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History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White

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interference in mental disease. Following in the lines of the
earlier fathers, St. Anselm, Abelard, St. Thomas Aquinas, Vincent
of Beauvais, all the great doctors in the medieval Church, some
of them in spite of occasional misgivings, upheld the idea that
insanity is largely or mainly demoniacal possession, basing their
belief steadily on the sacred Scriptures; and this belief was
followed up in every quarter by more and more constant citation
of the text "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." No other
text of Scripture--save perhaps one--has caused the shedding of
so much innocent blood.

As we look over the history of the Middle Ages, we do, indeed,
see another growth from which one might hope much; for there
were two great streams of influence in the Church, and never were
two powers more unlike each other.

On one side was the spirit of Christianity, as it proceeded from
the heart and mind of its blessed Founder, immensely powerful in
aiding the evolution of religious thought and effort, and
especially of provision for the relief of suffering by religious
asylums and tender care. Nothing better expresses this than the
touching words inscribed upon a great medieval hospital, "Christo
in pauperibus suis." But on the other side was the theological
theory--proceeding, as we have seen, from the survival of ancient
superstitions, and sustained by constant reference to the texts
in our sacred books--that many, and probably most, of the insane
were possessed by the devil or in league with him, and that the
cruel treatment of lunatics was simply punishment of the devil
and his minions. By this current of thought was gradually
developed one of the greatest masses of superstitious cruelty
that has ever afflicted humanity. At the same time the stream of
Christian endeavour, so far as the insane were concerned, was
almost entirely cut off. In all the beautiful provision during
the Middle Ages for the alleviation of human suffering, there was
for the insane almost no care. Some monasteries, indeed, gave
them refuge. We hear of a charitable work done for them at the
London Bethlehem Hospital in the thirteenth century, at Geneva in
the fifteenth, at Marseilles in the sixteenth, by the Black
Penitents in the south of France, by certain Franciscans in
northern France, by the Alexian Brothers on the Rhine, and by
various agencies in other parts of Europe; but, curiously
enough, the only really important effort in the Christian Church
was stimulated by the Mohammedans. Certain monks, who had much
to do with them in redeeming Christian slaves, found in the
fifteenth century what John Howard found in the eighteenth, that
the Arabs and Turks made a large and merciful provision for
lunatics, such as was not seen in Christian lands; and this
example led to better establishments in Spain and Italy.

All honour to this work and to the men who engaged in it; but,
as a rule, these establishments were few and poor, compared with
those for other diseases, and they usually degenerated into
"mad-houses," where devils were cast out mainly by

[349] For a very full and learned, if somewhat one-sided, account
of the earlier effects of this stream of charitable thought, see
Tollemer, Des Origines de la Charite Catholique, Paris, 1858. It
is instructive to note that, while this book is very full in
regard to the action of the Church on slavery and on provision
for the widows and orphans, the sick, infirm, captives, and
lepers, there is hardly a trace of any care for the insane. This
same want is incidentally shown by a typical example in Kriegk,
Aerzte, Heilanstalten und Geisteskranke im mittelalterlichen
Frankfurt, Frankfurt a. M., 1863, pp. 16, 17; also Kirschhof, pp.
396, 397. On the general subject, see Semelaigne, as above, p.
214; also Calmeil, vol. i, pp. 116, 117. For the effect of
Muslem example in Spain and Italy, see Krafft-Ebing, as above, p.
45, note.

The first main weapon against the indwelling Satan continued to
be the exorcism; but under the influence of inferences from
Scripture farther and farther fetched, and of theological
reasoning more and more subtle, it became something very
different from the gentle procedure of earlier times, and some
description of this great weapon at the time of its highest
development will throw light on the laws which govern the growth
of theological reasoning, as well as upon the main subject in

A fundamental premise in the fully developed exorcism was that,
according to sacred Scripture, a main characteristic of Satan is
pride. Pride led him to rebel; for pride he was cast down;
therefore the first thing to do, in driving him out of a lunatic,
was to strike a fatal blow at his pride,--to disgust him.

This theory was carried out logically, to the letter. The
treatises on the subject simply astound one by their wealth of
blasphemous and obscene epithets which it was allowable for the
exorcist to use in casting out devils. The Treasury of
Exorcisms contains hundreds of pages packed with the vilest
epithets which the worst imagination could invent for the purpose
of overwhelming the indwelling Satan.[350]

[350] Thesaurus Exorcismorum atque Conjurationum terribilium,
potentissimorum, efficacissimorum, cum PRACTICA probatissima:
quibus spiritus maligni, Daemones Maleficiaque omnia de
Corporibus humanis obsessis, tanquam Flagellis Fustibusque
fugantur, expelluntur, . . . Cologne, 1626. Many of the books of
the exorcists were put upon the various indexes of the Church,
but this, the richest collection of all, and including nearly all
those condemned, was not prohibited until 1709. Scarcely less
startling manuals continued even later in use; and exorcisms
adapted to every emergency may of course still be found in all
the Benedictionals of the Church, even the latest. As an
example, see the Manuale Benedictionum, published by the Bishop
of Passau in 1849, or the Exorcismus in Satanam, etc., issued in
1890 by the present Pope, and now on sale at the shop of the
Propoganda in Rome.

Some of those decent enough to be printed in these degenerate
days ran as follows:

"Thou lustful and stupid one,...thou lean sow, famine-stricken
and most impure,...thou wrinkled beast, thou mangy beast, thou
beast of all beasts the most beastly,...thou mad spirit,...
thou bestial and foolish drunkard,...most greedy wolf,...most
abominable whisperer,...thou sooty spirit from Tartarus!...I cast
thee down, O Tartarean boor, into the infernal kitchen!...
Loathsome cobbler,...dingy collier,...filthy sow (scrofa
stercorata),...perfidious boar,...envious crocodile,...
malodorous drudge,...wounded basilisk,...rust-coloured
asp,... swollen toad,...entangled spider,...lousy swine-herd
(porcarie pedicose),...lowest of the low,...cudgelled ass," etc.

But, in addition to this attempt to disgust Satan's pride with
blackguardism, there was another to scare him with tremendous
words. For this purpose, thunderous names, from Hebrew and
Greek, were imported, such as Acharon, Eheye, Schemhamphora,
Tetragrammaton, Homoousion, Athanatos, Ischiros, Aecodes, and the

[351] See the Conjuratio on p. 300 of the Thesaurus, and the
general directions given on pp. 251, 251.

Efforts were also made to drive him out with filthy and
rank-smelling drugs; and, among those which can be mentioned in
a printed article, we may name asafoetida, sulphur, squills,
etc., which were to be burned under his nose.

Still further to plague him, pictures of the devil were to be
spat upon, trampled under foot by people of low condition, and
sprinkled with foul compounds.

But these were merely preliminaries to the exorcism proper. In
this the most profound theological thought and sacred science of
the period culminated.

Most of its forms were childish, but some rise to almost Miltonic
grandeur. As an example of the latter, we may take the

"By the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God hath given to make
known unto his servants those things which are shortly to be;
and hath signified, sending by his angel,...I exorcise you, ye
angels of untold perversity!

"By the seven golden candlesticks,...and by one like unto the
Son of man, standing in the midst of the candlesticks; by his
voice, as the voice of many waters;...by his words, `I am
living, who was dead; and behold, I live forever and ever; and
I have the keys of death and of hell,' I say unto you, Depart, O
angels that show the way to eternal perdition!"

Besides these, were long litanies of billingsgate, cursing, and
threatening. One of these "scourging" exorcisms runs partly as

"May Agyos strike thee, as he did Egypt, with frogs!...May all
the devils that are thy foes rush forth upon thee, and drag thee
down to hell!...May...Tetragrammaton...drive thee forth and
stone thee, as Israel did to Achan!...May the Holy One trample
on thee and hang thee up in an infernal fork, as was done to the
five kings of the Amorites!...May God set a nail to your skull,
and pound it in with a hammer, as Jael did unto Sisera!...
May...Sother...break thy head and cut off thy hands, as was done
to the cursed Dagon!...May God hang thee in a hellish yoke, as
seven men were hanged by the sons of Saul!" And so on, through
five pages of close-printed Latin curses.[352]

[352] Thesaurus Exorcismorum, pp. 812-817.

Occasionally the demon is reasoned with, as follows: "O
obstinate, accursed, fly!...why do you stop and hold back, when
you know that your strength is lost on Christ? For it is hard
for thee to kick against the pricks; and, verily, the longer it
takes you to go, the worse it will go with you. Begone, then:
take flight, thou venomous hisser, thou lying worm, thou begetter
of vipers!"[353]

[353] Ibid., p. 859.

This procedure and its results were recognised as among the
glories of the Church. As typical, we may mention an exorcism
directed by a certain Bishop of Beauvais, which was so effective
that five devils gave up possession of a sufferer and signed
their names, each for himself and his subordinate imps, to an
agreement that the possessed should be molested no more. So,
too, the Jesuit fathers at Vienna, in 1583, gloried in the fact
that in such a contest they had cast out twelve thousand six
hundred and fifty-two living devils. The ecclesiastical annals
of the Middle Ages, and, indeed, of a later period, abound in
boasts of such "mighty works."[354]

[354] In my previous chapters, especially that on meteorology, I
have quoted extensively from the original treatises, of which a
very large collection is in my posession; but in this chapter I
have mainly availed myself of the copious translations given by
M. H. Dziewicki, in his excellent article in The Nineteenth
Century for October, 1888, entitled Exorcizo Te. For valuable
citations on the origin and spread of exorcism, see Lecky's
European Morals (third English edition), vol. i, pp. 379-385.

Such was the result of a thousand years of theological reasoning,
by the strongest minds in Europe, upon data partly given in
Scripture and partly inherited from paganism, regarding Satan and
his work among men.

Under the guidance of theology, always so severe against "science
falsely so called," the world had come a long way indeed from the
soothing treatment of the possessed by him who bore among the
noblest of his titles that of "The Great Physician." The result
was natural: the treatment of the insane fell more and more into
the hands of the jailer, the torturer, and the executioner.

To go back for a moment to the beginnings of this unfortunate
development. In spite of the earlier and more kindly tendency in
the Church, the Synod of Ancyra, as early as 314 A.D., commanded
the expulsion of possessed persons from the Church; the
Visigothic Christians whipped them; and Charlemagne, in spite of
some good enactments, imprisoned them. Men and women, whose
distempered minds might have been restored to health by
gentleness and skill, were driven into hopeless madness by
noxious medicines and brutality. Some few were saved as mere
lunatics--they were surrendered to general carelessness, and
became simply a prey to ridicule and aimless brutality; but vast
numbers were punished as tabernacles of Satan.

