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 chapter shows what thinking and acting in terms of witchcraft, in short the witchcraft discourse, implied for the way people dealt with space and to a lesser extent with time, as well as for what they thought about the body. This analysis is embedded in a discussion about the bewitched, the people they suspected of bewitchments, and the people they called in to help them. In the nineteenth century boiling a black chicken alive was, in fact, rather popular, especially in mid and western areas of the Netherlands. In some way the boiling chicken was connected to the witch and would draw her to the house. Numerous stories show a similar connection between witches and cats. The newspaper reports show that the diagnosis of a bewitchment and an unwitchment ritual were not individual events; family members and neighbours were actively consulted.
The study of witchcraft accusations in Europe during the period after the end of the witch trials is still in its infancy. Witches were scratched in England, swum in Germany, beaten in the Netherlands and shot in France. The continued widespread belief in witchcraft and magic in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France has received considerable academic attention. The book discusses the extent and nature of witchcraft accusations in the period and provides a general survey of the published work on the subject for an English audience. It explores the presence of magical elements in everyday life during the modern period in Spain. The book provides a general overview of vernacular magical beliefs and practices in Italy from the time of unification to the present, with particular attention to how these traditions have been studied. By functioning as mechanisms of social ethos and control, narratives of magical harm were assured a place at the very heart of rural Finnish social dynamics into the twentieth century. The book draws upon over 300 narratives recorded in rural Finland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that provide information concerning the social relations, tensions and strategies that framed sorcery and the counter-magic employed against it. It is concerned with a special form of witchcraft that is practised only amongst Hungarians living in Transylvania.
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.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book argues that the end of witchcraft may set in when the witchcraft story was replaced by a rational one. It shows that witches were scratched in England, swum in Germany, beaten in the Netherlands and shot in France. The book stresses the replacement of witchcraft by non-witchcraft stories and considers different interpretations of a witchcraft event as competitive. It discusses that in the Netherlands orthodox Protestants reacted more violently to bewitchments than orthodox Catholics. The book typically focuses on French mentalité paysan. It aims to see witchcraft within the context of 'vernacular religion' and to study its 'entire range'. The book provides a very special example of making stories into physical reality in the case of Northern Ireland, where 'evidence' of black magic rituals was fabricated.