A Liminal Hell Using the Work of Johann Weyer to Bridge the Gap Between Intellectualism and Belief
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Johann Weyer's work in De Praestigiis Daemonum and its appendix is an important example of the complexities within the intellectual discourse about witchcraft and demonology in early-modern Europe. His educated and uncompromisingly passionate arguments present us with a perfect representation of this discourse as one which was a composite of various other intellectual discussions and dealt with a number of ontological human concerns. Weyer’s effort to dismiss the reality of witches, according to traditional late-medieval definitions used by inquisitors, by using scientific, demonic, and historical-canonic evidence is a testament to this complexity. Weyer thus complicates modern, rationalist paradigms which perpetuate him as a “traditional” Christian skeptic whose work was the foundation of modern absence. By arguing against the claim of tradition in particular, I do not mean to argue that Weyer’s demonology is entirely his own original concept, untouched by past intellectual traditions, but what I do mean to assert is that to use the word “traditional” in such a dismissive way is to be ignorant of his intellectual agency and to completely overlook De Praestigiis Daemonum as the sum of all its parts. Such paradigms about Weyer, then, should be thoroughly reevaluated in order to better reflect the true nature of both Weyer’s work and the early-modern discourses about witchcraft, with particular attention to their attitudes towards belief in the real presence of extra-mortal beings.