One of the least terrible of these punishments, and perhaps the
most common of all, was that of scourging demons out of the body
of a lunatic. This method commended itself even to the judgment
of so thoughtful and kindly a personage as Sir Thomas More, and
as late as the sixteenth century. But if the disease continued,
as it naturally would after such treatment, the authorities
frequently felt justified in driving out the demons by

[355] For prescription of the whipping-post by Sir Thomas More,
see D. H. Tuke's History of Insanity in the British Isles,
London, 1882, p. 41.

Interesting monuments of this idea, so fruitful in evil, still
exist. In the great cities of central Europe, "witch towers,"
where witches and demoniacs were tortured, and "fool towers,"
where the more gentle lunatics were imprisoned, may still be

In the cathedrals we still see this idea fossilized. Devils and
imps, struck into stone, clamber upon towers, prowl under
cornices, peer out from bosses of foliage, perch upon capitals,
nestle under benches, flame in windows. Above the great main
entrance, the most common of all representations still shows
Satan and his imps scowling, jeering, grinning, while taking
possession of the souls of men and scourging them with serpents,
or driving them with tridents, or dragging them with chains into
the flaming mouth of hell. Even in the most hidden and sacred
places of the medieval cathedral we still find representations of
Satanic power in which profanity and obscenity run riot. In
these representations the painter and the glass-stainer vied with
the sculptor. Among the early paintings on canvas a well-known
example represents the devil in the shape of a dragon, perched
near the head of a dying man, eager to seize his soul as it
issues from his mouth, and only kept off by the efforts of the
attendant priest. Typical are the colossal portrait of Satan,
and the vivid picture of the devils cast out of the possessed and
entering into the swine, as shown in the cathedral-windows of
Strasburg. So, too, in the windows of Chartres Cathedral we see
a saint healing a lunatic: the saint, with a long devil-scaring
formula in Latin issuing from his mouth; and the lunatic, with a
little detestable hobgoblin, horned, hoofed, and tailed, issuing
from HIS mouth. These examples are but typical of myriads in
cathedrals and abbeys and parish churches throughout Europe; and
all served to impress upon the popular mind a horror of
everything called diabolic, and a hatred of those charged with
it. These sermons in stones preceded the printed book; they
were a sculptured Bible, which preceded Luther's pictorial

[356] I cite these instances out of a vast number which I have
personally noted in visits to various cathedrals. For striking
examples of mediaeval grotesques, see Wright's History of
Caricature and the Grotesque, London, 1875; Langlois's Stalles de
la Cathedrale de Rouen, 1838; Adeline's Les Sculptures Grotesques
et Symboliques, Rouen, 1878; Viollet le Duc, Dictionnaire de
l'Architecture; Gailhabaud, Sur l'Architecture, etc. For a
reproduction of an illuminated manuscript in which devils fly out
of the mouths of the possessed under the influence of exorcisms,
see Cahier and Martin, Nouveaux Melanges d' Archeologie for 1874,
p. 136; and for a demon emerging from a victim's mouth in a puff
of smoke at the command of St. Francis Xavier, see La Devotion de
Dix Vendredis, etc., Plate xxxii.

Satan and his imps were among the principal personages in every
popular drama, and "Hell's Mouth" was a piece of stage scenery
constantly brought into requisition. A miracle-play without a
full display of the diabolic element in it would have stood a
fair chance of being pelted from the stage.[357]

[357] See Wright, History of Caricature and the Grotesque; F. J.
Mone, Schauspiele des Mittelalters, Carlsruhe, 1846; Dr. Karl
Hase, Miracle-Plays and Sacred Dramas, Boston,1880 (translation
from the German). Examples of the miracle-plays may be found in
Marriott's Collection of English Miracle-Plays, 1838; in Hone's
Ancient Mysteries; in T. Sharpe's Dissertaion on the Pageants . .
. anciently performed at Coventry, Coventry, 1828; in the
publications of the Shakespearean and other societies. See
especially The Harrowing of Hell, a miracle-play, edited from the
original now in the British Museum, by T. O. Halliwell, London,
1840. One of the items still preserved is a sum of money paid
for keeping a fire burning in hell's mouth. Says Hase (as above,
p. 42): "In wonderful satyrlike masquerade, in which neither
horns, tails, nor hoofs were ever . . . wanting, the devil
prosecuted on the stage his business of fetching souls," which
left the mouths of the dying "in the form of small images."

Not only the popular art but the popular legends embodied these
ideas. The chroniclers delighted in them; the Lives of the
Saints abounded in them; sermons enforced them from every
pulpit. What wonder, then, that men and women had vivid dreams
of Satanic influence, that dread of it was like dread of the
plague, and that this terror spread the disease enormously, until
we hear of convents, villages, and even large districts, ravaged
by epidemics of diabolical possession![358]

[358] I shall discuss these epidemics of possession, which form a
somewhat distinct class of phenomena, in the next chapter.

And this terror naturally bred not only active cruelty toward
those supposed to be possessed, but indifference to the
sufferings of those acknowledged to be lunatics. As we have
already seen, while ample and beautiful provision was made for
every other form of human suffering, for this there was
comparatively little; and, indeed, even this little was
generally worse than none. Of this indifference and cruelty we
have a striking monument in a single English word--a word
originally significant of gentleness and mercy, but which became
significant of wild riot, brutality, and confusion-- Bethlehem
Hospital became "Bedlam."

Modern art has also dwelt upon this theme, and perhaps the most
touching of all its exhibitions is the picture by a great French
master, representing a tender woman bound to a column and exposed
to the jeers, insults, and missiles of street ruffians.[359]

[359] The typical picture representing a priest's struggle with
the devil is in the city gallery of Rouen. The modern picture is
Robert Fleury's painting in the Luxembourg Gallery at Paris.

Here and there, even in the worst of times, men arose who
attempted to promote a more humane view, but with little effect.
One expositor of St. Matthew, having ventured to recall the fact
that some of the insane were spoken of in the New Testament as
lunatics and to suggest that their madness might be caused by the
moon, was answered that their madness was not caused by the moon,
but by the devil, who avails himself of the moonlight for his

[360] See Geraldus Cambrensis, cited by Tuke, as above, pp. 8, 9.

One result of this idea was a mode of cure which especially
aggravated and spread mental disease: the promotion of great
religious processions. Troops of men and women, crying, howling,
imploring saints, and beating themselves with whips, visited
various sacred shrines, images, and places in the hope of driving
off the powers of evil. The only result was an increase in the
numbers of the diseased.

For hundreds of years this idea of diabolic possession was
steadily developed. It was believed that devils entered into
animals, and animals were accordingly exorcised, tried, tortured,
convicted, and executed. The great St. Ambrose tells us that a
priest, while saying mass, was troubled by the croaking of frogs
in a neighbouring marsh; that he exorcised them, and so stopped
their noise. St. Bernard, as the monkish chroniclers tell us,
mounting the pulpit to preach in his abbey, was interrupted by a
cloud of flies; straightway the saint uttered the sacred formula
of excommunication, when the flies fell dead upon the pavement in
heaps, and were cast out with shovels! A formula of exorcism
attributed to a saint of the ninth century, which remained in use
down to a recent period, especially declares insects injurious to
crops to be possessed of evil spirits, and names, among the
animals to be excommunicated or exorcised, mice, moles, and
serpents. The use of exorcism against caterpillars and
grasshoppers was also common. In the thirteenth century a Bishop
of Lausanne, finding that the eels in Lake Leman troubled the
fishermen, attempted to remove the difficulty by exorcism, and
two centuries later one of his successors excommunicated all the
May-bugs in the diocese. As late as 1731 there appears an entry
on the Municipal Register of Thonon as follows: "RESOLVED, That
this town join with other parishes of this province in obtaining
from Rome an excommunication against the insects, and that it
will contribute pro rata to the expenses of the same."

Did any one venture to deny that animals could be possessed by
Satan, he was at once silenced by reference to the entrance of
Satan into the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and to the casting
of devils into swine by the Founder of Christianity

[361] See Menabrea, Proces au Moyen Age contre les Animaux,
Chambery, 1846, pp. 31 and following; also Desmazes, Supplices,
Prisons et Grace en France, pp. 89, 90, and 385-395. For a
formula and ceremonies used in excommunicating insects, see
Rydberg, pp. 75 and following.

One part of this superstition most tenaciously held was the
belief that a human being could be transformed into one of the
lower animals. This became a fundamental point. The most
dreaded of predatory animals in the Middle Ages were the wolves.
Driven from the hills and forests in the winter by hunger, they
not only devoured the flocks, but sometimes came into the
villages and seized children. From time to time men and women
whose brains were disordered dreamed that they had been changed
into various animals, and especially into wolves. On their
confessing this, and often implicating others, many executions of
lunatics resulted; moreover, countless sane victims, suspected of
the same impossible crime, were forced by torture to confess it,
and sent unpitied to the stake. The belief in such a
transformation pervaded all Europe, and lasted long even in
Protestant countries. Probably no article in the witch creed had
more adherents in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth
centuries than this. Nearly every parish in Europe had its
resultant horrors.

The reformed Church in all its branches fully accepted the
doctrines of witchcraft and diabolic possession, and developed
them still further. No one urged their fundamental ideas more
fully than Luther. He did, indeed, reject portions of the
witchcraft folly; but to the influence of devils he not only
attributed his maladies, but his dreams, and nearly everything
that thwarted or disturbed him. The flies which lighted upon his
book, the rats which kept him awake at night, he believed to be
devils; the resistance of the Archbishop of Mayence to his
ideas, he attributed to Satan literally working in that prelate's
heart; to his disciples he told stories of men who had been
killed by rashly resisting the devil. Insanity, he was quite
sure, was caused by Satan, and he exorcised sufferers. Against
some he appears to have advised stronger remedies; and his horror
of idiocy, as resulting from Satanic influence, was so great,
that on one occasion he appears to have advised the killing of an
idiot child, as being the direct offspring of Satan. Yet Luther
was one of the most tender and loving of men; in the whole range
of literature there is hardly anything more touching than his
words and tributes to children. In enforcing his ideas regarding
insanity, he laid stress especially upon the question of St.
Paul as to the bewitching of the Galatians, and, regarding
idiocy, on the account in Genesis of the birth of children whose
fathers were "sons of God" and whose mothers were "daughters of
men." One idea of his was especially characteristic. The
descent of Christ into hell was a frequent topic of discussion in
the Reformed Church. Melanchthon, with his love of Greek
studies, held that the purpose of the Saviour in making such a
descent was to make himself known to the great and noble men of
antiquity--Plato, Socrates, and the rest; but Luther insisted
that his purpose was to conquer Satan in a hand-to-hand struggle.

