De praestigiis daemonum

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Engraving of Johann Weyer by Pieter Holsteyn II from 1660

De praestigiis daemonum, translated as On the Tricks of Demons,[1] is a book that was a best seller[1] by demonologist Johann Weyer, also known as Wierus, first published in Basel in 1563.[2][3] The book argues that witchcraft does not exist and that those who claim that practice it are suffering from delusions, which should be treated as mental illnesses, rather than punished as witchcraft.[4] It was influential in the abolishment of witchcraft trials in the Netherlands.

Synopsis[edit]

The book contains a famous appendix also circulated independently as the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, a listing of the names and titles of infernal spirits, and the powers alleged to be wielded by each of them. Weyer relates that his source for this intelligence was a book called Liber officiorum spirituum, seu liber dictus Empto Salomonis, de principibus et regibus demoniorum ("The book of the offices of spirits, or the book called Empto, by Solomon, about the princes and kings of demons).[5] Weyer's reason for presenting this material was not to instruct his readers in diabolism, but rather to "expose to all men" the pretensions of those who claimed to be able to work magic, men who "are not embarrassed to boast that they are mages, and their oddness, deceptions, vanity, folly, fakery, madness, absence of mind, and obvious lies, to put their hallucinations into the bright light of day."[6] Weyer's source claimed that Hell arranged itself hierarchically in an infernal court which is divided into princes, ministries and ambassadors.[7]

Reception[edit]

The book is remembered for two things. While Weyer held to a demonology that was entirely orthodox in terms of its endorsement of the reality of Satan and evil demonic spirits, while maintaining at all times that their ability to act was circumscribed by the omnipotence of God, he disagreed with certain of his contemporaries about the justification of witch-hunting. Weyer believed that most, probably all, cases of alleged witchcraft resulted from delusions of the alleged witch, rather than actual, voluntary cooperation with spiritual evil. In brief, Weyer claimed that cases of alleged witchcraft were psychological rather than supernatural in origin.[8]

Legacy[edit]

De Praestigiis has been translated into English, French, and German; it was one of the principal sources of Reginald Scot's sceptical account of witchcraft, The Discoverie of Witchcraft.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Pavlac, Brian (2009). Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the ... p. 60. 
  2. ^ Mora, George (November 1963). "On the 400th anniversary of Johann Weyer's "De praestigiis daemonum"--Its significance for today's psychiatry". The American Journal of Psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association. 120 (5): 417–428. doi:10.1176/ajp.120.5.417. PMID 14051232. 
  3. ^ Johann Weyer, De Praestigiis daemonum (Basel: Oporinus, 1563)
  4. ^ Stuart Clark, Thinking with demons: the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe (Oxford University Press, 1999; ISBN 0-19-820808-1), pp. 198 - 202
  5. ^ Joseph H. Peterson, The lesser key of Solomon: lemegeton clavicula Salomonis (Weiser, 2001; ISBN 1-57863-220-X), pp. xiii - xiv
  6. ^ qui se magos jactitare non erubescunt, curiositas, præstigiæ, vanitas, dolus, imposturæ, deliria, mens elusa, & manifesta mendacia, quinimo non ferendæ blasphemiæ, omnium mortalium, qui in mediæ lucis splendore hallucinari nolint....
  7. ^ Johann Weyer, Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, ed. by Joseph H. Peterson
  8. ^ Stuart Clark, Thinking with demons: the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe (Oxford University Press, 1999; ISBN 0-19-820808-1), pp. 198 - 202
  9. ^ Peterson, supra

See also[edit]