The concept of the Devil's pact was a prominent theme in early modern European theology. Central to the debate was the idea that witches and magical practitioners of all types gained their powers from selling their soul to the Devil. The Devil's pact was considered the gravest of crimes and was punishable by death. The Devil's pact trials highlight the differing conceptions of female and male satanic relationships, and the way in which that fundamental tool of the Enlightenment enabled a wider section of society to engage with Satan rather than reject him. The characteristics of male contact with the Devil differed significantly from perceptions at the time of female relationships with the Devil, whether in the context of witchcraft or possession. Witchcraft accusations apart, women actually resorted to the Devil for personal gain, but adopted a different strategy from that of men, which was consequently open to different interpretation.
This chapter examines the nature and dissemination of the Zauberbücher or grimoires, which contained instructions to restore health, to reverse the effects of witchcraft and love spells and to safeguard and increase material wealth. Although there are some truths in the classic version of the Enlightenment there is reason to give it only partial credence, as the study of supernatural literature of the period demonstrates. In the shadows cast by the light of the Enlightenment, the transmission of magical knowledge was easier than ever before, and its impact far-reaching, with ripples reaching us today in the form of the current popularity of esoteric literature. The chapter considers the influence the burgeoning German magic media market had in America. Belief in miracles, magic knowledge and fortune-telling were exploited in the new market, and the more literature that was printed in general, the more magic and occult literature was also printed.
A late eighteenth-century Dutch witch doctor and his clients
Willem de Blécourt
In eighteenth-century Drenthe witchcraft was punishable in three ways: for publicly identifying suspected witches, for consulting specialists in the field of unwitching, and for practising as a fortune-teller or witch doctor. This chapter utilizes a local case study to chart the complex of expressions and actions concerning witchcraft and, through the reconstruction of the social, economical and political backgrounds of those involved. The name of the methodological trap is 'superstition' and its character is an often undeclared but determining element in the history of witchcraft studies. The self-educated Dutch folklorist, Tiesing, writing in 1913, tackled the problem openly. Evil people belonged to 'strange folks', people whom one could meet outside, 'outside the door' and to whom entrance could be refused. For judicial verdicts people had to rely on the Etstoel, which was established in Assen. Nevertheless, citizenships were sold in Meppel for five guilders and twelve stivers a person.
Feijoo versus the ‘falsely possessed’ in eighteenth-century Spain
Presenting himself as an exposer of false beliefs, for whom Spanish society at the time was crying out, Benedictine Father Benito Feijoo warned his contemporaries about the great number of falsely possessed wandering around the country. From his perspective, the proliferation of fake possessed people constituted one of the most serious deceptions, and also one of the most widely accepted by the masses. When Feijoo wrote his treatise on the falsely possessed, a significant work was being disseminated with the express approval of the Benedictine: El mundo engañado por los falsos médicos The world deceived by false doctors. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Feijoo's worth did not stem from his scientific knowledge or his cogent arguments, nor even his unstinting fight against what he considered to be superstition, but in his open and experimental approach to new kinds of understanding.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the experience of and attitudes towards witchcraft from both above and below, in an age when the beliefs and 'worldview' of the 'elite' and the 'people' are often thought to have irrevocably pulled away from one another. It suggests that in Sweden and the Netherlands, as in England, the ecclesiastical courts had given up on dealing with popular magic by the early eighteenth century. The book highlights the significant role the Italian Inquisition continued to play in policing 'superstition' during the period. It describes that the parish minister was instrumental in bringing charges against her for practising magic. The book shows that Benito Feijoo's unmasking of the fraud and delusion involved did not lead him to reject completely that some people, albeit a very small number, were truly possessed.
Witchcraft and the symbolics of hierarchy in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Finland
Raisa Maria Toivo
This chapter examines how the vocabulary and imagery of witchcraft and magic in the trials reflects the symbolics of social hierarchy as well as the basis and creation of hierarchies in peasant communities. The inversion of hierarchy symbolised in witchcraft served to define the order through negation, not only as hierarchical in general, but also as a specific kind of hierarchy. On the level of social and ideological theory, witchcraft and vidskepelse thus fitted into the model of social misrule, which symbolised the opposite of world order. The chapter provides a brief outline of witch trials in late seventeenth-and early eighteenth-century Finland. Even though the trend was for the prosecution of benevolent magic and 'superstition', in the western Finnish parish of Ulvila, maleficium trials continued into the early eighteenth century.
Magic, witchcraft and Church in early eighteenth-century Capua
The pro exoneratione sua propria coscientia seems to delineate deep penitential lines of contrition and of repentance, which are approached as a sacramental practice, and demonstrates the depth and capillary social control of the Church in eighteenth-century Italy. The exoneratione sua coscientia reveals the formalities of social control employed by the Church through the tool of the confession. This chapter is concerned with accusations of magic, which were formalised as denunciations heard by the Inquisition of the Archdiocese of Capua, a city twelve miles north of Naples, during the first half of the eighteenth century. It examines the stylistic and rhetorical mechanisms that emerge from the documents. The chapter approaches the records as texts rather than as accusations. The Inquisitional documents used in the chapter consist of narratives describing instances of magical practices, and the reasons why people decided to denounce others who were involved in such activities.
This chapter is concerned with the possible divergence of public and private responses in 'the discourse of spirits' and the implications of this for understanding of the decline in the 'public discourse' of witchcraft, magic and the supernatural during the eighteenth century. In a relatively free society where public opinion and its correlate, market demand, were held to be superior to professional or state control, the discourse of empiricism and enlightenment was open for appropriation by all sides. The evidence presented in the chapter suggests instead both that public discourse may be only an approximate guide to private belief, dependent on the rules of public debate, but also that those very rules of public debate may themselves have moulded private belief, at least in the longer term.
This chapter is part of a research project directed by the authors, focusing on the major Swedish witch-hunt that took place in the county of Dalarna 1668-1671. In late seventeenth-century Sweden there were several mechanisms for the reintegration of convicted criminals into both the religious and secular community, with the church playing a key role. In the historiography of witchcraft it has been recognised that the background and the relationships between the involved parties in a witch-hunt were determining factors for how things would turn out. A notable example is the Countess Charlotta Taube who was made the very symbol of the Enlightenment struggle against superstitious witch-hunts. The heavily emphasised connection between superstition and the common people in the writings of the eighteenth-century Swedish elite did not reflect reality. Nevertheless, the folklorist-romantics of the late eighteenth century reinforced the stereotypical image of superstition as a 'popular' phenomenon.
Magic and witchcraft constituted the scenery, and often the script, of everyone's life during the eighteenth century as much as it had ever done in the seventeenth or sixteenth. For the instruments of any attempt to unify Scotland's remarkable diversity were the Law and the St Giles Kirk, and it is a remarkable fact that, London government and commercialising landlord apart, neither appears to have exerted itself overmuch in relation to crimes of magic. The eighteenth century did not look kindly upon either the Episcopal Church, which found itself in disgrace after 1745 because of its alleged support for the Stuart cause or the Presbyterian Kirk, which was more and more plagued by controversy. Compared with the Kirk's intense scrutiny of adulterers and fornicators and her eagerness to punish their sins, the pursuit of witches can sometimes seem almost desultory.