This idea of diabolic influence pervaded his conversation, his
preaching, his writings, and spread thence to the Lutheran Church
in general. Calvin also held to the same theory, and, having
more power with less kindness of heart than Luther, carried it
out with yet greater harshness. Beza was especially severe
against those who believed insanity to be a natural malady, and
declared, "Such persons are refuted both by sacred and profane

Under the influence, then, of such infallible teachings, in the
older Church and in the new, this superstition was developed more
and more into cruelty; and as the biblical texts, popularized in
the sculptures and windows and mural decorations of the great
medieval cathedrals, had done much to develop it among the
people, so Luther's translation of the Bible, especially in the
numerous editions of it illustrated with engravings, wrought with
enormous power to spread and deepen it. In every peasant's
cottage some one could spell out the story of the devil bearing
Christ through the air and placing him upon the pinnacle of the
Temple--of the woman with seven devils--of the devils cast into
the swine. Every peasant's child could be made to understand the
quaint pictures in the family Bible or the catechism which
illustrated vividly all those texts. In the ideas thus deeply
implanted, the men who in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries struggled against this mass of folly and cruelty found
the worst barrier to right reason.[362]

[362] For Luther, see, among the vast number of similar passages
in his works, the Table Talk, Hazlitt's translation, pp. 251,
252. As to the grotesques in mediaeval churches, the writer of
this article, in visiting the town church of Wittenberg, noticed,
just opposite the pulpit where Luther so often preached, a very
spirited figure of an imp peering out upon the congregation. One
can but suspect that this mediaeval survival frequently suggested
Luther's favourite topic during his sermons. For Beza, see his
Notes on the New Testament, Matthew iv, 24.

Such was the treatment of demoniacs developed by theology, and
such the practice enforced by ecclesiasticism for more than a
thousand years.

How an atmosphere was spread in which this belief began to
dissolve away, how its main foundations were undermined by
science, and how there came in gradually a reign of humanity,
will now be related.


We have now seen the culmination of the old procedure regarding
insanity, as it was developed under theology and enforced by
ecclesiasticism; and we have noted how, under the influence of
Luther and Calvin, the Reformation rather deepened than weakened
the faith in the malice and power of a personal devil. Nor was
this, in the Reformed churches any more than in the old, mere
matter of theory. As in the early ages of Christianity, its
priests especially appealed, in proof of the divine mission, to
their power over the enemy of mankind in the bodies of men, so
now the clergy of the rival creeds eagerly sought opportunities
to establish the truth of their own and the falsehood of their
opponents' doctrines by the visible casting out of devils. True,
their methods differed somewhat: where the Catholic used holy
water and consecrated wax, the Protestant was content with texts
of Scripture and importunate prayer; but the supplementary
physical annoyance of the indwelling demon did not greatly vary.
Sharp was the competition for the unhappy objects of treatment.
Each side, of course, stoutly denied all efficacy to its
adversaries' efforts, urging that any seeming victory over Satan
was due not to the defeat but to the collusion of the fiend. As,
according to the Master himself, "no man can by Beelzebub cast
out devils," the patient was now in greater need of relief than
before; and more than one poor victim had to bear alternately
Lutheran, Roman, and perhaps Calvinistic exorcism.[363]

[363] For instances of this competition, see Freytag, Aus dem
Jahrh. d. Reformation, pp. 359-375. The Jesuit Stengel, in his
De judiciis divinis (Ingolstadt, 1651), devotes a whole chapter
to an exorcism, by the great Canisius, of a spirit that had
baffled Protestant conjuration. Among the most jubilant Catholic
satires of the time are those exulting in Luther's alleged
failure as an exorcist.

But far more serious in its consequences was another rivalry to
which in the sixteenth century the clergy of all creeds found
themselves subject. The revival of the science of medicine,
under the impulse of the new study of antiquity, suddenly bade
fair to take out of the hands of the Church the profession of
which she had enjoyed so long and so profitable a monopoly. Only
one class of diseases remained unquestionably hers--those which
were still admitted to be due to the direct personal interference
of Satan--and foremost among these was insanity.[364]] It was
surely no wonder that an age of religious controversy and
excitement should be exceptionally prolific in ailments of the
mind; and, to men who mutually taught the utter futility of that
baptismal exorcism by which the babes of their misguided
neighbours were made to renounce the devil and his works, it
ought not to have seemed strange that his victims now became more
numerous.[365] But so simple an explanation did not satisfy
these physicians of souls; they therefore devised a simpler one:
their patients, they alleged, were bewitched, and their increase
was due to the growing numbers of those human allies of Satan
known as witches.

[364] For the attitude of the Catholic clergy, the best sources
are the confidential Jesuit Litterae Annuae. To this day the
numerous treatises on "pastoral medicine" in use in the older
Church devote themselves mainly to this sort of warfare with the

[365] Baptismal exorcism continued in use among the Lutherans
till the eighteenth century, though the struggle over its
abandonment had been long and sharp. See Krafft, Histories vom
Exorcismo, Hamburg, 1750.

Already, before the close of the fifteenth century, Pope Innocent
VIII had issued the startling bull by which he called on the
archbishops, bishops, and other clergy of Germany to join hands
with his inquisitors in rooting out these willing bond-servants
of Satan, who were said to swarm throughout all that country and
to revel in the blackest crimes. Other popes had since
reiterated the appeal; and, though none of these documents
touched on the blame of witchcraft for diabolic possession, the
inquisitors charged with their execution pointed it out most
clearly in their fearful handbook, the Witch-Hammer, and
prescribed the special means by which possession thus caused
should be met. These teachings took firm root in religious minds
everywhere; and during the great age of witch-burning that
followed the Reformation it may well be doubted whether any
single cause so often gave rise to an outbreak of the persecution
as the alleged bewitchment of some poor mad or foolish or
hysterical creature. The persecution, thus once under way, fed
itself; for, under the terrible doctrine of "excepted cases," by
which in the religious crimes of heresy and witchcraft there was
no limit to the use of torture, the witch was forced to confess
to accomplices, who in turn accused others, and so on to the end
of the chapter.[366]

[366] The Jesuit Stengel, professor at Ingolstadt, who (in his
great work, De judiciis divinis) urges, as reasons why a merciful
God permits illness, his wish to glorify himself through the
miracles wrought by his Church, and his desire to test the faith
of men by letting them choose between the holy aid of the Church
and the illicit resort to medicine, declares that there is a
difference between simple possession and that brought by
bewitchment, and insists that the latter is the more difficult to

The horrors of such a persecution, with the consciousness of an
ever-present devil it breathed and the panic terror of him it
inspired, could not but aggravate the insanity it claimed to
cure. Well-authenticated, though rarer than is often believed,
were the cases where crazed women voluntarily accused themselves
of this impossible crime. One of the most eminent authorities on
diseases of the mind declares that among the unfortunate beings
who were put to death for witchcraft he recognises well-marked
victims of cerebral disorders; while an equally eminent
authority in Germany tells us that, in a most careful study of
the original records of their trials by torture, he has often
found their answers and recorded conversations exactly like those
familiar to him in our modern lunatic asylums, and names some
forms of insanity which constantly and un mistakably appear among
those who suffered for criminal dealings with the devil.[367]
The result of this widespread terror was naturally, therefore, a
steady increase in mental disorders. A great modern authority
tells us that, although modern civilization tends to increase
insanity, the number of lunatics at present is far less than in
the ages of faith and in the Reformation period. The treatment
of the "possessed," as we find it laid down in standard
treatises, sanctioned by orthodox churchmen and jurists, accounts
for this abundantly. One sort of treatment used for those
accused of witchcraft will also serve to show this--the "tortura
insomniae." Of all things in brain-disease, calm and regular
sleep is most certainly beneficial; yet, under this practice,
these half-crazed creatures were prevented, night after night and
day after day, from sleeping or even resting. In this way
temporary delusion became chronic insanity, mild cases became
violent, torture and death ensued, and the "ways of God to man"
were justified.[368] But the most contemptible creatures in
all those centuries were the physicians who took sides with
religious orthodoxy. While we have, on the side of truth, Flade
sacrificing his life, Cornelius Agrippa his liberty, Wier and
Loos their hopes of preferment, Bekker his position, and
Thomasius his ease, reputation, and friends, we find, as allies
of the other side, a troop of eminently respectable doctors
mixing Scripture, metaphysics, and pretended observations to
support the "safe side" and to deprecate interference with the
existing superstition, which seemed to them "a very safe belief
to be held by the common people."[369]

[367] See D. H. Tuke, Chapters in the History of the Insane in
the British Isles, London, 1822, p. 36; also Kirchhoff, p. 340.
The forms of insanity especially mentioned are "dementia senilis"
and epilepsy. A striking case of voluntary confession of
witchcraft by a woman who lived to recover from the delusion is
narrated in great detail by Reginald Scot, in his Discovery of
Witchcraft, London, 1584. It is, alas, only too likely that the
"strangeness" caused by slight and unrecognised mania led often
to the accusation of witchcraft instead of to the suspicion of

[368] See Kirchhoff, as above.

[369] For the arguments used by creatures of this sort, see
Diefenbach, Der Hexenwahn vor und nach der Glaubensspaltung in
Deutschland, pp. 342-346. A long list of their infamous names is
given on p. 345.

Against one form of insanity both Catholics and Protestants were
especially cruel. Nothing is more common in all times of
religious excitement than strange personal hallucinations,
involving the belief, by the insane patient, that he is a divine
person. In the most striking representation of insanity that has
ever been made, Kaulbach shows, at the centre of his wonderful
group, a patient drawing attention to himself as the Saviour of
the world.

Sometimes, when this form of disease took a milder hysterical
character, the subject of it was treated with reverence, and even
elevated to sainthood: such examples as St. Francis of Assisi
and St. Catherine of Siena in Italy, St. Bridget in Sweden, St.
Theresa in Spain, St. Mary Alacoque in France, and Louise Lateau
in Belgium, are typical. But more frequently such cases shocked
public feeling, and were treated with especial rigour: typical
of this is the case of Simon Marin, who in his insanity believed
himself to be the Son of God, and was on that account burned
alive at Paris and his ashes scattered to the winds.[370]

[370] As to the frequency among the insane of this form of
belief, see Calmeil, vol. ii, p. 257; also Maudsley, Pathology of
Mind, pp. 201, 202, and 418-424; also Rambaud, Histoire de la
Civilisation en France, vol. ii, p. 110. For the peculiar
abberations of the saints above named and other ecstatics, see
Maudsley, as above, pp. 71, 72, and 149, 150. Maudsley's
chapters on this and cognate subjects are certainly among the
most valuable contributions to modern thought. For a discussion
of the most recent case, see Warlomont, Louise Lateau, Paris,

The profundity of theologians and jurists constantly developed
new theories as to the modes of diabolic entrance into the
"possessed." One such theory was that Satan could be taken into
the mouth with one's food--perhaps in the form of an insect
swallowed on a leaf of salad, and this was sanctioned, as we have
seen, by no less infallible an authority than Gregory the Great,
Pope and Saint--Another theory was that Satan entered the body
when the mouth was opened to breathe, and there are
well-authenticated cases of doctors and divines who, when casting
out evil spirits, took especial care lest the imp might jump into
their own mouths from the mouth of the patient. Another theory
was that the devil entered human beings during sleep; and at a
comparatively recent period a King of Spain was wont to sleep
between two monks, to keep off the devil.[371]

[371] As to the devil's entering into the mouth while eating, see
Calmeil, as above, vol. ii, pp. 105, 106. As to the dread of Dr.
Borde lest the evil spirit, when exorcised, might enter his own
body, see Tuke, as above, p. 28. As to the King of Spain, see
the noted chapter in Buckle's History of Civilization in England.

