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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/February 1889/New Chapters in the Warfare of Science: Medicine I

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 34‎ | February 1889











OF all the triumphs won by science for humanity, none has been farther-reaching in its good effects than the modern treatment of the insane. But it is the result of a struggle long and severe between two great forces. On one side have stood the survivals of various superstitions, the metaphysics of various philosophies, the theologies of various religions, the literal interpretation of various sacred books, and especially of our own—all compacted into a creed that insanity is mainly or largely demoniacal possession; on the other side has stood science, gradually accumulating proofs that insanity is always the result of physical disease.

I purpose, in this chapter and the following, to sketch, as briefly as I may, the history of this warfare, or rather of this evolution of truth out of error.

Nothing is more simple and natural, in the early stages of civilization, than belief in occult, self-conscious powers of evil. Troubles and calamities come upon man; his ignorance of physical laws forbids him to attribute them to physical causes; he therefore attributes them sometimes to the wrath of a good being, but more frequently to the malice of an evil being.

Especially is this the case with diseases. The real causes of disease are so intricate that they are reached only after ages of scientific labor; hence they, above all, have been attributed to the influence of evil spirits.[1]

But, if ordinary diseases were likely to be attributed to diabolical agency, how much, more diseases of the brain, and especially the more obscure of these! These, indeed, seemed to the vast majority of mankind possible only on the theory of satanic intervention. Any approach to a true theory of the connection between physical causes and mental results is one of the highest acquisitions of science.

Here and there, during the whole historic period, keen men had obtained an inkling of the truth; but, to the vast multitude, down to the end of the seventeenth century, nothing was more clear than that insanity is in many, if not in most, cases demoniacal possession.

Yet at a very early date, in Greece and Rome, science asserted itself, and a beginning was made which seemed destined to bring a large fruitage of blessings.[2] In the fifth century before the Christian era, Hippocrates of Cos asserted the great truth that all madness is simply disease of the brain, thereby beginning a noble development of truth and mercy which lasted nearly a thousand years. In the first century after Christ, Aretæus carried these ideas yet further, observed the phenomena of insanity with great acuteness, and reached yet more valuable results. Near the beginning of the following century, Soranus went still further in the same path, giving new results of research, and strengthening scientific truth. Toward the end of the same century, a new epoch was ushered in by Galen, under whom the same truth was developed yet further, and the path toward merciful treatment of the insane made yet more clear. In the third century came Celius Aurelianus, who received this deposit of precious truth, elaborated it, and brought forth the great idea which, had theology, citing Biblical texts, not banished it, would

have saved fifteen centuries of cruelty—a truth not fully recognized again till near the beginning of the present century—the truth that insanity is brain-disease, and that the treatment of it must be gentle and kind. In the sixth century Alexander of Tralles presented still more fruitful researches, and taught the world how to deal with melancholia; and, finally, in the seventh century, this great line of scientific men, working mainly under pagan auspices, was closed by Paul of Ægina, who, under the protection of Caliph Omar, made still further observations and additions to truth, but, above all, laid stress on the cure of madness as a disease, and on the absolute necessity of mild treatment.

Such was this great succession in the apostolate of truth; evidently no other has ever shown itself more directly under divine grace, illumination, and guidance. It had given to the world what might have been one of its greatest blessings.[3]

But, most unfortunately, there set into the early Church a current of belief which was destined to bring all these noble acquisitions of science and religion to naught, and, during centuries, to inflict tortures, physical and mental, upon hundreds of thousands of innocent men and women—a belief which held its cruel sway for nearly eighteen centuries; and this belief was that madness was mainly or largely possession by the Devil.

This idea of diabolic agency in mental disease grew luxuriantly in all the Oriental sacred literatures, and especially in that of the Jews. Such cases in the Old Testament as the evil spirit in Saul, which we now see to have been simply melancholy, and in the New Testament the various accounts of the casting out of devils, through which is refracted the beautiful and simple story of that power by which Jesus of Nazareth soothed perturbed minds by his presence or quelled outbursts of madness by his word, give abundant examples of this. In Greece, too, an idea akin to this found lodgment both in the popular belief and in the philosophy of Plato and Socrates;[4] and though, as we have seen, the great leaders in medical science had taught with more or less distinctness that insanity is the result of physical disease, there was a strong popular tendency to attribute the more troublesome cases of it to hostile spiritual influence.[5]

