Continental Reformation Attitudes to Witchcraft

Continental Reformation Attitudes to Witchcraft

(Protestantism has fewer defences against sorcery than Catholicism so the Protestant Reformation increased fear of witchcraft)

“In Germany, even more largely than in other continental Germany, countries, the popular belief in the infernal origin of practices of sorcery in this age found expression in wild scandals and uncontrollable fictions. It attached itself to a wide variety of personages from the scholastici vagantes, of whom Hans Sachs had already brought an example on the stage, to an Elector of the Empire such as Joachim II of Brandenburg (1535-1571). In France charges of this kind were even brought against a king (Henry III) and his royal mother (Catharine de’ Medici). But if princes were the patrons of necromancy (as they were more especially of alchemy), they likewise persecuted its practice with the utmost severity ; thus we find an edict of the Elector Augustus of Saxony (of the year 1572), proclaiming the penalty of death by fire against whosoever ‘in forgetfulness of his Christian faith shall have entered into a compact, or hold converse or intercourse, with the Devil, albeit such person by magic may do no harm to any one‘ The clause I have italicised strikes me as particularly significant. In vain did a writer such as Johannes Wierus (Wier, Weiher or Weyer) seek, in the spirit of Reginald Scot, to stem the tide of popular prejudice, and to vindicate the memory of those whose fame, like that of Cornelius Agrippa, had by that prejudice been converted into infamy. Wierus’ noble effort (I583 2 ) in the cause of reason, and the partial protest of his contemporary Augustine Lercheimer 3 (1585), were outclamoured by eager witnesses to the truth of the popular superstitions and of the narratives by which they were supported, such as above all Bodin (l59i 4 ), whom Fischart translated into German, and Hondorff (i572 5 ). Thus fostered, these beliefs flourished in Germany through the sixteenth and part of the seventeenth century, the troubles of which furnished them with new new materials. But of these all notice must be left aside. The neighbouring countries were not in advance of Germany ; the last personage widely believed to have entered into a compact with the Evil One was the French Marshal Luxembourg (1628-1695), whose Dialogues in the Kingdom of the Dead with Doctor Faustus were a catchpenny of the year 1733; and if Germany had its Faustus in the sixteenth century, Bohemia had had its Zytho in the fifteenth (in the age of Charles IV), and Poland had its Twardowski, said to have been a contemporary of the German magician, of whose legend his is a reflexion or a singularly close parallel . How the story of Faustus found a ready welcome in the Netherlands and in France, as it did in England, will be immediately shown.”

Old English Drama. Select Plays. By A.W. Ward

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