The Trick Of The Tale: Deconstructing Johann Weyer's De Praestigiis Daemonum
Allen, James Robert
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This thesis is an intellectual history of early modern European beliefs in witchcraft. Most research and scholarship on this period has focused on understanding the “witch hunts” and the collective phenomenon known as the witchcraze. Historians have focused more the social and political conditions that contributed to witch-hunting. These studies have tended to focus on the institutions that existed to facilitate witchcraft prosecutions. Comparatively, the writings of “demonologists” or intellectuals during the early modern period have been studied to a lesser extent.1 Early modern authors like Johann Weyer are often interpreted as either a skeptic or believer in witchcraft. Most studies of Weyer have interpreted him as an early skeptic of witchcraft and an advocate against the witch trials. One of the reasons for this interpretation is that it fits within the historical narrative of the rise of the scientific method in the early modern period. However, by looking at a demonological text through the lens of its own language, historians gain a much sharper understanding of how intellectuals shaped early modern ideas: we understand what they believed and why. Moreover, the work that has been conducted on nuanced perspective on the phenomenon of early modern witchcraft. The significance of this thesis is that it is a window into the beliefs of Johann Weyer; we experience the intellectual process that Weyer engaged in to formulate his treatise and opinion of witches. Accordingly, Weyer's text is a snapshot of a process in flux and undergoing transformation from an older medieval period and towards early modern thought. In short, by engaging with Weyer in his text on his terms, we understand not only what conclusions he reached about witchcraft, but more importantly the logic by which he arrived at those conclusions. We see more clearly the complexity of historical change and the complexity which forged the transition into the period known as the age of reason. This study reveals the cross-section of religion, science and magic and how these beliefs functioned in sixteenth-century European thought.