Medieval Witchcraft Period Sources

Period Sources on Witchcraft, Demonology, and the Occult

This is when I wish I could read Latin…..

(1599-1600) Magicarum Disquisitionum (in three tomes) by del Rio

Available here:

Martin del Rio from Wikipedia: 

Martinus Antonius Delrio, Martín Antonio del Río, or Martin Antoine del Rio (17 May 1551, Antwerp – 19 October 1608, Leuven) was a Jesuit theologian, born in the Low Countries but of Spanish descent. He studied at numerous institutions, receiving a master’s degree in law from Salamanca in 1574. After a period of political service in the Spanish Netherlands, he became a Jesuit in 1580. He studied or taught at Jesuit colleges across Catholic Europe, including Bordeaux, Douai, Graz, Mainz, Leuven, and Salamanca. He was the friend of the Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius, a relative of Michel de Montaigne, and an enemy of the Protestant scholar Joseph Scaliger. He was the author of a large number of books, including classical commentaries and works of biblical exegesis. He remains, however, best known for his Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex (Six Books of Magical Investigations, 1599-1600), a work on magic, superstition and witchcraft.

Life as a Jesuit

On 27 December 1579 Martin Delrio wrote from Maastricht to the Jesuit General Everard Mercurian seeking to join the Society of Jesus. Delrio professed a sincere conversion to the religious life, but with his career side-lined and his family connections either dead or in exile he might also have had little choice. At the same time his close personal involvement as well as his family’s role in the Dutch Revolt also meant that Martin could only ever see the conflict in religious terms. Not waiting for a reply he headed for Spain entering the Society of Jesus on 9 May 1580. [13]

This by no means put an end to his itinerant existence. When in 1584 it was decided that he should return to the Low Countries for mission work, he stopped in Bordeaux and stayed there for two years. Whether he met Bordeaux’s mayor, the famous essayist Michel de Montaigne, while there, is unclear, but the two men were second cousins on their maternal side.[14] It is at this time that Delrio began work on his first publication since his entry in the Society, a substantially revised and expanded version of edition of Senecan Tragedy. The Syntagma tragoediae latinae (finally published in 1593-94) was at once a renunciation of secular (classical) interests and an acknowledgement of the seminal role the classics played in Jesuit education.[15]

His travels after 1586 are relatively unclear. In 1587, he was in Mainz, in 1589 in Leuven and Douai, and in 1591-1593 in Liège. At last in 1594 he obtained the position of professor of biblical exegesis at the Jesuit college of Leuven. He would teach (and later publish on) the Old Testament Song of Songs and the Book of Lamentations. (His successor in that chair would be Cornelius a Lapide, possibly the most famous exegete of the Counter-Reformation.) During these years he also gave a number of sermons in honour of the Virgin Mary, which he collected and published under the title Florida Mariana (Marian Blossoms, 1598).[16]

In Leuven he also reunited with his university friend Justus Lipsius, who credited Delrio as the “author of his conversion”. Although this vastly overstates the Jesuit’s actual role, it did lead to their names and reputations coming forever intertwined. Lipsius, one of the leading humanists of his day, had spent thirteen years teaching in Protestant Leiden and was a bone both Catholics and Protestants fought over. Delrio, whose orthodoxy was never in doubt, posthumously became Lipsius’s guarantor.[17]
The founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola had wanted obedience to be the Society’s hallmark. Its Constitutions likened the individual Jesuit to “a lifeless body”.[18] Delrio’s time in Leuven, however, was almost as turbulent as his time in Bordeaux, when he refused to return to the Low Countries. In letters to the Jesuit General in Rome, Claudio Acquaviva, he denounced first the rector of the college and later the provincial hierarchy.[19] This led the Jesuit to be shipped to Graz in Austria, close to the frontier with the Ottoman Empire. Here he impressed the ultra-orthodox Archduke Ferdinand (who as Ferdinand II would plunge the Holy Roman Empire into the Thirty Years’ War). After Delrio’s departure for Spain Ferdinand would insistently call for his return.[20]

Delrio had never wanted to leave Spain. When in Leuven he actively lobbied to be returned there but was sent to Graz instead. In 1604, the Long Turkish War at last provided an excuse for travel to Spain. Delrio spent some time teaching at Valladolid and Salamanca, where he despaired of the quality of the students, describing them as “students for our saliva”.[21] In the autumn of 1607 Delrio petitioned Rome to be allowed to return to the Low Countries, which was granted. He left Valladolid on 18 August. On 19 October 1608, three days after his return to Leuven Delrio breathed his last, the final stop for a person who could apparently not find peace anywhere.[22]

Magical Investigations

Martin Delrio’s Disquisitiones magicae first appeared in three volumes in Leuven in 1599 and 1600. It quickly became extraordinarily popular. It was still reprinted in Cologne in 1720 and 1755 and in Venice in 1746, long after the printing of rival works had ceased.[23] Historians have traditionally regarded the work as only a receptacle of the ideas of the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Female Witches, 1486). Delrio was credited with importing the beliefs of the Malleus into the Low Countries. Hugh Trevor Roper, for instance, described the book as the “new Catholic Malleus” and claimed that “[i]t was the Catholic reconquest which introduced witch-burning into Flanders, and the Jesuit del Rio who would keep it up”, holding the Jesuit directly responsible for the burnings.[24] Historians have also believed that the work was based on practical experience. Wolfgang Behringer argued that Delrio drew on his experience as a young magistrate, which made him in effect “a colleague of Nicolas Remy“.[25] However, it is now recognized that Delrio’s personal experience with witchcraft was really rather limited and that he may never have met a witch.[26]

