A late eighteenth-century Dutch witch doctor and his clients
Willem de Blécourt
In eighteenth-century Drenthe witchcraft was punishable in three ways: for publicly identifying suspected witches, for consulting specialists in the field of unwitching, and for practising as a fortune-teller or witch doctor. This chapter utilizes a local case study to chart the complex of expressions and actions concerning witchcraft and, through the reconstruction of the social, economical and political backgrounds of those involved. The name of the methodological trap is 'superstition' and its character is an often undeclared but determining element in the history of witchcraft studies. The self-educated Dutch folklorist, Tiesing, writing in 1913, tackled the problem openly. Evil people belonged to 'strange folks', people whom one could meet outside, 'outside the door' and to whom entrance could be refused. For judicial verdicts people had to rely on the Etstoel, which was established in Assen. Nevertheless, citizenships were sold in Meppel for five guilders and twelve stivers a person.
This book looks at aspects of the continuation of witchcraft and magic in Europe from the last of the secular and ecclesiastical trials during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, through to the nineteenth century. It provides a brief outline of witch trials in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Finland. By the second half of the seventeenth century, as the witch trials reached their climax in Sweden, belief in the interventionist powers of the Devil had become a major preoccupation of the educated classes. Having acknowledged the slight possibility of real possession by the Devil, Benito Feijoo threw himself wholeheartedly into his real objective: to expose the falseness of the majority of the possessed. The book is concerned with accusations of magic, which were formalised as denunciations heard by the Inquisition of the Archdiocese of Capua, a city twelve miles north of Naples, during the first half of the eighteenth century. One aspect of the study of witchcraft and magic, which has not yet been absorbed into the main stream of literature on the subject, is the archaeological record of the subject. As a part of the increasing interest in 'popular' culture, historians have become more conscious of the presence of witchcraft after the witch trials. The aftermath of the major witch trials in Dalarna, Sweden, demonstrates how the authorities began the awkward process of divorcing themselves from popular concerns and beliefs regarding witchcraft.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the experience of and attitudes towards witchcraft from both above and below, in an age when the beliefs and 'worldview' of the 'elite' and the 'people' are often thought to have irrevocably pulled away from one another. It suggests that in Sweden and the Netherlands, as in England, the ecclesiastical courts had given up on dealing with popular magic by the early eighteenth century. The book highlights the significant role the Italian Inquisition continued to play in policing 'superstition' during the period. It describes that the parish minister was instrumental in bringing charges against her for practising magic. The book shows that Benito Feijoo's unmasking of the fraud and delusion involved did not lead him to reject completely that some people, albeit a very small number, were truly possessed.