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Unusual things are sometimes considered positive and sometimes negative, and throughout its history preternatural has been used to refer to both exceptionally good things and unnaturally evil ones.

The preternatural (or praeternatural) is that which appears outside or beside (Latin: præter) the natural. It is "suspended between the mundane and the miraculous".[1]

In theology, the term is often used to distinguish marvels or deceptive trickery, often attributed to witchcraft or demons, from the purely divine power of the genuinely supernatural to violate the laws of nature. In the early modern period, the term was used by scientists to refer to abnormalities and strange phenomena of various kinds that seemed to depart from the norms of nature.


Medieval theologians made a clear distinction between the natural, the preternatural and the supernatural. Thomas Aquinas argued that the supernatural consists in "God’s unmediated actions"; the natural is "what happens always or most of the time"; and the preternatural is "what happens rarely, but nonetheless by the agency of created beings ... Marvels belong, properly speaking, to the realm of the preternatural."[2] Theologians, following Aquinas, argued that only God had the power to disregard the laws of nature that he has created, but that demons could manipulate the laws of nature by a form of trickery, to deceive the unwary into believing they had experienced real miracles. According to historian Lorraine Daston,

Although demons, astral intelligences, and other spirits might manipulate natural causes with superhuman dexterity and thereby work marvels, as mere creatures they could never transcend from the preternatural to the supernatural and work genuine miracles.[3]

By the 16th century, the term "preternatural" was increasingly used to refer to demonic activity comparable to the use of magic by human adepts: The Devil, "being a natural Magician ... may perform many acts in ways above our knowledge, though not transcending our natural power."[3] According to the philosophy of the time, preternatural phenomena were not contrary to divine law, but used hidden, or occult powers that violated the normal pattern of natural phenomena.[3]


With the emergence of early modern science, the concept of the preternatural increasingly came to be used to refer to strange or abnormal phenomena that seemed to violate the normal working of nature, but which were not associated with magic and witchcraft. This was a development of the idea that preternatural phenomena were fake miracles. As Daston puts it, "To simplify the historical sequence somewhat: first, preternatural phenomena were demonized and thereby incidentally naturalized; then the demons were deleted, leaving only the natural causes."[3] The use of the term was especially common in medicine, for example in John Brown's A Compleat Treatise of Preternatural Tumours (1678), or William Smellie's A Collection of Preternatural Cases and Observations in Midwifery (1754).[4]

In the 19th century the term was appropriated in anthropology to refer to folk beliefs about fairies, trolls and other such creatures which were not thought of as demonic, but which were perceived to affect the natural world in unpredictable ways. According to Thorstein Veblen, such preternatural agents were often thought of as forces somewhere between supernatural beings and material processes. "The preternatural agency is not necessarily conceived to be a personal agent in the full sense, but it is an agency which partakes of the attributes of personality to the extent of somewhat arbitrarily influencing the outcome of any enterprise, and especially of any contest."[5]

The linguistic association between individual agents and unexplained or unfortunate circumstances remains. Many people attribute occurrences that are known to be material processes, such as "gremlins in the engine", a "ghost in the machine", or attributing motives to objects: "the clouds are threatening". The anthropomorphism in our daily life is a combination of the above cultural stems, as well as the manifestation of our pattern-projecting minds.[original research?]


In 2011, Penn State Press began publishing a learned journal titled Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural. Edited by Kirsten Uszkalo and Richard Raiswell, the journal is dedicated to publishing articles, reviews and short editions of original texts that deal with conceptions and perceptions of the preternatural in any culture and in any historical period. The journal covers "magics, witchcraft, spiritualism, occultism, prophecy, monstrophy, demonology, and folklore.

It is two o'clock in the morning, you're awakened by the sound of breaking glass. You race down the hall with your gun drawn to find a stranger crawling through your bathroom window. If you shoot him, will you be criminally charged with assault or murder? Could the intruder sue you for wounding him? In most states the answer to the last two questions is no. However, that isn't true for all states or for all circumstances. So, what legal protection might you have if you shoot an intruder?