From all these sources, but especially from our sacred books and the writings of Plato, this theory that mental disease is caused largely or mainly by satanic influence passed into the early Church. In the apostolic times no belief seems to have been more firmly settled. The early Fathers and Doctors in the following age universally accepted it, and the apologists generally spoke of the power of casting out devils as a leading proof of the divine origin of the Christian religion.[6]

As a result of this idea, the Christian Church at an early period in its existence virtually gave up the noble conquests of Greek and Roman science in this field, and originated a regular discipline for persons supposed to be possessed, based, as was believed, upon Scriptural theology. But, during the centuries before theology and ecclesiasticism were largely developed, this discipline was, as a rule, gentle and useful. The afflicted, when not too violent, were generally admitted to the exercises of public worship, and a kindly system of cure was attempted, in which prominence was given to holy water, sanctified ointments, the breath or spittle of the priest, the touching of relics, visits to holy places, and submission to mild forms of exorcism. There can be no doubt that many of these things, when judiciously used, in that spirit of love and gentleness and devotion inherited by the earlier disciples from "the Master," produced good effects in soothing disturbed minds and aiding their cure.

Among the thousands of fetiches of various sorts then resorted to may be named, as typical, the Holy Handkerchief of Besançon. During many centuries multitudes came from far and near to be touched by it; for, it was argued, if touching the garments of St. Paul, at Ephesus, had cured the diseased, how much more might be expected of a handkerchief of the Lord himself!

With ideas of this sort was mingled a vague belief in medical treatment, and out of this mixture were evolved such prescriptions as the following:

"If an elf or a goblin come, smear his forehead with this salve, put it on his eyes, cense him with incense, and sign him frequently with the sign of the cross."

"For a fiend-sick man: When a devil possesses a man, or controls him from within with disease, a spew-drink of lupin, bishopswort, henbane, garlic. Pound these together, add ale and holy water."

And again: "A drink for a fiend-sick man, to be drunk out of a church-bell: Githrife, cynoglossum, yarrow, lupin, flower-de-luce, fennel, lichen, lovage. Work up to a drink with clear ale, sing seven masses over it, add garlic and holy water, and let the possessed sing the Beati Immaculati; then let him drink the dose out of a church-bell, and let the priest sing over him the Domine Sancte Pater Omnipotens."[7]

Had this been the worst treatment of lunatics developed in the theological atmosphere of the middle ages, the world would have been spared some of the most terrible chapters in its history; but, unfortunately, the idea of the Satanic possession of lunatics led to attempts to punish the indwelling demon. As this theological theory and practice became more fully developed, and ecclesiasticism more powerful to enforce it, all mildness began to change, or to be driven into remote corners of Christendom; the admonitions to gentle treatment by the great pagan and Moslem physicians were forgotten, and the treatment of lunatics tended more and more toward severity; more and more generally it was felt that cruelty to madmen was punishment of the devil residing within or acting upon them.

A few strong churchmen and laymen made efforts to resist this tendency. As far back as the fourth century, Nemesius, Bishop of Emesa, accepted the truth as developed by pagan physicians, and aided them in strengthening it. In the seventh century, a Lombard code embodied a similar effort. In the eighth century, one of Charlemagne's capitularies seems to have had a like purpose. In the ninth century, that great churchman and statesman, Agobard. Archbishop of Lyons, superior to his time in this as in so many other things, tried to make right reason prevail in this field; and, near the beginning of the tenth century, Regino, Abbot of Prüm, in the diocese of Treves, insisted on treating possession as disease. But all in vain; the current streaming most directly from sundry texts in the Christian sacred books, and swollen by theology, had become overwhelming,[8]

The first great tributary poured into this stream, as we approach, the bloom of the middle ages, appears to have come from the brain of Michael Psellus. Mingling scriptural texts, Platonic philosophy, and theological views of great doctors of the Church, with wild statements obtained from lunatics, he gave forth, about the beginning of the twelfth century, a treatise on "The Work of Demons." "Sacred science" was vastly enriched thereby in various ways; but two of his conclusions, the results of his most profound thought, enforced by theologians and popularized by preachers, soon took a special hold upon the thinking portion of the people at large. The first of these, which he easily based upon Scripture and St. Basil, was that, since all demons suffer by material fire and brimstone, they must have material bodies; the second was that, since all demons are by nature cold, they gladly seek a genial warmth by entering the bodies of men and beasts.[9]

Fed by this stream of thought, and developed in the warm atmosphere of mediæval devotion, the idea of demoniacal possession as the main source of lunacy grew and blossomed and bore fruit in noxious luxuriance.

