Friday, 20 September 2019

Magic in the early 18th century

Edict of 1682

Édit... pour la punition de différents crimes [magie, sortilèges, empoisonnement]. Registré en Parlement le 31 aoust 1682

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries longstanding laws on witchcraft were repealed the throughout Europe.   In France a new framework was provided by the Edict of 1682, which redefined crimes relating to magic in the wake of the "Affair of the Poisons" and a series of high-profile miscarriages of justice by the provincial parlements. The Edict in effect placed the supernatural outside the jurisdictionof the secular law courts.  Witchcraft and magic practices were no longer punishable directly, but only in so far as they involved imposture or criminal activity.  Severe penalties were retained for blasphemy and poisoning.

The Edict identified three different sorts of offences:

1. Divination 

All persons who practice divination or claim to be diviners were to be  summarily banished from the Kingdom as soon as the Edict was published, on pain of corporal punishment.

2. "Superstitious practices" 
These were defined as abuse of the the words of Holy Scripture or the prayers of the Church; , also recourse to deeds and words "which have no relation to natural causes". Punishment was left to the discretion of the judge but must be "exemplary".

3.  "Impiety and sacrilege" 

Those who added "impiety and sacrilege" to superstition in the practice of "supposed magic" were liable to the death penalty. This included attempts to invoke or make pacts with demons, and the misuse of Catholic ceremonial, sacred vessels and sacraments.

All those involved in poisoning or trading in poisons also faced execution.

The jurisconsult Daniel Jousse, in his treatise on criminal law, published in 1771, has the following commentary - itself revealing of "magical" practices current in his time:

Chapter 30:  Magic, sorcery and divination
Article 1: 
....In the past persons were condemned for the crime of sorcery (sortilège).  But in the present, more enlightened age, the Parlement of Paris does not punish these criminals as sorcerers, but as wrongdoers and impostors who abuse Religion in order to mislead simple people, or who employ poisons and potions to harm animals and  sometimes even people.  It is also an error to believe that there are true diviners, who can prophesy the future, uncover hidden knowledge or read men's minds...

 Article 2: The crimes of sorcery and magic:
Magic practices are criminal if they employ impiety or maleficence, by the invocation of demons, or some other impious and abominable means, or by some condemned superstition.

There are two aspects:
1. Invocation of or pact with the Devil for supernatural ends.
2. Misuse of the sacraments of the Church, consecrated hosts, sacred vessels, holy water, relics; also  mock baptisms, denials of faith, profanations.  

Particular practices included when combined with invocation of the Devil:
3. Lycanthropy  - attempts to transform oneself into an animal.
4. Necromancy - attempts to raise the dead. 
5. Employment of otherwise benevolent charms, for instance in order to tame serpents, influence the weather, cure the sick.
6. Most serious of all, enchantments intended to harm, dishonour or  steal goods;  includes the use of wax models and charms to cause impotency ["nouer l'aiguillette"]

Article 3: Divination
Jousse lists various contemporary methods of divination: astrology, palm reading, augury, interpretation of dreams, use of divining rods, geomancy,hydromancy.   Although there are no true sorcerers or diviners, those who exercises these arts are punishable on account of their impiety or the harm they do to others.

 Article 4: Superstitious practices
Jousse follows the 1682 act in identifying three types of "superstitious practices" :the abuse of the words of Scripture and prayers of the Church;  practices which "have no relation to natural effects"(an evident catch-all) and the use of assorted magical paraphernalia:  figures, talismans, characters, phials of water, lighted candles;  plants to which spurious virtues are attributed.  These practices are viewed as more or less serious according to the motives for their use. 

