A Natural History of the World of Spirits

  • Robert Crocker
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 185)


In 1684, three years before More’s death, the obscure parson, Richard Bovet, published a small tract called Pandaemonium, or the Devil’s Cloyster, Being a Further Blow to Modern Sadducism, Proving the Existence of Witches and Apparitions. As the title suggests, it was intended to complement the now famous work of Joseph Glanvill, whose collection of ‘philosophical’ essays on witchcraft, with several important contributions by Henry More, had run through five editions by this date.1 Although a stranger to the famous Cambridge philosopher, Bovet dedicated his book to More, greeting him in his dedicatory epistle as a leading authority on the subject. He even quoted a letter More had written to Glanvill many years earlier, that had been included in the Saducismus Triumphatus, to justify his own efforts. There More had claimed that2

those that lay out their pains in committing to writing certain well-attested stories of Witches and Apparitions, do real service to true Religion and sound Philosophy, and the most effectual and accommodate to the confounding of Infidelity and Atheism, even in the Judgement of the Atheists themselves, who are as much afraid of the truth of these Stories as an Ape is of a Whip; and therefore force themselves with might and main to disbelieve them by reason of the dreadful consequence of them as to themselves.


Evil Spirit Divine Commandment Philosophical Theology Immaterial Substance True Religion 
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  1. 1.
    The editions and their titles are as follows: A Philosophical Endeavour towards the Defence of the Being of Witches and Apparitions (1666) [This edition was almost entirely destroyed in the Great Fire]; Some Philosophical Considerations Touching the Being of Witches and Witchcraft (1667); A Blow at Modern Sadducism (1668 - two editions); Saducismus Triumphatus: or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (1681, 1682, 1689, 1700, 1726 - in the last two editions the title is spelt Sadducismus Triumphatus). The original essay, entitled “Against Modem Sadducism in the Matter of Witches and Apparitions” was also republished in Glanvill’s Essays (1676). Additions of `relations’ and letters to and from More on the subject began in the third edition, and subsequent editions were progressively enlarged by Glanvill and then by More after the former’s death in 1680. (See below.) The 1682 edition is the first complete edition. Unless otherwise indicated, I have used here the 1689 edition, abbreviated here as ST, which is a corrected but otherwise identical edition to that of 1682.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    ST (1681): 14, (1689): 26; in Bovet, Pandaemonium (1684), Sig.A2v-A3.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The word `paranormal’ has been used here to avoid the difficulties of `supernatural’ or `occult’, both words with very different meanings in the seventeenth century. As Stuart Clark points out, a widely recognised contemporary distinction existed between `natural’, `praeternatural’ (magical) and `supernatural’ occurences. This last was confined to direct divine intervention, such as the performance of Christ’s miracles, while `praeternatural’ was technically within the sphere of nature, but could cover extraordinary or `magical’ activity, such as witchcraft, which implied the intervention of spirits. See Stuart Clark, “The rational witchfinder: conscience, demonological naturalism and popular superstition” in S. Pumphrey, P.L. Rossi, M. Slawinski (eds), Science, Culture and Popular Belief in Renaissance Europe (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1991): especially 222–227, and below.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, for example, Tulloch (1874), vol.II: 359–60.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For examples from the PP (1647), see below; AA: III; and IS: especially I, xiii, 1.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See particularly his letters to Samuel Hartlib, Hartlib Papers, XVII-XVIII, Sheffield University Library (and below), and also those to and from Edmund Elys, Christ’s College Library Ms 21, and Elys, 7 7 Letters (1694); and Anne Conway, in Nicolson: 145, 214, 216 and 219.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    PP: 255–281.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Michael Psellus, the Byzantine Neoplatonist and historian, in his Peri energeias daimonwn, Migne, Patrologiae Graecae (1857): cxxii, cols.477–1358.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    “The Preexistency of the Soul”: stanzas 34, 57, and 79–82.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ibid: stanzas 47–50.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid: stanza 50.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid: stanza 35. This sentiment is also expressed in Hallywell, Melampronoea (1681): 116.