There had, indeed, come into the middle ages an inheritance of scientific thought. The ideas of Hippocrates, Celius Aurelianus, Galen, and their followers, were from time to time revived; the Arabian physicians, the school of Salerno, such writers as Salicetus, Guy de Chauliac, and even some of the religious orders, did something to keep scientific doctrines alive; but the tide of theological thought was too strong—it became dangerous even to seem to name possible limits to diabolical power. To deny Satan was atheism; and perhaps nothing did so much to fasten the epithet "atheist" upon the medical profession as the suspicion that it did not fully acknowledge diabolical interference in mental disease. Of this feeling we have a monument in the mediæval proverb, "Where there are three physicians there are two atheists."

Following in the lines of the earlier fathers, St. Anselm, Abélard, St. Thomas Aquinas, Vincent de Beauvais, all the great doctors in the mediæval Church, some of them in spite of occasional misgivings, upheld the idea that insanity is largely or mainly demoniacal possession, basing their belief steadily on the sacred Scriptures; and this belief was followed up in every quarter by more and more constant citation of the text "Ye shall not suffer a witch to live." No other text of Scripture—save, perhaps, one—has caused the shedding of so much innocent blood.

As we look over the history of the middle ages, we do, indeed, see another development from which one might hope much; for there were two great streams of influence in the Church—and never were two powers more truly unlike each other.

On one side was the spirit of Christianity, as it proceeded from the heart and mind of its blessed Founder, immensely powerful in aiding the evolution of religious thought and effort, and especially of provision for the relief of suffering by religious asylums and tender care. Nothing better expresses this than the touching words inscribed upon a great mediaeval hospital, "Christo in pauperibus suis." But on the other side was the theological theory—proceeding, as we have seen, from the survival of ancient superstitions, and sustained by constant reference to the texts in our sacred books—that many, and probably most, of the insane were possessed by the devil or in league with him, and that the cruel treatment of lunatics was simply punishment of the devil and his minions. By this current of thought was gradually developed one of the greatest masses of superstitious cruelty that has ever disgraced humanity. At the same time the stream of Christian endeavor, so far as the insane were concerned, was almost entirely cut off. In all the beautiful provision during the middle ages for the alleviation of human suffering, there was for the insane almost no care. Some monasteries, indeed, gave them refuge. We hear of a charitable work done for them at the London Bethlehem Hospital in the thirteenth century, at Geneva in the fifteenth, at Marseilles in the sixteenth, by the Black Penitents in the south of France, by certain Franciscans in northern France, by the Alexian Brothers on the Rhine, and by various agencies in other parts of Europe.

Curiously enough, the only really important effort in the Christian Church was stimulated by the Mohammedans. Certain monks, who had much to do with them in redeeming Christian slaves, found in the fifteenth century what John Howard found in the eighteenth, that the Arabs and Turks made a large and merciful provision for lunatics, such as was not seen in Christian lands; and this example led to better establishments in Spain and Italy.

All honor to this work and to the men who engaged in it; but, as a rule, these establishments were few and poor, compared with those for other diseases, and they usually degenerated into madhouses, where devils were cast out mainly by cruelty.[10]

The first main weapon against the indwelling Satan continued to be the exorcism; but, under the influence of inferences from Scripture farther and farther fetched, and of theological reasoning more and more subtle, it became something very different from the gentle procedure of earlier times, and some description of this great weapon at the time of its highest development will throw light on the laws which govern the growth of theological reasoning, as well as upon the main subject in hand.

A fundamental premise in the fully developed exorcism was that, according to sacred Scripture, a main characteristic of Satan is pride. Pride led him to rebel—for pride he was cast down; therefore the first thing to do, in driving him out of a lunatic, was to strike a fatal blow at this pride—to disgust him.

