Testing for Demonic Possession: Scribonius, Goclenius, and the Lemgo Witchcraft Trial of 1583

  • Stefan Heßbrüggen-Walter
Part of the Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic book series (PHSWM)


Stefan Heßbrüggen-Walter discusses the epistemology of demons in the context of German school philosophy. He shows how philosophers contributed to demonological debates as philosophers, by trying to develop explanations of demonological phenomena within the conceptual framework of metaphysics and natural philosophy. Specific theories—such as those to do with the presence of demons in human bodies—were deduced from and were warranted by more general theories about the presence of spirits in the sublunary world. The late sixteenth-century debate between Wilhelm Adolph Scribonius and Rudolph Goclenius over the efficacy of an investigative method used in witchcraft trials, the so-called “water test” (Wasserprobe) serves as a case study that demonstrates the inherent difficulties in providing a rational explanation of the presence of demonic forces in nature. Heßbrüggen-Walter concludes that theories about knowing demons cannot be understood in isolation. Historians of philosophy should finally acknowledge that demonology and its philosophical underpinnings are a part of their own disciplinary tradition that must no longer be ignored.



I am grateful to Daria Drozdova, Ilya Guryanov, and Martin Lenz for helpful discussions, and to Jörg Walter for his visit to Darmstadt university library.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Heßbrüggen-Walter
    • 1
  1. 1.National Research University Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussia

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