The Devil’s Curses: The Demonic Origin of Disease in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

  • Marianne Closson


The witch hunts at the beginning of the early modern era greatly broaden the question of the demonic origin of certain diseases as attested by the Bible, which at several points shows a demon capable of acting, by divine permission, on bodies and spirits. Until that time, beneficial or evil spells cast by witches on men or animals had a mysterious origin, and their effectiveness was not questioned. Beginning in the fifteenth century, these magical practices, which we find in all traditional societies, became extremely suspect: they could not but come from a pact with Satan; how else could the sorcerers provoke storms, kill people and animals, spread disease? The proliferation of Satan’s henchmen thus represents an immense threat. Vying in evil, during the sabbath sorcerers prepare powders and unguents and receive the power to make the one they designate as their victim fall violently ill by a single gesture or word. They are also able to send demons into the bodies of the possessed. All direct contact with them — true agents of contagion — runs the risk of bewitchment.


Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Evil Spirit Sick Person Strange Story 
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    See R. Mandrou, Magistrats et sorciers en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Seuil, 1980).Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Marianne Closson

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