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hartlib Papers, XVIII, Sheffield University Library. The letter is undated, but was probably written in 1651. See also the way More utilised the material he is asking Hartlib for, in the AA: III ii-vi. The `double project’ he mentions is perhaps the AA and this `history of spirits’, which was not published until the ST. Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See AA: III xiii-xiv. Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Letter, Appendix, below. Hartlib Papers, XVIII, Sheffield University Library. The letter is dated February 2nd (probably 1652).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    More, ST: 521–29. This story was retold by George Sinclair, Satan’s Invisible World Discovered (1685): 135–43. See also Hallywell, Melampronoea (1681): 43–4, and Hallywell, Account of Familism (1673): 2 and 111.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    See AA, Appendix (1655): xiii 13.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See the scholia upon IS (1712): II xvi 8; and ST: 412 ff.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    A Blow at Modern Sadducism (1668): 115–7. This passage occurs only in this edition. It is quoted more fully by Moody Prior, “Joseph Glanvill, Witchcraft, and Seventeenth-Century Science”, Modern Philology, 30 (1932): 182.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Boyle to Glanvill, Febuary 10, 1677/8, in Boyle, (Birch) Works (1772) Vol VI: 59.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    See his letter on this subject, before the story of the Devil of Mascon (1679): 2–3 and Peter du Moulin’s reply: 4–6. More included the story in his AA: II iii 8.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    More therefore begins his discussion of the paranormal in his AA (1653) [III I 4–5], with an explanation of ways to distinguish false miracles from true.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Compare Richard Baxter, The Certainty of the World of Spirits (1691): 3–4, and Glanvill, ST: 63–4. See also Stuart Clark, “”The rational witchfinder“ in Pumphrey et al (eds), Science, Culture (1991): chapter 10.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    ST: 259 and 321–38. The story first appeared in epistolary form in the Blow to Modern Sadducism (1668). Google Scholar
  25. 25.
  26. 26.
    Glanvill, ST (1689): 334–5, and Webster, Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (1677): 278.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    See Glanvill’s denial of these rumours, and Mompesson’s letter, ST: 257–61.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    ST: 337. Charles was also interested in the cures of Valentine Greatrakes. See Greatrakes, A Brief Account of Mr. Valentine Greatraks (1666): 39.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Even a writer like John Webster in his Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (1677): 293, accepted tales of apparitions were useful against atheists and sceptics.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    See Clark, Thinking with Demons (Oxford: OUP, 1997).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Baxter, Certainty of the World of Spirits (1691): 10.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    See especially Clark, Thinking with Demons. Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    See, for example, Meric Casaubon, Of Credulity and Incredulity (1668): 41–2; Hallywell, Melampronoea (1681); Richard Bovet, Pandaemonium (1684), Epistle Dedicatory; George Sinclair, Satan’s Invisible World Discovered (1685): 55–74; [Anon], Narrative of the Demon of Spraiton (1683): 2–4; [Nathaniel Crouch], Kingdom of Darknes (1688); Richard Baxter, Certainty (1691): 2 and 41–51; Richard Burthogge, Essay on Reason and the Nature of Spirits (1694): 195–6.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    See John Webster, Displaying (1677), Preface, section 2, and below, [Anon] Doctrine of Devils (1676); [John Wagstaffe], Question of Witchcraft Debated (1669); and also Francis Hutchinson, Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft (1718): xiii.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
  36. 36.
    ST: 108–28; and see L.L. Estes, “Reginald Scot and his Discoverie of Witchcraft: Religion and Science in the Opposition to the European Witch Craze.” Church History 52 (1983): 444–456.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    ST (1689): 267–318.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    See ST: 17–54 and 545–561; AA (1712), scholia on III iii 4; and on III ix 2. See also IS (1712): II xvi 8.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Webster, Displaying (1677), chapter 10.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Webster, Displaying (1677): 198; and see More, AA: I iii 3–4; iv 3; Appendix (1655), ii and vi; IS: I iiüi.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Webster, Displaying (1677): 199; a point More had effectively granted, IS (1659): Iii 8–9, ‘Axiome VIII’; and see above.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Webster, Displaying (1677): 200, and see above.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Webster, Displaying (1677): 200; and see More’s refutation of this, scholia on IS (1712): I iii 1.