De praestigiis daemonum, et incantationibus ac veneficiis Libri sex, aucti & recogniti

Basel, Ioannem Oporinum, 1564


8 vo. Pp. 679 (lv). Roman letter, Italic side notes. Printer’s woodcut device on t.p., contemporary autograph ‘H Rixneri, D’ in red in blank ‘1688 Domin Sexages 19th Feb.’ in same hand on fly, later ms ex libris beneath. C18 bibliographical note on pastedown, ‘ex lib. Joannes Valentini Haegermann Halberstadt 1740’ and another, c19 on t-p verso. General age yellowing, light water stain to head of some Il., mostly marginal, t-p fraying to fore-edge. A good clean copy in c17 vellum over paste board, monogram H.R.D. over Rosicrucian flower in two handled urn and ‘1688’ all gilt stamped on upper cover, flower and urn only on lower, a.e.r.

Most complete and definitive edition to date, revised and expanded by the author, it was “the most thorough challenge to orthodox witchcraft doctrine in the sixteenth century” (Erdman cit infr.), and the most popular. Despite earning a place on the Index, and its harsh treatment by such as Jean Bodin, Weyer’s work reached 18 editions and translations in the author’s lifetime. Weyer argues that, although Satan exists, the basis of belief in witchcraft is entirely psychological. The book begins with a survey of Satan, exhausting ancient and biblical sources to compile a list of names for the arch-fiend, describing his powers and abilities, and those of associated demons. Given Satan’s place as fallen from God, Weyer concludes that there is no reason to believe he woul need to work through humans, let alone poor old women. Weyer separates witches who should be prosecuted: magicians, who are heretics, and poisoners, who intend or have caused harm. Barring murder and heresy from witchcraft, Weyer argues, leaves behind only venial sin, which can be said for anyone. Thus alleged witches do not deserve to be tortured and executed. It should be within the power of the physician to determine how, and whether their ‘crime’ merits investigation. Where there is no crime, it is equally the job of the physician to determine whether the accused is of a melancholy or unsound mind, and to treat them accordingly. Beyond that, judgments over sin must be left to God. The book contains suggestions for legal reform to make the process more streamlined from defendant to judge, and patient to physician.

Johannes Weyer (1515-1588) was born in Brabant and studied in Antwerp with Cornelius Agrippa, whose success in defending an alleged witch at trial in 1519 sparked his teenage interest in the occult. The basis of his interests was not superstitious as much as medical: trained in Paris and Orleans as a physician, Weyer’s argument against the existence of witches derives from his interest in the human psyche. He is considered “The first clinical and the first descriptive psychiatrist to leave succeeding generations a heritage which was accepted… He reduced the clinical problems of psychopathology to simple terms of everyday life and every human inner experiences” (Garrison-Morton cit infr.). According to Sigmund Freud this work is one of the most significant of all time; his legacy is memorialized in the Johannes Wier Foundation, a human rights organization for health care providers.

Rixner (1634-1692) studied philosophy and theology at Jena under Johannes Major, Musaeus, Chemnitz, Stahl and Zeisold. After lecturing at Wittenburg and Leipzig he returned home to Helmstedt as professor of metaphysics (1663) and physics (1664). In 1679 he moved to Halberstadt where apart from his academic work he became general superintendent of the Principality. He was also the author of several works of metaphysics, physics and theology.

Caillet 11435. (principal edition) Erdmann, My Gracious Silence, 97. Durling 4735. Garison-Morton 4917 “the founder of medical psychiatry,” and Osler 4232 “At the end are printed five ‘Doctorum epistolae’ a latin poem of George Buchanan.” Wellcome 6739.



Print This Item Print This Item