The monasteries were frequent sources of that form of mental
disease which was supposed to be caused by bewitchment. From the
earliest period it is evident that monastic life tended to
develop insanity. Such cases as that of St. Anthony are typical
of its effects upon the strongest minds; but it was especially
the convents for women that became the great breeding-beds of
this disease. Among the large numbers of women and girls thus
assembled--many of them forced into monastic seclusion against
their will, for the reason that their families could give them no
dower--subjected to the unsatisfied longings, suspicions,
bickerings, petty jealousies, envies, and hatreds, so inevitable
in convent life--mental disease was not unlikely to be developed
at any moment. Hysterical excitement in nunneries took shapes
sometimes comical, but more generally tragical. Noteworthy is it
that the last places where executions for witchcraft took place
were mainly in the neighbourhood of great nunneries; and the
last famous victim, of the myriads executed in Germany for this
imaginary crime, was Sister Anna Renata Singer, sub-prioress of a
nunnery near Wurzburg.[372]

[372] Among the multitude of authorities on this point, see
Kirchhoff, as above, p. 337; and for a most striking picture of
this dark side of convent life, drawn, indeed, by a devoted Roman
Catholic, see Manzoni's Promessi Sposi. On Anna Renata there is
a striking essay by the late Johannes Scherr, in his
Hammerschlage und Historien. On the general subject of hysteria
thus developed, see the writings of Carpenter and Tuke; and as to
its natural development in nunneries, see Maudsley,
Responsibility in Mental Disease, p. 9. Especial attention will
be paid to this in the chapter on Diabolism and Hysteria.

The same thing was seen among young women exposed to sundry
fanatical Protestant preachers. Insanity, both temporary and
permanent, was thus frequently developed among the Huguenots of
France, and has been thus produced in America, from the days of
the Salem persecution down to the "camp meetings" of the present

[373] This branch of the subject will be discussed more at length
in a future chapter.

At various times, from the days of St. Agobard of Lyons in the
ninth century to Pomponatius in the sixteenth, protests or
suggestions, more or less timid, had been made by thoughtful men
against this system. Medicine had made some advance toward a
better view, but the theological torrent had generally
overwhelmed all who supported a scientific treatment. At last,
toward the end of the sixteenth century, two men made a beginning
of a much more serious attack upon this venerable superstition.
The revival of learning, and the impulse to thought on material
matters given during the "age of discovery," undoubtedly produced
an atmosphere which made the work of these men possible. In the
year 1563, in the midst of demonstrations of demoniacal
possession by the most eminent theologians and judges, who sat in
their robes and looked wise, while women, shrieking, praying, and
blaspheming, were put to the torture, a man arose who dared to
protest effectively that some of the persons thus charged might
be simply insane; and this man was John Wier, of Cleves.

His protest does not at this day strike us as particularly bold.
In his books, De Praestigiis Daemonum and De Lamiis, he did his
best not to offend religious or theological susceptibilities;
but he felt obliged to call attention to the mingled fraud and
delusion of those who claimed to be bewitched, and to point out
that it was often not their accusers, but the alleged witches
themselves, who were really ailing, and to urge that these be
brought first of all to a physician.

His book was at once attacked by the most eminent theologians.
One of the greatest laymen of his time, Jean Bodin, also wrote
with especial power against it, and by a plentiful use of
scriptural texts gained to all appearance a complete victory:
this superstition seemed thus fastened upon Europe for a thousand
years more. But doubt was in the air, and, about a quarter of a
century after the publication of Wier's book there were published
in France the essays of a man by no means so noble, but of far
greater genius--Michel de Montaigne. The general scepticism
which his work promoted among the French people did much to
produce an atmosphere in which the belief in witchcraft and
demoniacal possession must inevitably wither. But this process,
though real, was hidden, and the victory still seemed on the
theological side.

The development of the new truth and its struggle against the old
error still went on. In Holland, Balthazar Bekker wrote his
book against the worst forms of the superstition, and attempted
to help the scientific side by a text from the Second Epistle of
St. Peter, showing that the devils had been confined by the
Almighty, and therefore could not be doing on earth the work
which was imputed to them. But Bekker's Protestant brethren
drove him from his pulpit, and he narrowly escaped with his life.

The last struggles of a great superstition are very frequently
the worst. So it proved in this case. In the first half of
the seventeenth century the cruelties arising from the old
doctrine were more numerous and severe than ever before. In
Spain, Sweden, Italy, and, above all, in Germany, we see constant
efforts to suppress the evolution of the new truth.

But in the midst of all this reactionary rage glimpses of right
reason began to appear. It is significant that at this very
time, when the old superstition was apparently everywhere
triumphant, the declaration by Poulet that he and his brother and
his cousin had, by smearing themselves with ointment, changed
themselves into wolves and devoured children, brought no severe
punishment upon them. The judges sent him to a mad-house. More
and more, in spite of frantic efforts from the pulpit to save the
superstition, great writers and jurists, especially in France,
began to have glimpses of the truth and courage to uphold it.
Malebranche spoke against the delusion; Seguier led the French
courts to annul several decrees condemning sorcerers; the great
chancellor, D'Aguesseau, declared to the Parliament of Paris
that, if they wished to stop sorcery, they must stop talking
about it--that sorcerers are more to be pitied than

[374] See Esquirol, Des Maladies mentales, vol. i, pp. 488, 489;
vol. ii, p. 529.

But just at this time, as the eighteenth century was approaching,
the theological current was strengthened by a great
ecclesiastic--the greatest theologian that France has produced,
whose influence upon religion and upon the mind of Louis XIV was
enormous--Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux. There had been reason to
expect that Bossuet would at least do something to mitigate the
superstition; for his writings show that, in much which before
his day had been ascribed to diabolic possession, he saw simple
lunacy. Unfortunately, the same adherence to the literal
interpretation of Scripture which led him to oppose every other
scientific truth developed in his time, led him also to attack
this: he delivered and published two great sermons, which, while
showing some progress in the form of his belief, showed none the
less that the fundamental idea of diabolic possession was still
to be tenaciously held. What this idea was may be seen in one
typical statement: he declared that "a single devil could turn
the earth round as easily as we turn a marble."[375]

[375] See the two sermons, Sur les Demons (which are virtually
but two versions of the same sermon), in Bousset's works, edition
of 1845, vol. iii, p. 236 et seq.; also Dziewicki, in The
Nineteenth Century, as above. On Bousset's resistance to other
scientific truths, especially in astronomy, geology, and
political economy, see other chapters in this work.


The theological current, thus re-enforced, seemed to become again
irresistible; but it was only so in appearance. In spite of it,
French scepticism continued to develop; signs of quiet change
among the mass of thinking men were appearing more and more; and
in 1672 came one of great significance, for, the Parliament of
Rouen having doomed fourteen sorcerers to be burned, their
execution was delayed for two years, evidently on account of
scepticism among officials; and at length the great minister of
Louis XIV, Colbert, issued an edict checking such trials, and
ordering the convicted to be treated for madness.

Victory seemed now to incline to the standard of science, and in
1725 no less a personage than St. Andre, a court physician,
dared to publish a work virtually showing "demoniacal possession"
to be lunacy.

The French philosophy, from the time of its early development in
the eighteenth century under Montesquieu and Voltaire, naturally
strengthened the movement; the results of post-mortem
examinations of the brains of the "possessed" confirmed it; and
in 1768 we see it take form in a declaration by the Parliament of
Paris, that possessed persons were to be considered as simply
diseased. Still, the old belief lingered on, its life
flickering up from time to time in those parts of France most
under ecclesiastical control, until in these last years of the
nineteenth century a blow has been given it by the researches of
Charcot and his compeers which will probably soon extinguish it.
One evidence of Satanic intercourse with mankind especially, on
which for many generations theologians had laid peculiar stress,
and for which they had condemned scores of little girls and
hundreds of old women to a most cruel death, was found to be
nothing more than one of the many results of hysteria.[376]

[376] For Colbert's influence, see Dagron, p. 8; also Rambaud, as
above, vol. ii, p. 155. For St. Andre, see Lacroix, as above,
pp. 189, 190. For Charcot's researches into the disease now
known as Meteorismus hystericus, but which was formerly regarded
in the ecclesiastical courts as an evidence of pregnancy through
relations with Satan, see Snell, Hexenprocesse un Geistesstorung,
Munchen, 1891, chaps. xii and xiii.

In England the same warfare went on. John Locke had asserted
the truth, but the theological view continued to control public
opinion. Most prominent among those who exercised great power
in its behalf was John Wesley, and the strength and beauty of his
character made his influence in this respect all the more
unfortunate. The same servitude to the mere letter of Scripture
which led him to declare that "to give up witchcraft is to give
up the Bible," controlled him in regard to insanity. He
insisted, on the authority of the Old Testament, that bodily
diseases are sometimes caused by devils, and, upon the authority
of the New Testament, that the gods of the heathen are demons; he
believed that dreams, while in some cases caused by bodily
conditions and passions, are shown by Scripture to be also caused
by occult powers of evil; he cites a physician to prove that
"most lunatics are really demoniacs." In his great sermon on
Evil Angels, he dwells upon this point especially; resists the
idea that "possession" may be epilepsy, even though ordinary
symptoms of epilepsy be present; protests against "giving up to
infidels such proofs of an invisible world as are to be found in
diabolic possession"; and evidently believes that some who have
been made hysterical by his own preaching are "possessed of
Satan." On all this, and much more to the same effect, he
insisted with all the power given to him by his deep religious
nature, his wonderful familiarity with the Scriptures, his
natural acumen, and his eloquence.

But here, too, science continued its work. The old belief was
steadily undermined, an atmosphere favourable to the truth was
more and more developed, and the act of Parliament, in 1735,
which banished the crime of witchcraft from the statute book, was
the beginning of the end.

