteenth century through biblical exegesis, polemical literature, theatrical performance and visual imagery, aims to provide insight into changing Christian attitudes towards communication with the dead, the nature of ghostly appearances, necromancy as a form of witchcraft, and early theories about the nature of visual perception. A subject of theological debate since Origen, the story came to be first illustrated visually in the twelfth century, often in association with the interpretation provided by Petrus Comestor and the various forms of Weltchronik. It is especially from the fifteenth century that exegetes, theologians, philosophers, dramatists, musicians and artists pay the story closer attention. And then it is increasingly influenced by the literary and visual images of witchcraft, as well as by other related but separate discourses concerning invocatory magic and fortune telling, necromancy and ghostly apparition, the trickery of conjurors and demonic illusion, as well as the interest in natural and supernatural visions.

Responses to Natural Disaster in Early Modern Times: the ‘Wonder Book’ of Johann Jakob Wick

A second project will concern the emotional and religious responses to dramatic natural disasters like fire, plague, storm, flood and drought in early modern Europe. Such events frequently evoked biblical resonances in early modern Europe, and were interpreted as punishments, tests, or signs of the coming last days. Predicting, warding off, and explaining these events – through reading astrological signs, performing religious rituals, winning divine intercession, or identifying supernatural and human scapegoats – were common responses and were made even more intense by deeply divided religious communities. The new technology and medium of print provided a forum for such responses from the later fifteenth century and ultimately helped create a new public discourse for natural disasters. I intend to explore this discourse through the large compilation of literary and visual materials collected by the Zurich pastor, Johann Jacob Wick between 1560 and 1588 in his so-called ‘Wonder Book’.

Selected Publications:

Zika, C. 2009. Images in Service of the Word: The Witch of Endor in the Bibles of Early Modern Europe. Anzeiger des Germanischen Nationalmuseums, pp.151-165.

Zika, C. 2007. The Appearance of Witchcraft: Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-Century Europe, London: Routledge. Paperback 2009.

Zika, C. 2005. “The Witch of Endor: transformations of a biblical necromancer in early modern Europe” in C. Zika and F.W. Kent (eds.): Rituals, Images and Words: the varieties of cultural expression in late medieval and early modern Europe. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 235-59.

Zika, C. 2003. Exorcising our Demons: Magic, Witchcraft and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe. Leiden/Boston: Brill, Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought, 91.

Zika, C. 2002. Images of Circe and Discourses of Witchcraft, 1480-1580. zeitenblicke: OnlineJournal für die Geschichtswissenschaften 1(1): 35 pp.