Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/597

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moderate estimate, there perished within a single century (1550–1650) by an excruciating death, for this imaginary crime, not less than a hundred thousand human lives—it may well be doubted whether any single cause so often gave rise to an outbreak of the persecution as the alleged bewitchment of some poor mad or foolish or hysterical creature. The persecution thus once under way, it fed itself; for, under the terrible doctrine of "excepted cases," by which in the religious crimes of heresy and witchcraft there was no limit to the use of torture, the witch was forced to confess to accomplices, who in turn accused others, and so on to the end of the chapter.[1]

The horrors of such a persecution, with the consciousness of an ever-present devil it breathed and the panic terror of him it inspired, could not but itself increase the insanity it claimed to avenge. Well-authenticated, though rarer than is often believed, were the cases where crazed women voluntarily accused themselves of the impossible crime; and one of the most eminent authorities on diseases of the mind declares that among the unfortunate beings who were put to death for witchcraft he recognizes well-marked victims of cerebral disorders; while an equally eminent authority in Germany tells us that, in a most careful study of the original records of their trials by torture, he has often found their answers and recorded conversations exactly like those familiar to him in our modern lunatic asylums, and names some forms of insanity which constantly and unmistakably appear among those who suffered for criminal dealings with the Devil.[2]

The result of this wide-spread terror was naturally a steady increase in mental disorders. A great modern authority tells us that, although modern civilization tends to increase insanity, the number of lunatics at present is far less than in those ages of faith and in the Reformation period. The treatment of the "possessed," as we find it laid down in standard treatises, sanctioned by orthodox churchmen and jurists, accounts for this abundantly.

  1. For a much fuller treatment of this phase of the subject, I must refer the reader to my chapter on witchcraft. The Jesuit Stengel, professor at Ingolstadt, who (in his great work, "De judiciis divinis") urges, as reasons why a merciful God permits illness, his wish to glorify himself through the miracles wrought by his Church, and his desire to test the faith of men by letting them choose between the holy aid of the Church and the illicit resort to medicine, declares that there is a difference between simple possession and that brought by bewitchment, and that the latter is the more difficult to treat.
  2. See D. H. Tuke, "Chapters in the History of the Insane in the British Isles," London, 1882, p. 36; also Kirchhoff, p. 340. The forms of insanity especially mentioned are "dementia senilis" and epilepsy. A striking case of voluntary confession of witchcraft by a woman who lived to recover from the delusion is narrated in great detail by Reginald Scot, in his "Discovery of Witchcraft," London, 1584. It is, alas, only too likely that the "strangeness" caused by slight and unrecognized mania led often to the accusation of witchcraft instead of to the suspicion of possession.