In Germany we see the beginnings of a similar triumph for
science. In Prussia, that sturdy old monarch, Frederick William
I, nullified the efforts of the more zealous clergy and orthodox
jurists to keep up the old doctrine in his dominions; throughout
Protestant Germany, where it had raged most severely, it was, as
a rule, cast out of the Church formulas, catechisms, and hymns,
and became more and more a subject for jocose allusion. From
force of habit, and for the sake of consistency, some of the more
conservative theologians continued to repeat the old arguments,
and there were many who insisted upon the belief as absolutely
necessary to ordinary orthodoxy; but it is evident that it had
become a mere conventionality, that men only believed that they
believed it, and now a reform seemed possible in the treatment of
the insane.[377]

[377] For John Locke, see King's Life of Locke, pp. 326, 327.
For Wesley, out of his almost innumerable writings bearing on the
subject, I may select the sermon on Evil Angels, and his Letter
to Dr. Middleton; and in his collected works, there are many
striking statements and arguments, especially in vols. iii, vi,
and ix. See also Tyerman's Life of Wesley, vol. ii, pp. 260 et
seq. Luther's great hymn, Ein' feste Burg, remained, of course, a
prominent exception to the rule; but a popular proverb came to
express the general feeling: "Auf Teufel reimt sich Zweifel."
See Langin, as above, pp. 545, 546.

In Austria, the government set Dr. Antonio Haen at making
careful researches into the causes of diabolic possession. He
did not think it best, in view of the power of the Church, to
dispute the possibility or probability of such cases, but simply
decided, after thorough investigation, that out of the many cases
which had been brought to him, not one supported the belief in
demoniacal influence. An attempt was made to follow up this
examination, and much was done by men like Francke and Van
Swieten, and especially by the reforming emperor, Joseph II, to
rescue men and women who would otherwise have fallen victims to
the prevalent superstition. Unfortunately, Joseph had arrayed
against himself the whole power of the Church, and most of his
good efforts seemed brought to naught. But what the noblest of
the old race of German emperors could not do suddenly, the German
men of science did gradually. Quietly and thoroughly, by proofs
that could not be gainsaid, they recovered the old scientific
fact established in pagan Greece and Rome, that madness is simply
physical disease. But they now established it on a basis that
can never again be shaken; for, in post-mortem examinations of
large numbers of "possessed" persons, they found evidence of
brain-disease. Typical is a case at Hamburg in 1729. An
afflicted woman showed in a high degree all the recognised
characteristics of diabolic possession: exorcisms, preachings,
and sanctified remedies of every sort were tried in vain; milder
medical means were then tried, and she so far recovered that she
was allowed to take the communion before she died: the autopsy,
held in the presence of fifteen physicians and a public notary,
showed it to be simply a case of chronic meningitis. The work of
German men of science in this field is noble indeed; a great
succession, from Wier to Virchow, have erected a barrier against
which all the efforts of reactionists beat in vain.[378]

[378] See Kirchhoff, pp. 181-187; also Langin, Religion und
Hexenprozess, as above cited.

In America, the belief in diabolic influence had, in the early
colonial period, full control. The Mathers, so superior to
their time in many things, were children of their time in this:
they supported the belief fully, and the Salem witchcraft horrors
were among its results; but the discussion of that folly by Calef
struck it a severe blow, and a better influence spread rapidly
throughout the colonies.

By the middle of the eighteenth century belief in diabolic
possession had practically disappeared from all enlightened
countries, and during the nineteenth century it has lost its hold
even in regions where the medieval spirit continues strongest.
Throughout the Middle Ages, as we have seen, Satan was a leading
personage in the miracle-plays, but in 1810 the Bavarian
Government refused to allow the Passion Play at Ober-Ammergau if
Satan was permitted to take any part in it; in spite of heroic
efforts to maintain the old belief, even the childlike faith of
the Tyrolese had arrived at a point which made a representation
of Satan simply a thing to provoke laughter.

Very significant also was the trial which took place at Wemding,
in southern Germany, in 1892. A boy had become hysterical, and
the Capuchin Father Aurelian tried to exorcise him, and charged a
peasant's wife, Frau Herz, with bewitching him, on evidence that
would have cost the woman her life at any time during the
seventeenth century. Thereupon the woman's husband brought suit
against Father Aurelian for slander. The latter urged in his
defence that the boy was possessed of an evil spirit, if anybody
ever was; that what had been said and done was in accordance
with the rules and regulations of the Church, as laid down in
decrees, formulas, and rituals sanctioned by popes, councils, and
innumerable bishops during ages. All in vain. The court
condemned the good father to fine and imprisonment. As in a
famous English case, "hell was dismissed, with costs." Even more
significant is the fact that recently a boy declared by two
Bavarian priests to be possessed by the devil, was taken, after
all Church exorcisms had failed, to Father Kneipp's hydropathic
establishment and was there speedily cured.[379]

[379] For remarkably interesting articles showing the recent
efforts of sundry priests in Italy and South Germany to revive
the belief in diabolic possession--efforts in which the Bishop of
Augsburg took part--see Prof. E. P. Evans, on Modern Instances of
Diabolic Possession, and on Recent Recrudescence of Superstition
in The Popular Science Monthly for Dec. 1892, and for Oct., Nov.,

Speaking of the part played by Satan at Ober-Ammergau, Hase says:
"Formerly, seated on his infernal throne, surrounded by his hosts
with Sin and Death, he opened the play, . . . and . . . retained
throughout a considerable part; but he has been surrendered to
the progress of that enlightenment which even the Bavarian
highlands have not been able to escape" (p. 80).

The especial point to be noted is, that from the miracle-play of
the present day Satan and his works have disappeared. The
present writer was unable to detect, in a representation of the
Passion Play at Ober-Ammergau, in 1881, the slightest reference
to diabolic interference with the course of events as represented
from the Old Testament, or from the New, in a series of tableaux
lasting, with a slight intermission, from nine in the morning to
after four in the afternoon. With the most thorough exhibition
of minute events in the life of Christ, and at times with
hundreds of figures on the stage, there was not a person or a
word which recalled that main feature in the mediaeval Church
plays. The present writer also made a full collection of the
photographs of tableaux, of engravings of music, and of works
bearing upon these representations for twenty years before, and
in none of these was there an apparent survival of the old

But, although the old superstition had been discarded, the
inevitable conservatism in theology and medicine caused many old
abuses to be continued for years after the theological basis for
them had really disappeared. There still lingered also a
feeling of dislike toward madmen, engendered by the early feeling
of hostility toward them, which sufficed to prevent for many
years any practical reforms.

What that old theory had been, even under the most favourable
circumstances and among the best of men, we have seen in the fact
that Sir Thomas More ordered acknowledged lunatics to be publicly
flogged; and it will be remembered that Shakespeare makes one of
his characters refer to madmen as deserving "a dark house and a
whip." What the old practice was and continued to be we know but
too well. Taking Protestant England as an example--and it was
probably the most humane--we have a chain of testimony. Toward
the end of the sixteenth century, Bethlehem Hospital was reported
too loathsome for any man to enter; in the seventeenth century,
John Evelyn found it no better; in the eighteenth, Hogarth's
pictures and contemporary reports show it to be essentially what
it had been in those previous centuries.[380]

[380] On Sir Thomas More and the condition of Bedlam, see Tuke,
History of the Insane in the British Isles, pp. 63-73. One of
the passages of Shakespeare is in As You Like It, Act iii, scene
2. As to the survival of indifference to the sufferings of the
insane so long after the belief which caused it had generally
disappeared, see some excellent remarks in Maudsley's
Responsibility in Mental Disease, London, 1885, pp. 10-12.

The older English practice is thus quaintly described by Richard
Carew (in his Survey of Cornwall, London, 1602, 1769): "In our
forefathers' daies, when devotion as much exceeded knowledge, as
knowledge now commeth short of devotion, there were many
bowssening places, for curing of mad men, and amongst the rest,
one at Alternunne in this Hundred, called S. Nunnespoole, which
Saints Altar (it may be) . . . gave name to the church. . . The
watter running from S. Nunnes well, fell into a square and close
walled plot, which might bee filled at what depth they listed.
Vpon this wall was the franticke person set to stand, his backe
towards the poole, and from thence with a sudden blow in the
brest, tumbled headlong into the pond; where a strong fellowe,
provided for the nonce, tooke him, and tossed him vp and downe,
alongst and athwart the water, vntill the patient, by forgoing
strength, had somewhat forgot his fury. Then there was hee
conveyed to the Church, and certain Masses sung over him; vpon
which handling, if his right wits returned, S. Nunne had the
thanks; but if there appeared any small amendment, he was
bowsened againe, and againe, while there remayned in him any hope
of life, for recovery."

The first humane impulse of any considerable importance in this
field seems to have been aroused in America. In the year 1751
certain members of the Society of Friends founded a small
hospital for the insane, on better principles, in Pennsylvania.
To use the language of its founders, it was intended "as a good
work, acceptable to God." Twenty years later Virginia
established a similar asylum, and gradually others appeared in
other colonies.

But it was in France that mercy was to be put upon a scientific
basis, and was to lead to practical results which were to convert
the world to humanity. In this case, as in so many others, from
France was spread and popularized not only the scepticism which
destroyed the theological theory, but also the devotion which
built up the new scientific theory and endowed the world with a
new treasure of civilization.

In 1756 some physicians of the great hospital at Paris known as
the Hotel-Dieu protested that the cruelties prevailing in the
treatment of the insane were aggravating the disease; and some
protests followed from other quarters. Little effect was
produced at first; but just before the French Revolution, Tenon,
La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, and others took up the subject, and
in 1791 a commission was appointed to undertake a reform.

By great good fortune, the man selected to lead in the movement
was one who had already thrown his heart into it--Jean Baptiste
Pinel. In 1792 Pinel was made physician at Bicetre, one of the
most extensive lunatic asylums in France, and to the work there
imposed upon him he gave all his powers. Little was heard of
him at first. The most terrible scenes of the French Revolution
were drawing nigh; but he laboured on, modestly and
devotedly--apparently without a thought of the great political
storm raging about him.

His first step was to discard utterly the whole theological
doctrine of "possession," and especially the idea that insanity
is the result of any subtle spiritual influence. He simply put
in practice the theory that lunacy is the result of bodily

It is a curious matter for reflection, that but for this sway of
the destructive philosophy of the eighteenth century, and of the
Terrorists during the French Revolution, Pinel's blessed work
would in all probability have been thwarted, and he himself
excommunicated for heresy and driven from his position.
Doubtless the same efforts would have been put forth against him
which the Church, a little earlier, had put forth against
inoculation as a remedy for smallpox; but just at that time the
great churchmen had other things to think of besides crushing
this particular heretic: they were too much occupied in keeping
their own heads from the guillotine to give attention to what was
passing in the head of Pinel. He was allowed to work in peace,
and in a short time the reign of diabolism at Bicetre was ended.
What the exorcisms and fetiches and prayers and processions, and
drinking of holy water, and ringing of bells, had been unable to
accomplish during eighteen hundred years, he achieved in a few
months. His method was simple: for the brutality and cruelty
which had prevailed up to that time, he substituted kindness and
gentleness. The possessed were taken out of their dungeons,
given sunny rooms, and allowed the liberty of pleasant ground for
exercise; chains were thrown aside. At the same time, the
mental power of each patient was developed by its fitting
exercise, and disease was met with remedies sanctioned by
experiment, observation, and reason. Thus was gained one of the
greatest, though one of the least known, triumphs of modern
science and humanity.

