The Mass Murders of Innocents
by Halls123456 on October 26, 2017 - 10:05am
The rare book presented above is called De la demonomanie des sorciers written by French jurist Jean Bodin. His work was published in the late 14th century, between the years of 1592 and 1593 in French. De la demonomanie des sorciers is generally written in French; however, there is Grecque as well as Latin. It's estimated weight would be roughly 500 grams and dimensions would be 17 centimeters by 11 centimeters, making it a relatively small book. There is a distinct papery and musty odor to the book due to its old age as well as a presence of red rot, age spots on the paper, and a loose leather binding. In addition, the letter u and s were not invented yet which confirms again the old age of Bodin’s book. Those details showcase its numerous use most likely by highly educated scholars. The font is printed with a presence of marginalia and personal notes at the very end of the book in black ink. The title De la demonomanie des sorciers immediately has a negative connotation due to its content (witches, witchcraft, and witch trials); however, the study of witches did preserve medical knowledge and gives insight on the history of medical knowledge with the use of sexism.
The appearance of witches in history provoked an in depth understanding of medicine due to their abilities to manipulate the material world beyond male physicians capabilities. The witches herbal remedies that Bodin discusses in his book is evidence for their further understanding of medicine. They had access to medical methods that could heal many patients as well as incredible ways to bring upon people deadly diseases. In fact, Bodin’s Livre deuxième des sorciers (the second chapter of his book) discusses of the Spanish Salvadadores and his personal encounter with witches who healed with amulets, charms, ligatures, pendants, and even talisman; a technique that was not mainstream in medicine. The result was that it began a popular study of witches in order to understand how they seemed to have more medical knowledge than the supposed highly male educated philosophers, doctors, and physicians from the 1500s. Scholars began questioning their capabilities and according to Harold J. Cook, they concluded that “if one of the unnatural causes one’s natural temperament to become unnatural, then illness would surely ensue.” meaning that the witches (an unnatural being created by the Devil) had the ability to manipulate the natural world such as “the elements, temperaments, humors, spirits, parts of the body, faculties, and actions” explaining how they were able to heal and kill people (Cook 410-409). This was one of the many conclusions many philosophers concluded which continued the acquirement of medical knowledge since more theories were examined in books such as Bodin’s and evidently the more a study is researched upon, the more knowledge is obtained, thus inevitably preserving medical knowledge.
Despite the medical field growing, there was prejudice and sexism towards women in the 1500s. The patriarchal society was misogynist and they had any woman that seemed to practice pharmacology punishable by death. Those medical cures could have been family traditions that were passed around from generation to generation; however, women manipulating herbs or attempting to heal anyone would still be immediately labeled as a witch and burned to the stake. Contrarily for a man that would be labeled as a savior and rewarded for his work. Society’s hatred for women with the slightest knowledge is one of the many causes explaining why they were mistreated and reinforced in vulnerable and dependent positions (strong reliance on men). It was a never ending vicious cycle where women would either remain quiet or killed. This mindset evidently did not represent everyone in society and some scholars were not big believers of unfair witch trials. In fact, Bodin’s De la demonomanie des sorciers is a book against the biased positions of the judges regarding witch trials. He argues that any person facing the law should be trialed objectively; however, he remained a believer in witch hunts and their extermination. Scholars like Bodin prove a small paradigm shift in society since they are much more lenient and reasonable compared to men who persecuted any women who gave an impression of witchcraft.
To conclude, early modern medical knowledge was preserved due to the appearance of witchcraft. Scholars were driven to research and develop theories surrounding the witches healings or harmful powers since they had insight on the use of white magic- therefore the use of amulet charms, pendants, talismans, and ligature- as well on herbal remedies which could be the origins of what we know today as pharmacology. On the downside, gender equality was evidently not present in the early modern period due to the unfair killings of women that reinforce their roles in society (men’s subordinates). What is significant in this analysis is that even though the early modern period seems so foreign to today’s society, gender inequality remains a crucial and familiar problem. Before we express our judgements on the past, reflecting about how both societies’ have similar issues would be important to consider.
Harold J. Cook, “Medicine,” in Katherine Park and Lorraine Daston (eds.) The Cambridge History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003): 407-434