The prime legal protection you may have for shooting an intruder is called the "Castle Doctrine". There is also another doctrine called "Stand Your Ground" that may provide some protection depending on the state you live in. Both of these doctrines fall under the broader umbrella of self-defense.

So is it illegal to shoot an intruder? The answer depends on whether you were acting in self-defense and whether any of these doctrines apply. This article will address the elements that are needed to establish self-defense and, more specifically, the Castle Doctrine and the Stand Your Ground Doctrine.

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

For any situations involving a weapon, it’s best to have an attorney to represent you in court. Cases with intruders on your property are rarely cut and dry. The legal process is confusing and an attorney is often the only person on your side. Get customized advice and ask your legal questions during a free consultation before choosing the attorney that best fits your needs.

Is it Self-Defense if I Shoot an Intruder?

The law gives everyone the right to defend themselves with a reasonable response. Self-defense is an affirmative defense to a charged violent crime. This means that if someone is charged with murder, or assault, they can use self-defense as a legal excuse for the conduct if they can prove it in a court of law.

In order to use self-defense as a shield against a charge for a violent crime in most jurisdictions, you must:

Not be the aggressor;

Only use enough force to combat the threat and no more (i.e. you can't bring a gun to a fist fight);

Have a reasonable belief that force is necessary;

Have a reasonable belief that an attack is imminent; and

Retreat (if possible).

How Can the Castle Doctrine Help Me if I Shoot an Intruder?

The Castle Doctrine stems from old English Common Law that holds that your home is your castle and that you have a right to defend your castle. The doctrine is an offshoot of self-defense and eliminates the requirement to retreat. Most states have some variation of the Castle Doctrine in their laws.

The prime difference between self-defense generally and the Castle Doctrine is that there's no duty to retreat and there's a presumption that deadly force was necessary. Typically, state laws can allow for the use of deadly physical force and it's legally presumed to be justified if an intruder is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering a dwelling or residence. Some states even allow the use of deadly force if there is an unlawful and forceful entry into a business, or occupied vehicle.

However, not all states have codified the Castle Doctrine. States like Vermont have justifiable homicide laws and then rely on the courts to determine if force was necessary to defend one's home.

The general elements that would allow protection by the Castle Doctrine are:

There was a forceful and unlawful entry into one's home, business, or occupied vehicle;

You were not the original aggressor;

You were not engaged in criminal activity; and

You have a legal right to be where you are.

There is a split amongst the states as to whether or not deadly force can be used. The majority of states hold that any degree of physical force, including deadly force, can be used by the occupant to protect against an invader. But there is a strong minority of states, including West Virginia, that requires a reasonable believe that the intruder intended to inflict serious bodily injury.

Duty to Retreat or Stand Your Ground?

In many states, there's a duty to retreat to safety, if possible, before using force. However, in many other states, there are "Stand Your Ground" laws that remove the duty to retreat and allow a person to claim self-defense, even if they made no attempt to flee. However, even in "Stand Your Ground" states there is no license to attack without cause, and the rules vary on the ability to use lethal force.

Stand Your Ground differs from the Castle defense, as it can be used in more places than just a person's home, employment, or automobile. While the Castle Doctrine holds that there is no duty to retreat within one's home, the Stand Your Ground doctrine eliminates the duty to retreat wherever you may feel threatened.

Is it Illegal to Shoot an Intruder Where you Live? Get Answers from a Lawyer

Self-defense, the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground are powerful defenses that can prevent charges from being filed or civil suits being brought, but not in all cases and not in all states. Even in the states that do, there can be circumstances that sometimes make it difficult to determine if these defenses apply. If you're facing criminal charges and you believe you acted in self-defense, it's in your best interest to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your specific situation.

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