The results obtained by Pinel had an instant effect, not only in
France but throughout Europe: the news spread from hospital to
hospital. At his death, Esquirol took up his work; and, in the
place of the old training of judges, torturers, and executioners
by theology to carry out its ideas in cruelty, there was now
trained a school of physicians to develop science in this field
and carry out its decrees in mercy.[381]

[381] For the services of Tenon and his associates, and also for
the work of Pinel, see especially Esquirol, Des Maladies
mentales, Paris, 1838, vol. i, p. 35; and for the general
subject, and the condition of the hospitals at this period, see
Dagron, as above.

A similar evolution of better science and practice took place in
England. In spite of the coldness, and even hostility, of the
greater men in the Established Church, and notwithstanding the
scriptural demonstrations of Wesley that the majority of the
insane were possessed of devils, the scientific method steadily
gathered strength. In 1750 the condition of the insane began to
attract especial attention; it was found that mad-houses were
swayed by ideas utterly indefensible, and that the practices
engendered by these ideas were monstrous. As a rule, the
patients were immured in cells, and in many cases were chained to
the walls; in others, flogging and starvation played leading
parts, and in some cases the patients were killed. Naturally
enough, John Howard declared, in 1789, that he found in
Constantinople a better insane asylum than the great St. Luke's
Hospital in London. Well might he do so; for, ever since Caliph
Omar had protected and encouraged the scientific investigation of
insanity by Paul of Aegina, the Moslem treatment of the insane
had been far more merciful than the system prevailing throughout

[382] See D. H. Tuke, as above, p. 110; also Trelat, as already

In 1792--the same year in which Pinel began his great work in
France--William Tuke began a similar work in England. There
seems to have been no connection between these two reformers;
each wrought independently of the other, but the results arrived
at were the same. So, too, in the main, were their methods; and
in the little house of William Tuke, at York, began a better era
for England.

The name which this little asylum received is a monument both of
the old reign of cruelty and of the new reign of humanity.
Every old name for such an asylum had been made odious and
repulsive by ages of misery; in a happy moment of inspiration
Tuke's gentle Quaker wife suggested a new name; and, in
accordance with this suggestion, the place became known as a

From the great body of influential classes in church and state
Tuke received little aid. The influence of the theological
spirit was shown when, in that same year, Dr. Pangster published
his Observations on Mental Disorders, and, after displaying much
ignorance as to the causes and nature of insanity, summed up by
saying piously, "Here our researches must stop, and we must
declare that `wonderful are the works of the Lord, and his ways
past finding out.'" Such seemed to be the view of the Church at
large: though the new "Retreat" was at one of the two great
ecclesiastical centres of England, we hear of no aid or
encouragement from the Archbishop of York or from his clergy.
Nor was this the worst: the indirect influence of the
theological habit of thought and ecclesiastical prestige was
displayed in the Edinburgh Review. That great organ of opinion,
not content with attacking Tuke, poured contempt upon his work,
as well as on that of Pinel. A few of Tuke's brother and sister
Quakers seem to have been his only reliance; and in a letter
regarding his efforts at that time he says, "All men seem to
desert me."[383]

[383] See D. H. Tuke, as above, p. 116-142, and 512; also the
Edinburgh Review for April, 1803.

In this atmosphere of English conservative opposition or
indifference the work could not grow rapidly. As late as 1815,
a member of Parliament stigmatized the insane asylums of England
as the shame of the nation; and even as late as 1827, and in a
few cases as late as 1850, there were revivals of the old
absurdity and brutality. Down to a late period, in the hospitals
of St. Luke and Bedlam, long rows of the insane were chained to
the walls of the corridors. But Gardner at Lincoln, Donnelly at
Hanwell, and a new school of practitioners in mental disease,
took up the work of Tuke, and the victory in England was gained
in practice as it had been previously gained in theory.

There need be no controversy regarding the comparative merits of
these two benefactors of our race, Pinel and Tuke. They clearly
did their thinking and their work independently of each other,
and thereby each strengthened the other and benefited mankind.
All that remains to be said is, that while France has paid high
honours to Pinel, as to one who did much to free the world from
one of its most cruel superstitions and to bring in a reign of
humanity over a wide empire, England has as yet made no fitting
commemoration of her great benefactor in this field. York
Minster holds many tombs of men, of whom some were blessings to
their fellow-beings, while some were but "solemnly constituted
impostors" and parasites upon the body politic; yet, to this
hour, that great temple has received no consecration by a
monument to the man who did more to alleviate human misery than
any other who has ever entered it.

But the place of these two men in history is secure. They stand
with Grotius, Thomasius, and Beccaria--the men who in modern
times have done most to prevent unmerited sorrow. They were
not, indeed, called to suffer like their great compeers; they
were not obliged to see their writings--among the most blessed
gifts of God to man--condemned, as were those of Grotius and
Beccaria by the Catholic Church, and those of Thomasius by a
large section of the Protestant Church; they were not obliged to
flee for their lives, as were Grotius and Thomasius; but their
effort is none the less worthy. The French Revolution, indeed,
saved Pinel, and the decay of English ecclesiasticism gave Tuke
his opportunity; but their triumphs are none the less among the
glories of our race; for they were the first acknowledged victors
in a struggle of science for humanity which had lasted nearly two
thousand years.




In the foregoing chapter I have sketched the triumph of science
in destroying the idea that individual lunatics are "possessed by
devils," in establishing the truth that insanity is physical
disease, and in substituting for superstitious cruelties toward
the insane a treatment mild, kindly, and based upon ascertained

The Satan who had so long troubled individual men and women thus
became extinct; henceforth his fossil remains only were
preserved: they may still be found in the sculptures and storied
windows of medieval churches, in sundry liturgies, and in popular
forms of speech.

But another Satan still lived--a Satan who wrought on a larger
scale--who took possession of multitudes. For, after this
triumph of the scientific method, there still remained a class of
mental disorders which could not be treated in asylums, which
were not yet fully explained by science, and which therefore gave
arguments of much apparent strength to the supporters of the old
theological view: these were the epidemics of "diabolic
possession" which for so many centuries afflicted various parts
of the world.

When obliged, then, to retreat from their old position in regard
to individual cases of insanity, the more conservative
theologians promptly referred to these epidemics as beyond the
domain of science--as clear evidences of the power of Satan;
and, as the basis of this view, they cited from the Old Testament
frequent references to witchcraft, and, from the New Testament,
St. Paul's question as to the possible bewitching of the
Galatians, and the bewitching of the people of Samaria by Simon
the Magician.

Naturally, such leaders had very many adherents in that class, so
large in all times, who find that

"To follow foolish precedents and wink
With both our eyes, is easier than to think."[384]

[384] As to eminent physicians' finding a stumbling-block in
hysterical mania, see Kirchhoff's article, p. 351, cited in
previous chapter.

It must be owned that their case seemed strong. Though in all
human history, so far as it is closely known, these phenomena had
appeared, and though every classical scholar could recall the
wild orgies of the priests, priestesses, and devotees of Dionysus
and Cybele, and the epidemic of wild rage which took its name
from some of these, the great fathers and doctors of the Church
had left a complete answer to any scepticism based on these
facts; they simply pointed to St. Paul's declaration that the
gods of the heathen were devils: these examples, then, could be
transformed into a powerful argument for diabolic

[385] As to the Maenads, Corybantes, and the disease
"Corybantism," see, for accessible and adequate statements,
Smith's Dictionary of Antiquities and Lewis and Short's Lexicon;
also reference in Hecker's Essays upon the Black Death and the
Dancing Mania. For more complete discussion, see Semelaigne,
L'Alienation mentale dans l'Antiquite, Paris, 1869.

But it was more especially the epidemics of diabolism in medieval
and modern times which gave strength to the theological view, and
from these I shall present a chain of typical examples.

As early as the eleventh century we find clear accounts of
diabolical possession taking the form of epidemics of raving,
jumping, dancing, and convulsions, the greater number of the
sufferers being women and children. In a time so rude, accounts
of these manifestations would rarely receive permanent record;
but it is very significant that even at the beginning of the
eleventh century we hear of them at the extremes of Europe--in
northern Germany and in southern Italy. At various times during
that century we get additional glimpses of these exhibitions, but
it is not until the beginning of the thirteenth century that we
have a renewal of them on a large scale. In 1237, at Erfurt, a
jumping disease and dancing mania afflicted a hundred children,
many of whom died in consequence; it spread through the whole
region, and fifty years later we hear of it in Holland.

But it was the last quarter of the fourteenth century that saw
its greatest manifestations. There was abundant cause for them.
It was a time of oppression, famine, and pestilence: the
crusading spirit, having run its course, had been succeeded by a
wild, mystical fanaticism; the most frightful plague in human
history--the Black Death--was depopulating whole
regions--reducing cities to villages, and filling Europe with
that strange mixture of devotion and dissipation which we always
note during the prevalence of deadly epidemics on a large scale.

It was in this ferment of religious, moral, and social disease
that there broke out in 1374, in the lower Rhine region, the
greatest, perhaps, of all manifestations of "possession"--an
epidemic of dancing, jumping, and wild raving. The cures
resorted to seemed on the whole to intensify the disease: the
afflicted continued dancing for hours, until they fell in utter
exhaustion. Some declared that they felt as if bathed in blood,
some saw visions, some prophesied.

Into this mass of "possession" there was also clearly poured a
current of scoundrelism which increased the disorder.

The immediate source of these manifestations seems to have been
the wild revels of St. John's Day. In those revels sundry old
heathen ceremonies had been perpetuated, but under a nominally
Christian form: wild Bacchanalian dances had thus become a
semi-religious ceremonial. The religious and social atmosphere
was propitious to the development of the germs of diabolic
influence vitalized in these orgies, and they were scattered far
and wide through large tracts of the Netherlands and Germany, and
especially through the whole region of the Rhine. At Cologne we
hear of five hundred afflicted at once; at Metz of eleven
hundred dancers in the streets; at Strasburg of yet more painful
manifestations; and from these and other cities they spread
through the villages and rural districts.

