MICHAËLIS, Sébastien

MICHAËLIS, Sébastien Pneumalogie ou discours des esprits en tant qu\'il est de besoing pour entendre et resouldre la matiere difficile des sorciers

Paris, chez Guillaume Bichon, 1587


FIRST EDITION. 8vo.  ff. [viii] 122 (i.e. 124) [iv] : ã8, A-Q8. (Q7-8 blank). Roman letter with some Italic. Woodcut printer’s device on title (of a hunting scene), floriated woodcut initials, woodcut headpieces, “Celestins de Voutre” in slightly later hand at head of title page, bookplate of Eric Gruaz on pastedown, C19th booksellers label of “Girard Frères” in blank lower margin of title, another of ‘Dorbon Ainé” on rear pastedown, early astrological or cabalistic volvelle pasted to verso of title covering a few words. Light age yellowing, the odd marginal mark or spot. A very good copy in contemporary limp vellum, remains of ties, quires E-D stab bound, but still sewn with the rest of the work, a little wrinkled with minor stains.

Extremely rare first edition of the major work on sorcery by the redoubtable Dominican witch-hunter and inquisitor Sebastien Michaelis. Michaelis was vice-inquisitor in Avignon during the 1580s and was involved in a number of witch trials: a series of cases in 1581 and 1582 led to eighteen women being convicted and burnt. In 1587 he published this work on demons. By 1610 he was prior of the Dominican community at Saint-Maxim near Aix-en-Provence where he was later involved in one of the most notorious witch trials, and case of demonic possession, in the History of France, that of the priest Louis Gaufridi, who was convicted of sorcery, tortured and burnt, on the evidence of a nun ‘possessed by the devil.’  The many publications and the notoriety surrounding the Gaufridi case lead to the translation of this work, the Pneumalogie, into English in 1613, where it was of great influence. Executions for witchcraft in France became rarer after 1610 as the Parlements of Paris and several provinces were de facto decriminalising witchcraft. However Michaelis was Grand Inquisitor in the papal territory of Avignon and so fell out of French jurisdiction. “Michaelis was something of an expert on witchcraft, since he had served as vice-inquisitor during a major out-break of witchhunting in the region of Avignon. In this series of trials in 1581 and 1582, at least fourteen witches were convicted and burnt. Jonathan L. Pearl. ‘The Crime of Crimes: Demonology and Politics in France, 1560-1620’

Michaelis’ work on witches is particularly interesting for its focus on women and sexualality; this and the fact that the work was written in the ‘vulgar’ vernacular caused some disquiet among the clergy in France. In this work he gives an example of a sentence passed at Avignon in 1582 as comprising, in a little space, the most execrable and abominable of the crimes of witches and Sorcerers, which includes their use of broomsticks, the murder and dismemberment of new born babies, copulating with devils, “then adding sin to sin you the men did copulate with Succubi and you the women did fornicate with Incubi.” …“Sebastien Michaelis, the leading French Dominican, wrote in his ‘Pneumalogie, ou discours des esprits’ of ‘la simplicite naturelle qui est en ce sexe’ and of the Devil’s awareness ‘que c’est un organe propre a attirer l’homme a sa volonté.’ But he also said that women were addicted to extremes of behaviour, good as well as bad, and then devoted the rest of his discussion to the examples of the latter not the former.” Brian P. Levack. ‘Gender and Witchcraft’.

Very rare first edition of this most influential work on witches.

BM STC Fr. C16th p. 312. Adams M 1407. USTC 19441. Caillet, 7506. Not in Guaita.
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