Article 5: Penalties against magicians, diviners and others who employ supersitious practices:
In France sorcerers are condemned in certain Parlements to be hanged and their ashes cast to the wind; or sometimes to be burned alive, according to the exigences of the case.  It seems that this penalty was once standard....However, today, particularly in the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris, sorcery is not punished, unless it is associated with malice, impiety and superstition; no case is ever judged grave enough to warrant burning at the stake. The Edict of July 1682 specifies that all persons claiming to be diviners are to be exiled from the Kingdom on pain of corporal punishment. The new Ordinances do not give any penalty to those who have consulted and had recourse to fortunetellers...these people deserve more pity than blame, on account of their foolishness...

Article 2 of the Edict of 1682 forbids all superstitious practices, whether by deed, writing or word of mouth; this includes the abuse of Holy Scripture and the prayers of the church; or employing practices which have no relation to natural causes. Those who teach such things, carry them out or seek to make use of them, are all liable to exemplary punishment according to the exigencies of the case....

Those who have recourse to the devil or profane sacred things or the mysteries of Religion, will be executed.
Jousse, Traité de la justice, vol.3 (1771), p.752-67

It can be argued that  the punishment of "les faux sorciers" left the way open for continued  persecution of witchcraft under a different name.  However, Professor McManners comments:

It has been said [by Robert Mandrou and Jean Ehrard among others] that the edict was 'ambiguous' and left the door open for witch trials under another name.  But this is to minimise the enormous importance of the grim legal procedures devised over the generations by demonologists and lawyers, which the edict by implication repudiated.  Once under way, these procedures had facilitated the detection of witches and made their condemnation logically respectable...To treat black magic as a fraud and obscenity, and to punish its odious adventures through the down-to-earth charge of sacrilege (savage though these penalties were), was a great advance in legal procedure, an advance reflecting the mental revolution that had taken place and assisting its final victory (McManners,  Church and society, ii p.224).

Antoine-François Saint-Aubert, Arrival at the Sabbath
and homage to the Devil, c. 1765
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Cambrai

The decline of demonic possession and witchcraft

 Cases of possession

Belief in the traditional lurid paraphernalia of witchcraft - pacts with the Devil, the Sabbat and its obscenities, flights through the air, demonic possession -  represented "an interlocking structure of well-established error" which was only gradually eroded by rationalism and judicial scepticism. The Church maintained an ambiguous stance towards the reality of Satanic manifestations.  Ecclesiastical authorities usually tried to hush up claims of "demonic possession" and  demands for exorcism, in order to prevent hysterical manifestations from multiplying. In Paris cases were greeted with bemused curiosity: in 1709, for instance, a girl in the rue du Four who fell into a cataleptic trance attracted attention from many persons of social standing, the duc d'Orléans included. According to the lieutenant de police d 'Argenson, women who claim themselves possessed, should be locked up in hospitals; he proposed to do the same with anyone trying to make a pact with the Devil: five or six months in an institution for men and indefinite confinement for women; "it does not seem to me that such extravagances need be gone into further" (McManners, p.225-30).

The last major case of possession to appear before the secular courts was the notorious Girard/Cadière case, heard by the Parlement of Aix in 1731. The affair was  all the more scandalous because it featured a Jesuit priest.  Catherine Cadière accused Girard, her confessor, of seducing her and bringing her into the power of demons;  he had breathed on her, cast a spell which made her immediately desire him, and induced her to blaspheme. In a preliminary hearing, magistrates decided she was a liar who ought to be hanged.  The consequence was a wave of anti-Jesuit riots in Marseilles, Toulon and Aix. In further deliberations, the magistrates divided equally; twelve for burning Girard and twelve for imprisoning his accuser.  The premier president broke the stalemate by declaring there was no secular case to answer; Girard was subsequently cleared by the ecclesiastical court and exiled to the Jesuit house in Dôle. The case caused a sensational  throughout the country; and proved that nothing but discredit could arise from such allegations. (McManners, p.230).