The great majority of the sufferers were women, but there were
many men, and especially men whose occupations were sedentary.
Remedies were tried upon a large scale-exorcisms first, but
especially pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Vitus. The
exorcisms accomplished so little that popular faith in them grew
small, and the main effect of the pilgrimages seemed to be to
increase the disorder by subjecting great crowds to the diabolic
contagion. Yet another curative means was seen in the flagellant
processions--vast crowds of men, women, and children who wandered
through the country, screaming, praying, beating themselves with
whips, imploring the Divine mercy and the intervention of St.
Vitus. Most fearful of all the main attempts at cure were the
persecutions of the Jews. A feeling had evidently spread among
the people at large that the Almighty was filled with wrath at
the toleration of his enemies, and might be propitiated by their
destruction: in the principal cities and villages of Germany,
then, the Jews were plundered, tortured, and murdered by tens of
thousands. No doubt that, in all this, greed was united with
fanaticism; but the argument of fanaticism was simple and
cogent; the dart which pierced the breast of Israel at that time
was winged and pointed from its own sacred books: the biblical
argument was the same used in various ages to promote
persecution; and this was, that the wrath of the Almighty was
stirred against those who tolerated his enemies, and that because
of this toleration the same curse had now come upon Europe which
the prophet Samuel had denounced against Saul for showing mercy
to the enemies of Jehovah.

It is but just to say that various popes and kings exerted
themselves to check these cruelties. Although the argument of
Samuel to Saul was used with frightful effect two hundred years
later by a most conscientious pope in spurring on the rulers of
France to extirpate the Huguenots, the papacy in the fourteenth
century stood for mercy to the Jews. But even this intervention
was long without effect; the tide of popular superstition had
become too strong to be curbed even by the spiritual and temporal

[386] See Wellhausen, article Israel, in the Encyclopaedia
Britannica, ninth edition; also the reprint of it in his History
of Israel, London, 1885, p. 546. On the general subject of the
demoniacal epidemics, see Isensee, Geschichte der Medicin, vol.
i, pp. 260 et seq.; also Hecker's essay. As to the history of
Saul, as a curious landmark in the general development of the
subject, see The Case of Saul, showing that his Disorder was a
Real Spiritual Possession, by Granville Sharp, London, 1807,
passim. As to the citation of Saul's case by the reigning Pope
to spur on the French kings against the Huguenots, I hope to give
a list of authorities in a future chapter on The Church and
International Law. For the general subject, with interesting
details, see Laurent, Etudes sur l'Histoire de l'Humanities. See
also Maury, La Magie et l'Astrologie dans l'Antiquite et au
Moyen Age.

Against this overwhelming current science for many generations
could do nothing. Throughout the whole of the fifteenth century
physicians appeared to shun the whole matter. Occasionally some
more thoughtful man ventured to ascribe some phase of the disease
to natural causes; but this was an unpopular doctrine, and
evidently dangerous to those who developed it.

Yet, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, cases of
"possession" on a large scale began to be brought within the
scope of medical research, and the man who led in this evolution
of medical science was Paracelsus. He it was who first bade
modern Europe think for a moment upon the idea that these
diseases are inflicted neither by saints nor demons, and that the
"dancing possession" is simply a form of disease, of which the
cure may be effected by proper remedies and regimen.

Paracelsus appears to have escaped any serious interference: it
took some time, perhaps, for the theological leaders to
understand that he had "let a new idea loose upon the planet,"
but they soon understood it, and their course was simple. For
about fifty years the new idea was well kept under; but in 1563
another physician, John Wier, of Cleves, revived it at much risk
to his position and reputation.[387]

[387] For Paracelsus, see Isensee, vol. i, chap. xi; also
Pettigrew, Superstitions connected with the History and Practice
of Medicine and Surgery, London, 1844, introductory chapter. For
Wier, see authorities given in my previous chapter.

Although the new idea was thus resisted, it must have taken some
hold upon thoughtful men, for we find that in the second half of
the same century the St. Vitus's dance and forms of demoniacal
possession akin to it gradually diminished in frequency and were
sometimes treated as diseases. In the seventeenth century, so
far as the north of Europe is concerned, these displays of
"possession" on a great scale had almost entirely ceased; here
and there cases appeared, but there was no longer the wild rage
extending over great districts and afflicting thousands of
people. Yet it was, as we shall see, in this same seventeenth
century, in the last expiring throes of this superstition, that
it led to the worst acts of cruelty.[388]

[388] As to this diminution of widespread epidemic at the end of
the sixteenth century, see citations from Schenck von Grafenberg
in Hecker, as above; also Horst.

While this Satanic influence had been exerted on so great a scale
throughout northern Europe, a display strangely like it, yet
strangely unlike it, had been going on in Italy. There, too,
epidemics of dancing and jumping seized groups and communities;
but they were attributed to a physical cause--the theory being
that the bite of a tarantula in some way provoked a supernatural
intervention, of which dancing was the accompaniment and cure.

In the middle of the sixteenth century Fracastoro made an evident
impression on the leaders of Italian opinion by using medical
means in the cure of the possessed; though it is worthy of note
that the medicine which he applied successfully was such as we
now know could not by any direct effects of its own accomplish
any cure: whatever effect it exerted was wrought upon the
imagination of the sufferer. This form of "possession," then,
passed out of the supernatural domain, and became known as
"tarantism." Though it continued much longer than the
corresponding manifestations in northern Europe, by the beginning
of the eighteenth century it had nearly disappeared; and, though
special manifestations of it on a small scale still break out
occasionally, its main survival is the "tarantella," which the
traveller sees danced at Naples as a catchpenny assault upon his

[389] See Hecker's Epidemics of the Middle Ages, pp. 87-104; also
extracts and observations in Carpenter's Mental Physiology,
London, 1888, pp. 321-315; also Maudsley, Pathology of Mind, pp.
73 and following.

But, long before this form of "possession" had begun to
disappear, there had arisen new manifestations, apparently more
inexplicable. As the first great epidemics of dancing and
jumping had their main origin in a religious ceremony, so various
new forms had their principal source in what were supposed to be
centres of religious life--in the convents, and more especially
in those for women.

Out of many examples we may take a few as typical.

In the fifteenth century the chroniclers assure us that, an
inmate of a German nunnery having been seized with a passion for
biting her companions, her mania spread until most, if not all,
of her fellow-nuns began to bite each other; and that this
passion for biting passed from convent to convent into other
parts of Germany, into Holland, and even across the Alps into

So, too, in a French convent, when a nun began to mew like a cat,
others began mewing; the disease spread, and was only checked by
severe measures.[390]

[390] See citation from Zimmermann's Solitude, in Carpenter, pp.
34, 314.

In the sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation gave new
force to witchcraft persecutions in Germany, the new Church
endeavouring to show that in zeal and power she exceeded the old.
But in France influential opinion seemed not so favourable to
these forms of diabolical influence, especially after the
publication of Montaigne's Essays, in 1580, had spread a
sceptical atmosphere over many leading minds.

In 1588 occurred in France a case which indicates the growth of
this sceptical tendency even in the higher regions of the french
Church, In that year Martha Brossier, a country girl, was, it was
claimed, possessed of the devil. The young woman was to all
appearance under direct Satanic influence. She roamed about,
begging that the demon might be cast out of her, and her
imprecations and blasphemies brought consternation wherever she
went. Myth-making began on a large scale; stories grew and
sped. The Capuchin monks thundered from the pulpit throughout
France regarding these proofs of the power of Satan: the alarm
spread, until at last even jovial, sceptical King Henry IV was
disquieted, and the reigning Pope was asked to take measures to
ward off the evil.

Fortunately, there then sat in the episcopal chair of Angers a
prelate who had apparently imbibed something of Montaigne's
scepticism--Miron; and, when the case was brought before him, he
submitted it to the most time-honoured of sacred tests. He
first brought into the girl's presence two bowls, one containing
holy water, the other ordinary spring water, but allowed her to
draw a false inference regarding the contents of each: the
result was that at the presentation of the holy water the devils
were perfectly calm, but when tried with the ordinary water they
threw Martha into convulsions.

The next experiment made by the shrewd bishop was to similar
purpose. He commanded loudly that a book of exorcisms be
brought, and under a previous arrangement, his attendants brought
him a copy of Virgil. No sooner had the bishop begun to read the
first line of the Aeneid than the devils threw Martha into
convulsions. On another occasion a Latin dictionary, which she
had reason to believe was a book of exorcisms, produced a similar

Although the bishop was thereby led to pronounce the whole matter
a mixture of insanity and imposture, the Capuchin monks denounced
this view as godless. They insisted that these tests really
proved the presence of Satan--showing his cunning in covering up
the proofs of his existence. The people at large sided with
their preachers, and Martha was taken to Paris, where various
exorcisms were tried, and the Parisian mob became as devoted to
her as they had been twenty years before to the murderers of the
Huguenots, as they became two centuries later to Robespierre, and
as they more recently were to General Boulanger.

But Bishop Miron was not the only sceptic. The Cardinal de
Gondi, Archbishop of Paris, charged the most eminent physicians
of the city, and among them Riolan, to report upon the case.
Various examinations were made, and the verdict was that Martha
was simply a hysterical impostor. Thanks, then, to medical
science, and to these two enlightened ecclesiastics who summoned
its aid, what fifty or a hundred years earlier would have been
the centre of a widespread epidemic of possession was isolated,
and hindered from producing a national calamity.

In the following year this healthful growth of scepticism
continued. Fourteen persons had been condemned to death for
sorcery, but public opinion was strong enough to secure a new
examination by a special commission, which reported that "the
prisoners stood more in need of medicine than of punishment," and
they were released.[391]

[391] For the Brossier case, see Clameil, La Folie, tome i, livre
3, c. 2. For the cases at Tours, see Madden, Phantasmata, vol.
i, pp. 309, 310.

But during the seventeenth century, the clergy generally having
exerted themselves heroically to remove this "evil heart of
unbelief" so largely due to Montaigne, a theological reaction was
brought on not only in France but in all parts of the Christian
world, and the belief in diabolic possession, though certainly
dying, flickered up hectic, hot, and malignant through the whole
century. In 1611 we have a typical case at Aix. An epidemic
of possession having occurred there, Gauffridi, a man of note,
was burned at the stake as the cause of the trouble. Michaelis,
one of the priestly exorcists, declared that he had driven out
sixty-five hundred devils from one of the possessed. Similar
epidemics occurred in various parts of the world.[392]

[392] See Dagron, chap. ii.

Twenty years later a far more striking case occurred at Loudun,
in western France, where a convent of Ursuline nuns was
"afflicted by demons."

The convent was filled mainly with ladies of noble birth, who,
not having sufficient dower to secure husbands, had, according to
the common method of the time, been made nuns.

It is not difficult to understand that such an imprisonment of a
multitude of women of different ages would produce some woeful
effects. Any reader of Manzoni's Promessi Sposi, with its
wonderful portrayal of the feelings and doings of a noble lady
kept in a convent against her will, may have some idea of the
rage and despair which must have inspired such assemblages in
which pride, pauperism, and the attempted suppression of the
instincts of humanity wrought a fearful work.

