[St. Pachomius Library]

Elves, Satyrs, Centaurs, etc.

The existence of non-human and non-angelic intelligent life-forms is occasionally discussed in patristic literature. Usually, reports of such beings are explained as tricks of the demons, but in some (mainly hagiographic) sources strange beings are encountered who are specifically declared not to be demonic or illusory. The issue of whether mermaids and the like have souls, and if so whether they are in need of baptism, may strike moderns as ridiculous, but seems not unlikely to reappear in modern times in the context of extraterrestrial or artificial life, as may the question of distinguishing the merely alien from the demonic.

It should be noted that many of the folkloric "fairy races" of the Mediterranean are clearly taken over from classical mythology. In some cases --- that of satyrs, for example --- they already had an ambiguous status in ancient times: treated sometimes as demigods to be worshipped, sometimes as rather comical barbarian humans from the edge of the map, and sometimes as irrational beasts. Others, however, are even in terminology descended from high gods of classical paganism, as predicted by the well-known anthropological law of degeneration. It is unclear to me whether the different origins of these legends have influenced the Church's attitudes toward them.

Norman Hugh Redington

Under construction --- far from complete! Read with caution.


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