Condemnations for witchcraft

Mostly formal trials for witchcraft disappeared; in Alsace, none after 1700; in Douai, only one.  The Parlement of Flanders received accusations against six individuals in total, where there had been over fifty in the second half of the 17th century.  Levelling accusations came to be a risky business, incurring fines, banishment and floggings (McManners, p.231-2).The few cases that came under purview of the parlements were usually involved flagrant impiety. In 1684 and 1685 the Tournelle in Rouen passed a capital sentence in three separate case of sorcery, all involving pacts with the devil, written invocations of demons and black masses.  Further trials took place in Normandy in 1692 and 1730 (Foucault, p.90-91). Other notable examples were the affair of the "sorcerers of Brie"(1691), three shepherds who condemned at Pacy-sur-Eure,for bewitching livestock; the sentence was confirmed by the Parlement of Paris, and one of the shepherds was burnt at the stake.  In 1701 the Parlement of Paris condemned a priest to burning for sorcery and sacrilege; his accomplices were sent to the galleys.  This priest admitted having said "satanic masses" in a cellar in order to obtain money from the Devil - who had promised the accused three million livres a month! (Jousse 1711 III, p.763)] In Bordeaux a sorcerer was burnt as a noueur d'aiguillette as late as 1718; this case is usually cited as the final execution purely for "sorcery".  Last sensational cases in Lorient in 1736 and Lyon in 1742-5 involved networks of treasure-seekers.  As late as 1750 a band of shepherds was condemned to death in Laon but, although the indictment mentioned "magical and diabolical arts", they were also guilty of highway robbery and assassinations.  In the area around Lille trials in 1758 and 1762 led to long sentences of banishment.  It is interesting to note that those executed were now predominantly male, for the most part priests who were compromised in acts of sacrilege.

John McManners, Church and society in eighteenth-century France, vol.ii (1998) p.236-238.

Maurice Foucault, Les Procès de sorcellerie dans l'ancienne France devant les juridictions séculières (1907) - gives a list of cases.

The world of the Parisian magicians

The trial records might suggest sorcery was on the decline, but in fact it had merely passed from the courts into the realms of summary punishment and police surveillance. In a long report dated 9th October 1702,the lieutenant de police, the marquis d'Argenson, explained the new approach and heralded a new sustained campaign in the capital against les faux sorciers:
It seems to me that the notoriety created by this sort of trial is a sort of public scandal which dishonours religion and makes Protestants less docile.  I think that the ringleaders of these abominable cabals should be dispersed by royal authority and shut up in l'Hôpital,or in some castle far away from Paris where they can be looked after as paupers and forgotten about for a long time.

D'Argenson's main concern was the traffic in magic on the streets, which he saw as subversive of public order and threatening to all levels of society.  Ulrike Krampl, from the University of Tours,  has made a detailed study of this policing effort.  I don't have access to her book, but Owen Davis (p.95-6) summarises a few of the findings.  Her researches reveal a  whole underworld of practitioners of ritual magic and sellers of grimoires and associated magical paraphernalia. Between 1700 and 1760 at least 300 individuals were prosecuted or reported to the Parisian police. They represented a panoply of fortune-telling, alchemists and purveyors of talismans and philters, most from the ranks of ordinary Parisians.  A fair number of those involved were immigrants from the provinces, or from abroad - Italy especially, but also German and Switzerland.  A few, like the dealer in  exotic potions known as "the Turk", were from far flung regions. 

The text of the memoir of d'Argenson is published in Robert Mandrou's Possession et sorcellerie au XVIIe siècle
See also, Claude Quétel, "Un chasse aux faux-sorciers à la fin du règne de Louis XIV", in Histoire des familles, de la démographie et des comportements..ed. Poussou & Robin-Romero  (2007), p. 927-946.