What this work was may be seen throughout the Middle Ages; but
it is especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that
we find it frequently taking shape in outbursts of diabolic

[393] On monasteries as centres of "possession" and hysterical
epidemics, see Figuier, Le Merveilleux, p. 40 and following; also
Calmeil, Langin, Kirchhoff, Maudsley, and others. On similar
results from excitement at Protestant meetings in Scotland and
camp meetings in England and America, see Hecker's Essay,
concluding chapters.

In this case at Loudun, the usual evidences of Satanic influence
appeared. One after another of the inmates fell into
convulsions: some showed physical strength apparently
supernatural; some a keenness of perception quite as surprising;
many howled forth blasphemies and obscenities.

Near the convent dwelt a priest--Urbain Grandier--noted for his
brilliancy as a writer and preacher, but careless in his way of
living. Several of the nuns had evidently conceived a passion
for him, and in their wild rage and despair dwelt upon his name.
In the same city, too, were sundry ecclesiastics and laymen with
whom Grandier had fallen into petty neighbourhood quarrels, and
some of these men held the main control of the convent.

Out of this mixture of "possession" within the convent and
malignity without it came a charge that Grandier had bewitched
the young women.

The Bishop of Poictiers took up the matter. A trial was held,
and it was noted that, whenever Grandier appeared, the
"possessed" screamed, shrieked, and showed every sign of diabolic
influence. Grandier fought desperately, and appealed to the
Archbishop of Bordeaux, De Sourdis. The archbishop ordered a
more careful examination, and, on separating the nuns from each
other and from certain monks who had been bitterly hostile to
Grandier, such glaring discrepancies were found in their
testimony that the whole accusation was brought to naught.

But the enemies of Satan and of Grandier did not rest. Through
their efforts Cardinal Richelieu, who appears to have had an old
grudge against Grandier, sent a representative, Laubardemont, to
make another investigation. Most frightful scenes were now
enacted: the whole convent resounded more loudly than ever with
shrieks, groans, howling, and cursing, until finally Grandier,
though even in the agony of torture he refused to confess the
crimes that his enemies suggested, was hanged and burned.

From this centre the epidemic spread: multitudes of women and
men were affected by it in various convents; several of the great
cities of the south and west of France came under the same
influence; the "possession" went on for several years longer and
then gradually died out, though scattered cases have occurred
from that day to this.[394]

[394] Among the many statements of Grandier's case,one of the
best in English may be found in Trollope's Sketches from French
History, London, 1878. See also Bazin, Louis XIII.

A few years later we have an even more striking example among the
French Protestants. The Huguenots, who had taken refuge in the
mountains of the Cevennes to escape persecution, being pressed
more and more by the cruelties of Louis XIV, began to show signs
of a high degree of religious exaltation. Assembled as they
were for worship in wild and desert places, an epidemic broke out
among them, ascribed by them to the Almighty, but by their
opponents to Satan. Men, women, and children preached and
prophesied. Large assemblies were seized with trembling. Some
underwent the most terrible tortures without showing any signs of
suffering. Marshal de Villiers, who was sent against them,
declared that he saw a town in which all the women and girls,
without exception, were possessed of the devil, and ran leaping
and screaming through the streets. Cases like this,
inexplicable to the science of the time, gave renewed strength to
the theological view.[395]

[395] See Bersot, Mesmer et la Magnetisme animal, third edition,
Paris, 1864, pp. 95 et seq.

Toward the end of the same century similar manifestations began
to appear on a large scale in America.

The life of the early colonists in New England was such as to
give rapid growth to the germs of the doctrine of possession
brought from the mother country. Surrounded by the dark pine
forests; having as their neighbours Indians, who were more than
suspected of being children of Satan; harassed by wild beasts
apparently sent by the powers of evil to torment the elect; with
no varied literature to while away the long winter evenings;
with few amusements save neighbourhood quarrels; dwelling
intently on every text of Scripture which supported their gloomy
theology, and adopting its most literal interpretation, it is not
strange that they rapidly developed ideas regarding the darker
side of nature.[396]

[396] For the idea that America before the Pilgims had been
especially given over to Satan, see the literature of the early
Puritan period, and especially the poetry of Wigglesworth,
treated in Tylor's History of American Literature, vol. ii, p. 25
et seq.

This fear of witchcraft received a powerful stimulus from the
treatises of learned men. Such works, coming from Europe, which
was at that time filled with the superstition, acted powerfully
upon conscientious preachers, and were brought by them to bear
upon the people at large. Naturally, then, throughout the
latter half of the seventeenth century we find scattered cases of
diabolic possession. At Boston, Springfield, Hartford, Groton,
and other towns, cases occurred, and here and there we hear of

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the fruit of these
ideas began to ripen. In the year 1684 Increase Mather
published his book, Remarkable Providences, laying stress upon
diabolic possession and witchcraft. This book, having been sent
over to England, exercised an influence there, and came back with
the approval of no less a man than Richard Baxter: by this its
power at home was increased.

In 1688 a poor family in Boston was afflicted by demons: four
children, the eldest thirteen years of age, began leaping and
barking like dogs or purring like cats, and complaining of being
pricked, pinched, and cut; and, to help the matter, an old
Irishwoman was tried and executed.

All this belief might have passed away like a troubled dream had
it not become incarnate in a strong man. This man was Cotton
Mather, the son of Increase Mather. Deeply religious, possessed
of excellent abilities, a great scholar, anxious to promote the
welfare of his flock in this world and in the next, he was far in
advance of ecclesiastics generally on nearly all the main
questions between science and theology. He came out of his
earlier superstition regarding the divine origin of the Hebrew
punctuation; he opposed the old theologic idea regarding the
taking of interest for money; he favoured inoculation as a
preventive of smallpox when a multitude of clergymen and laymen
opposed it; he accepted the Newtonian astronomy despite the
outcries against its "atheistic tendency"; he took ground
against the time-honoured dogma that comets are "signs and
wonders." He had, indeed, some of the defects of his qualities,
and among them pedantic vanity, pride of opinion, and love of
power; but he was for his time remarkably liberal and undoubtedly
sincere. He had thrown off a large part of his father's
theology, but one part of it he could not throw off: he was one
of the best biblical scholars of his time, and he could not break
away from the fact that the sacred Scriptures explicitly
recognise witchcraft and demoniacal possession as realities, and
enjoin against witchcraft the penalty of death. Therefore it was
that in 1689 he published his Memorable Providences relating to
Witchcrafts and Possessions. The book, according to its
title-page, was "recommended by the Ministers of Boston and
Charleston," and its stories soon became the familiar reading of
men, women, and children throughout New England.

Out of all these causes thus brought to bear upon public opinion
began in 1692 a new outbreak of possession, which is one of the
most instructive in history. The Rev. Samuel Parris was the
minister of the church in Salem, and no pope ever had higher
ideas of his own infallibility, no bishop a greater love of
ceremony, no inquisitor a greater passion for prying and

[397] For curious examples of this, see Upham's History of Salem
Witchcraft, vol. i.

Before long Mr. Parris had much upon his hands. Many of his
hardy, independent parishioners disliked his ways. Quarrels
arose. Some of the leading men of the congregation were pitted
against him. The previous minister, George Burroughs, had left
the germs of troubles and quarrels, and to these were now added
new complications arising from the assumptions of Parris. There
were innumerable wranglings and lawsuits; in fact, all the
essential causes for Satanic interference which we saw at work in
and about the monastery at Loudun, and especially the turmoil of
a petty village where there is no intellectual activity, and
where men and women find their chief substitute for it in
squabbles, religious, legal, political, social, and personal.

In the darkened atmosphere thus charged with the germs of disease
it was suddenly discovered that two young girls in the family of
Mr. Parris were possessed of devils: they complained of being
pinched, pricked, and cut, fell into strange spasms and made
strange speeches--showing the signs of diabolic possession handed
down in fireside legends or dwelt upon in popular witch
literature--and especially such as had lately been described by
Cotton Mather in his book on Memorable Providences. The two
girls, having been brought by Mr. Parris and others to tell who
had bewitched them, first charged an old Indian woman, and the
poor old Indian husband was led to join in the charge. This at
once afforded new scope for the activity of Mr. Parris.
Magnifying his office, he immediately began making a great stir
in Salem and in the country round about. Two magistrates were
summoned. With them came a crowd, and a court was held at the
meeting-house. The scenes which then took place would have been
the richest of farces had they not led to events so tragical.
The possessed went into spasms at the approach of those charged
with witchcraft, and when the poor old men and women attempted to
attest their innocence they were overwhelmed with outcries by the
possessed, quotations of Scripture by the ministers, and
denunciations by the mob. One especially--Ann Putnam, a child
of twelve years--showed great precocity and played a striking
part in the performances. The mania spread to other children;
and two or three married women also, seeing the great attention
paid to the afflicted, and influenced by that epidemic of morbid
imitation which science now recognises in all such cases, soon
became similarly afflicted, and in their turn made charges
against various persons. The Indian woman was flogged by her
master, Mr. Parris, until she confessed relations with Satan;
and others were forced or deluded into confession. These
hysterical confessions, the results of unbearable torture, or the
reminiscences of dreams, which had been prompted by the witch
legends and sermons of the period, embraced such facts as flying
through the air to witch gatherings, partaking of witch
sacraments, signing a book presented by the devil, and submitting
to Satanic baptism. The possessed had begun with charging their
possession upon poor and vagrant old women, but ere long,
emboldened by their success, they attacked higher game, struck at
some of the foremost people of the region, and did not cease
until several of these were condemned to death, and every man,
woman, and child brought under a reign of terror. Many fled
outright, and one of the foremost citizens of Salem went
constantly armed, and kept one of his horses saddled in the
stable to flee if brought under accusation. The hysterical
ingenuity of the possessed women grew with their success. They
insisted that they saw devils prompting the accused to defend
themselves in court. Did one of the accused clasp her hands in
despair, the possessed clasped theirs; did the accused, in
appealing to Heaven, make any gesture, the possessed
simultaneously imitated it; did the accused in weariness drop
her head, the possessed dropped theirs, and declared that the
witch was trying to break their necks. The court-room resounded
with groans, shrieks, prayers, and curses; judges, jury, and
people were aghast, and even the accused were sometimes thus led
to believe in their own guilt.

Very striking in all these cases was the alloy of frenzy with
trickery. In most of the madness there was method. Sundry
witches charged by the possessed had been engaged in controversy
with the Salem church people. Others of the accused had
quarrelled with Mr. Parris. Still others had been engaged in old
lawsuits against persons more or less connected with the girls.
One of the most fearful charges, which cost the life of a noble
and lovely woman, arose undoubtedly from her better style of
dress and living. Old slumbering neighbourhood or personal
quarrels bore in this way a strange fruitage of revenge; for the

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