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

  • Marianne Closson

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Evil Spirit Sick Person Strange Story 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See R. Mandrou, Magistrats et sorciers en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Seuil, 1980).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    H. Kramer and J. Sprenger, The Malleus Maleflcarum, trans. and ed. M. Summers (1486; New York: Dover Publicatons, 1971), Part II, ch. XI, p. 134.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See J. Bodin, De la demonomanie des sorciers (1580), (Gutenberg Reprint, 1979); On the Demon-Mania of Witches, trans. R. A. Scott, ed. R. A. Scott and J. L. Pearl (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1995).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    See J. Céard, ‘Le monde obscur. L’occulte et le démoniaque’, in La Nature et les prodiges, 2nd edn (Genève: Droz, 1996), ch. XIV.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    A. Paré, Des monstres et des prodiges, ed. J. Céard (Geneva: Droz, 1971), p. 95; On Monsters and Marvels, trans. and ed. J. L. Pallister (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 100.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    This story comes from C. Gemma, De naturae divinis characterimis (Anvers: Plantin, 1575).Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Johan Weyer, Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance, trans. J. Shea (Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1991), pp. 286–90.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    See R. Mandrou, Magistrats et sorciers; and Michel de Certeau, La Possession de Loudun, 2nd edn (Paris: Gallimard-Julliard, 1990); The Possession at Loudun, trans. M. B. Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Levinus Lemnius, Les occultes merveilles (Paris: Pierre de Pré, 1567), pp. 215–17: ‘imbu des arts avant qu’il ne les apprenne et les pratique’;‘la seule force de la maladie, & la violence des humeurs, par laquelle comme par quelque flambeau ardent, l’âme de l’homme s’embrase’; ‘que si cela se faisoit par les malings espris, telles maladies point ne guériroient par medecines laxatives, ny ne s’en iroient à force de dormitoires’.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marianne Closson

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