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Webster, Displaying (1677): 205; and see More’s reply, scholia on IS (1712): I iii 1.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Webster, Displaying (1677): 209. See also John Henry, “A Cambridge Platonist’s Materialism: Henry More and the Concept of the Soul.” JWCI 49 (1986):172–95; and idem, “Medicine and Pneumatology: Henry More, Richard Baxter and Francis Glisson’s Treatise on the Energetic Nature of Substance.” Medical History, 31 (1987): 15–40, and the discussion of More and Glisson, below.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    See W.M.S. Weekes, “John Webster, the author of The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft.” Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society 39 (1921): 59–64, on the early difficulties of identifying Webster as an author because of his early radical career; and Peter Elmer, The Library of Dr John Webster: the Making of a Seventeenth-century Radical (London: Wellcome Institute: Medical History, Supplement 6, 1986).Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    See Op.cit, prefatory epistles; and see also C. Hill, World Turned Upside Down (Penguin, 1972): 80–4, on Webster’s possible relations to the Grindletonians.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    See Weekes, “John Webster” (1921): 93.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    See for example, Displaying: 193.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Displaying (1677): 70.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Displaying (1677): 73.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Displaying (1677): 75.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Displaying (1677): 75–80; ST: 77–8 and.88–9.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Ephesians vi 12, for example, cited in Webster, Displaying (1677): 42.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Displaying (1677): 222–4; and see More, IS: III xviii-xix. Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Displaying (1677): 47.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Displaying (1677): 21–25; and idem, chapters 6–8.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    See ST: More’s “Postscript”: 28–53, and Glanvill, in ST: 275–318; and see below.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Displaying (1677): 26. Compare this with the cautious definition of More, ST (1689), “The Postscript”: 29; and that of Bovet, Pandaemonium (1684): 31, and Hallywell, Melampronoea (1681): 49–50.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Displaying (1677): 27, referring to II.Chronicles xxxiii 1–8.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    See Clark, “Rational Witchfinder”, in Pumphrey et al (eds), Science, Culture (1991): 230–235.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    See Hallywell, Melampronoea (1681): 58, and the discussions of N. Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons (Penguin, 1976): 99 ff., and S. Clark, “Inversion, Misrule and the Meaning of Witchcraft.” Past & Present 87 (1980): 98–127.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Glanvill, ST: 120, and Bovet, Pandaemonium (1684): 11, ff. The texts Glanvill cites are Galatians y 20, and Revelations xxi 8 and xxii 15.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Displaying (1677): 263.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Displaying (1677): 264.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    See Displaying (1677): 35, and Clark, “Rational Witchfinder”, in Pumphrey et al (eds), Science, Culture (1991): 235–240.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Displaying (1677): 268.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    See Displaying (1677): 401, 202 and 213 on the incorporation of angels and demons.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    More, scholia upon his AA (1712), III ix 2. More is referring to Webster’s objection to his story of a poltergeist from the writings of the Silesian physician, Martin Weinich.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    See More, scholia upon AA (1712): III ix 2; and on Webster’s experience of impostures, see Displaying (1677): 274–5.Google Scholar
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    More, scholia upon AA (1712): III ix 2.Google Scholar
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    Displaying (1677): 312. On the astral spirit, see D.P. Walker’s fine account, “The Astral Body in Renaissance Medicine.” J.W.C.I., 21 (1958): 119–133.Google Scholar
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    Displaying (1677): 308.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    ST: 17–23.Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    See More, scholia upon AA (1712): III ix 2.Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    I Peter IT 8, in Webster, Displaying (1677): 220.Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    See below.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Crocker
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AustraliaAustralia

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