D'Argenson names nineteen ringleaders and their associates: 

Picot, Bedrode, the abbés Pinel and Lefèvre, Marie-Anne Laville, various women:  la Mariette, la Damour, la Ducastel et la Saint-Amant;  Roullion, Radeville, Jemme a dealer in pentacles, and "le Chevalier" who fabricated baguettes de Vulcain.  In 1702 the man with the greatest reputation of all among the faux sorciers was  Louvet (?Lonnet), a carpenter in the rue du Four, who was rarely to be found with his tools since he made a health living treasure-hunting and arranging pacts with the Devil (see Davies, p.96)

Some of d'Argenson's ms reports and notes were published in the 19th century:  the following is from the introduction to the collection":
It is surprising to see how much belief in the supernatural still attracted adepts, often in the highest social circles...In d'Argenson's time there were no longer show trials in which great ladies of the Court were accused or suspected.   Nonetheless purveyors of "prétendus secrets fort suspects de poison" multiplied in Paris.  Perhaps the savageries of La Reynie's time - masses said on the bodies of a naked woman or a murdered infant - no longer applied.  But priests were still involved in reciting Scripture and sprinkling holy water over the hearts of cocks and goats.  A certain abbé Aignant took pupils, who became dangerous charlatans.  One credulous woman believed she had been enchanted by an abbé of Saint-Sulpice, using sugar and scraps of paper.

The "false sorcerers" as d'Argenson called them, practised divinations and drew up horoscopes.  They had books of invocations with diabolical symbols, which they used to dictate pacts to simple people; they even persuaded them that they themselves had become sorcerers.

Certain rogues took advantage of the terror that Satan inspired, to impersonate the devil and commit thefts. 

Women were particularly skilled at "false magic" which went hand-in-hand with abortion, prostitution, and sacrilegious practices in  which "the most august Mysteries are no longer respected" . They claimed to be familiar with spirits whom they called by their names.  They claimed knowledge of hidden treasure, and of talismans for gambling, and for love and marriage.  They set about "disturbing households and bewitching hearts".

There were frequent police raids on the premises of sorcerers.  When their guilt was proved, they were condemned to between six months and a year of detention in the Hôpital, in Bicêtre or in the Bastille.  The term was not always fixed, but depended on the attitude of the prisoner, who could easily be "forgotten" if they proved stubborn.  They could be sent back to their native province if they were docile and not too old to earn a living.  In general their extravagances were not delved into.

In such cases, d'Argenson showed himself to be inflexible, even hard:  an old woman imprisoned for sorcery, inspired him to comment: "Her mind grows feeble, and it is to be hoped that death will soon rid the public of her".

Alchemists, counterfeiters, seekers of hidden treasure or the philosophers' stone, were considered a class apart, because their occupation often hid another - as we will see in the section on espionage.  There were hunters after treasure"or rather after dupes", who ruined respectable bourgeois by claiming they could uncover fortunes guarded by spirits over which they had complete power. A "false sorceress" who spoke against the king, was imprisoned for her activities in time of famine....

The "dupes" were not always stupid people; the son of a farmer general believed himself enchanted by the powders and potions of his mistress, without being able to say when the spell would finish The daughter of another farmer general [la fille de M. testart] was possessed by a spirit.....
Rapports inédits du lieutenant de police René d'Argenson (1697-1715), ed by Paul Cottin (1891), p.cix-cxiii.

For further examples:

Notes de René d'Argenson (1866)
eg. p.84: Report of 20 November 1701.  A woman who "has no other means of living than by supposedly secret and very suspect knowledge of poisons." Priests who said prayers and sprinkled holy water over the hearts of chicken and goats (Notes p.88)

The archives of the Bastille record the incarceration in 1701 of a certain  Aubert de Saint-Etienne, a devotee of Satanic pacts whose antics included chopping the head off a cat.
Histoire générale de la Bastille (1834) p.350.


John McManners, Church and society in eighteenth-century France, vol.ii (1998) p.236-238.

Owen Davies, Grimoires: a history of magic books (O.U.P., 2010), p.95-97

Ulrike Krampl 
 Les secrets des faux sorciers. Police, magie et escroquerie à Paris au XVIIIe siècle‪ (2011).  [preview]:

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