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.
Rothenburg and its hinterland had this restrained pattern of formal prosecution for witchcraft during the early modern period. There was a web of legal, social and cultural factors at popular and elite levels which operated and interacted to deter the inhabitants of the area from accusing their neighbors of witchcraft at law, and to ensure that the allegations of witchcraft that reached the courts rarely led to convictions for the crime and never triggered mass trials. This chapter discusses elite beliefs about witchcraft and explains reasons that the city councilors were unwilling to overstep the boundaries of due legal procedure in their prosecution of alleged witches. Elite beliefs about maleficent or demonic witchcraft were expressed around three themes in early modern Rothenburg: maleficium, or the causing of harm by magical means; the making of pacts with the devil; and the flight to and attendance at witches' dances or sabbats.
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.
This chapter emphasises the politicisation of religion, and the reasoning and mechanisms by which the scare figure of Deism was manufactured, dealing primarily with the period from the 1690s to the 1730s. It illustrates how sections of the clergy and political class were keen to talk up the existence and threat of a deist movement for their own particular ends. The debate further deepens the discussion on how centrally important public opinion was to the whole process of creating the historical record. The two case studies on France and Italy contain very little discussion devoted to Deism, instead concentrating much more intensely on identifying the broad elements and processes of religious change. The case study of England is the first of the case studies, because the Enlightenment was at its most precocious in England, as conditions there relate to the arguments on creation of the myth of Deism.
This book offers a critical survey of religious change and its causes in eighteenth-century Europe, and constitutes a challenge to the accepted views in traditional Enlightenment studies. Focusing on Enlightenment Italy, France and England, it illustrates how the canonical view of eighteenth-century religious change has in reality been constructed upon scant evidence and assumption, in particular the idea that the thought of the enlightened led to modernity. For, despite a lack of evidence, one of the fundamental assumptions of Enlightenment studies has been the assertion that there was a vibrant Deist movement which formed the “intellectual solvent” of the eighteenth century. The central claim of this book is that the immense ideological appeal of the traditional birth-of-modernity myth has meant that the actual lack of Deists has been glossed over, and a quite misleading historical view has become entrenched.
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.
The revolt of democratic Christianity and the rise of public opinion
The discussion of the French experience in this chapter illustrates that the tiny number of philosophes, few of whom were deists, were more bystanders than activists in the major politico-religious events and developments of the century. In fact, they can hardly be termed consistent fighters for toleration, at least as Enlightenment studies have traditionally understood that term. The study focuses on public opinion and broad forces for change, challenging the notion of an all-embracing French absolutism. The parliaments, Jansenists and broad public opinion achieved what the deists and philosophes never even consistently fought for: the suppression of the Jesuits, the development of a de facto toleration prior to the Revolution and the initiation of the demands for constitutional government. The chapter also deals with the emergence of religious toleration in France and the degree to which it was brought about by broad politico-religious struggle rather than by the philosophes.
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.
The idioms and risks of defiance in the trial of Margaretha Horn, 1652
This chapter offers a detailed analysis of one accused witch's strategy of denying her guilt in council custody from 1652 and also shows that elite and popular attitudes towards witchcraft began to change in the course of the seventeenth century. The accused witch called Margaretha Horn not only refused to confess to witchcraft in 1652 but also developed a sophisticated rhetoric of defiance against the city council and its handling of her case in the course of her interrogation. Her trial is of such interest because it underscores particularly effectively the point that women on trial for witchcraft were not ‘mere mouthpieces of a patriarchal elite’, whose statements and confessions were simply forced rehashing of that elite's demonology. On the contrary, and despite the fact that power over the trial process lay ultimately with the council, alleged witches were capable of contributing to and of shaping the course of interrogations in idiosyncratic ways. At the same time, however, the trial of Margaretha shows that it was becoming increasingly problematic for women accused of witchcraft in early modern Rothenburg to articulate defiance against their accusers and the council without this defiance being interpreted as additional evidence of their alleged identity as witches.
This chapter focuses on historical records and problems that occur in their interpretation, moving from the distortions of historians to the inherently biased and misleading nature of the historical record, and to the role of politico-religious struggle in its creation. Historians must ask which historical reality – as provided by the historical record – they wish to choose, for competing constituencies of interest that have bequeathed to us not objective history, but above all their views upon the issues of the period. Thus, the myth of the deist movement is not solely the invention of historians, but was itself first invented in the early Enlightenment with the aid of the powerful tools of politics and public opinion. The politico-religious convulsions across Europe from the Reformation until the eighteenth century were numerous and bloody. The resulting religious divisions were enshrined in confessional states, but, as with the cases of Protestant England and Catholic France, religious minorities remained persecuted and disabled. The origins of Enlightenment Anticlericalism, John Toland, Pierre Bayle, the problem of influence and many more issues are briefly explained.