The Roots of the Arab Spring   /   Fall 2011   /    Essays

The Supernatural and the Poetics of History

Monica Black

In the 1950s, in the midst of what came to be known as the Economic Miracle, West Germany was positively deluged with other wonders: mysterious healings, mystical visions, rumors of the end of the world, and stories of divine and devilish interventions in ordinary lives. Scores of citizens of the Federal Republic (as well as Swiss, Austrians, and others from neighboring countries) set off on pilgrimages to see the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and hosts of angels, after they began appearing to a group of children in the southern German village of Heroldsbach in late 1949.1 Hundreds of thousands more journeyed from one end of the Republic to the other in the hopes of meeting a wildly popular faith healer, Bruno Gröning, who, some said, healed illness by banishing demons. Still others availed themselves of the skills of local exorcists in an effort to remove evil spirits from their bodies and minds. There also appears to have been an eruption of witchcraft accusations—neighbor accusing neighbor of being in league with the devil—accompanied by a corresponding upsurge in demand for the services of un-bewitchers (Hexenbanner). In short, the 1950s was a time palpably suffused with the presence of good and evil, the divine and the demonic, and in which the supernatural played a considerable role in the lives of many people.

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