The Disquisitiones was — in keeping with Delrio’s other publications — a work of textual scholarship. It was based on Delrio’s knowledge of the classics and familiarity with Church history. Hagiography forms a particular source of inspiration. (Delrio’s student Heribert Rosweyde would play an important role in the emergence of the Acta Sanctorum, a Catholic encyclopedia of saints lives.) Delrio also drew on histories of other countries and continents, as well as Jesuit reports from the New World. The textual foundation of the work made it difficult to critique and to replace. In contrast to works by Henry Boguet and Pierre de Lancre, Delrio’s was not based on personal experience. His credibility could less easily be called into question.[27] It has, however, been suggested that, divorced from the real world, as a result its relevance for witchcraft persecutions was rather limited. Sceptics seized on the work’s more moderate comments to Delrio’s annoyance.[28] A partial English translation appeared in 2000 and makes the work accessible to a modern audience.[29]

(1598) De la demonomanie des sorciers….. Author: Jean Bodin; Published in Paris; language: French | (Full Title: De la demonomanie des sorciers … Reveüe diligemment, & repurgee de plusieurs fautes qui s’estoyent glissees és precedentes impressions …) | Available here:

Jean Bodin (1530–1596) was a French jurist and political philosopher, member of the Parlement of Paris and professor of law in Toulouse. He is best known for his theory of sovereignty; he was also an influential writer on demonology.

“De la démonomanie des sorciers (Of the Demon-mania of the Sorcerers)” from Wikipedia: 

Bodin’s major work on sorcery and the witchcraft persecutions was first issued in 1580, ten editions being published by 1604.[42] In it he elaborates the influential concept of “pact witchcraft” based on a deal with the Devil[43] and the belief that the evil spirit would utilize a strategy to impose doubt on judges to look upon magicians as madmen and hypochondriacs deserving of compassion rather than chastisement.[44]

The book relates histories of sorcerers,[45] but does not mention Faust and his pact.[46] It gave a report of a 1552 public exorcism in Paris,[47] and of the case of Magdalena de la Cruz of Cordova, an abbess who had confessed to sexual relations with the Devil over three decades.[48] Bodin cited Pierre Marner on werewolf accounts from Savoie.[49] He denounced the works of Cornelius Agrippa, and the perceived traffic in “sorceries” carried out along the Spanish Road, running along eastern France for much of its length.[50]

He wrote in extreme terms about procedures in sorcery trials, opposing the normal safeguards of justice.[51] This advocacy of relaxation was aimed directly at the existing standards laid down by the Parlement of Paris (physical or written evidence, confessions not obtained by torture, unimpeachable witnesses).[52] He asserted that not even one witch could be erroneously condemned if the correct procedures were followed, because rumours concerning sorcerers were almost always true. Bodin’s attitude has been called a populationist strategy typical of mercantilism.[53][vague]

The book was influential in the debate over witchcraft; it was translated into German by Johann Fischart (1581),[54][55] and in the same year into Latin by François Du Jon as De magorum dæmonomania libri IV.[56] It was quoted by Jean de Léry, writing about the Tupinamba people of what is now Brazil.[57]

One surviving copy of the text, located in the University of Southern California’s Special Collections Library, is a rare presentation copy signed by Bodin himself, and is one of only two known surviving texts that feature such an inscription by the author.[58] The USC Démonomanie dedication is to a C.L. Varroni, thought to be a legal colleague of Bodin’s.

(1588) Les Bigarrures…. Author: Estienne Tabourot, Language: French, Published in Paris (Full Title: Les bigarrvres dv Seignevr des Accords Quatriesme liure : avec les Apophthegmes du Seigneur Gaulard, augmentées).

The fourth book of variegations of Sr Accords (the “fourth” of the title was to intentionally mislead readers), contents include commentary on the education of children, versification, witchcraft, and fake witches.

Available here:


(1544) Compendium…. attributed to author Hugh Ripelin and Albertus Magnus (Full Title: Breue totius theologicae veritatis compendium : in septem libros commode digestum, quoru[m] argumenta ex ipsa quae vniuerso operi praeponitur praefatione facilè didiceris ; Adnotata fere sunt ad marginem, loca ex sacris libris veluti eruta, et succinctae huic institutioni accommodata … accessit index omnium capitum quae … explicantur.) Printed in Paris.  Language: Latin | available here:

1544 compendium

The Book of Oberon, for instance, is a 16th century grimoire, a magical text that contains information about spells and incantations. It was written during the time period when witch hunting was active, and contains clear instructions on how to safely enjoy sex with a supernatural being. In The Book of Oberon, there’s a spell to summon three spiritual entities in order to obtain a ring of invisibility. To the magicians using the text, this spell did not suggest the supernatural beings were demons—however, it is possible that they would have been interpreted as such by theologians of the time.  “The spell includes carefully preparing yourself, as well as the bed, table, and room, with a magic circle and wand,” explains occult expert and grimoire translator Joseph Peterson. “Three fairies (named Micoll, Titam, and Burfex) are called forth, and entertained with food and drink, then one of them will agree to stay and fulfill your requests, including providing a ring of invisibility.” (from Tourjee, Diana; Vice article; link in European blog post)


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