This theory was carried out logically, to the letter. The treatises on the subject simply astound one by their wealth of epithets—blasphemous and obscene—which it was allowable for the exorcist to use in casting out devils. The "Treasury of Exorcisms"[11] contains hundreds of pages packed with the vilest epithets which the worst imagination could invent for the purpose of overwhelming the indwelling Satan.

Some of those decent enough to be printed in these degenerate days ran as follows:

"Thou lustful and stupid one, ... thou lean sow, famine-stricken and most impure, ... thou wrinkled beast, thou mangy beast, thou beast of all beasts the most beastly, ... thou mad spirit, ... thou bestial and foolish drunkard, ... most greedy wolf, ... most abominable whisperer, ... thou sooty spirit from Tartarus! ... I cast thee down, O Tartarean boor, into the infernal kitchen! ... Loathsome cobbler, ... dingy collier, ... filthy sow (scrofa stercorata), ... perfidious boar, ... envious crocodile, ... malodorous drudge, ... wounded basilisk, ... rust-colored asp, ... swollen toad, ... entangled spider, ... lousy swineherd (porcarie pedicose), ... lowest of the low, ... cudgeled ass," etc.

But, in addition to this attempt to disgust Satan's pride with blackguardism, there was another to scare him with tremendous words. For this purpose, great, sounding names, from Hebrew and Greek, of the Deity were imported, such as Acharon, Eheye, Schemhamphora, Tetragrammaton, Homousion, Ho Theos, Athanatos, Ischiros, Æcodes, and the like.[12]

Efforts were also made to drive him out with filthy and rank-smelling drugs; and, among those which can be mentioned in a printed article, we may name asafœtida, sulphur, squills, etc., which were to be burned under his nose.

Still further to plague him, pictures of the devil were to be spat upon, trampled under foot by people of low condition, and sprinkled with foul compounds.

But these were merely preliminaries to the exorcism proper. In this the most profound theological thought and sacred science of the period culminated.

Most of its forms were childish, but some rise to almost Miltonic grandeur. As an example of the latter, we may take the following:

"By the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God hath given to make known unto his servants those things which are shortly to take place; and hath signified, sending by his angel, ... I exorcise you, ye angels of untold perversity!

"By Him that is the faithful witness, the first-born among the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth, ... I exorcise you, ye dwellers in the regions of hell!

"And by Him that loved us, and washed us of our sins in his blood, ... and behold, he cometh in clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall weep before him; ... and by all the wondrous signs, terrible voices, mighty thunders, and mystic visions which St. John beheld, I exorcise you, O angels who entice unto evil deeds, that ye do go far away from this creature!

"By the seven golden candlesticks, ... and by one like unto the Son of man, standing in the midst of the candlesticks; by this voice, as the voice of many waters; ... by his words, 'I am living, who was dead; and behold, I live forever and ever; and I have the keys of death and of hell,' I say unto you. Depart, O angels that show the way to eternal perdition!

"By the door which John saw open in heaven; by the twenty-four thrones and the twenty-four elders, ... and by the lightnings and thunders and voices which proceeded out from the throne; ... by the sea which he saw, as it were of glass mingled with fire, ... and by the four living beings full of eyes before and behind; ... by the words which they incessantly did say, 'Holy, holy, holy. Lord God Almighty, that was, and that is, and that is to come'; ... by the angel who cried out, 'Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals?' ... by the Lamb, as it were slain; ... by the harps and by the vials of gold, full of perfumes, I charge ye, O angels of death, to flee quickly out of this creature!"

Besides these, were long litanies of billingsgate, cursing, and threatening. One of these "scourging" exorcisms runs partly as follows:

"May Agyos strike thee, as he did Egypt, with frogs! ... May all the devils that are thy foes rush forth upon thee, and drag thee down to hell! ... May ... Tetragrammaton ... drive thee forth and stone thee, as Israel did to Achan! ... May the holy one trample on thee and hang thee up in an infernal fork, as was done to the five kings of the Amorites! ... May God set a nail to your skull, and pound it in with a hammer, as Jael did unto Sisera! ... May ... Sother ... break thy head and cut off thy hands, as was done to the cursed Dagon! ... May God hang thee in a hellish yoke, as seven men were hung by the sons of Saul!" And so on, through five pages of close-printed Latin curses.[13]

Occasionally the demon is reasoned with, as follows: "O obstinate, accursed, fly! ... why do you stop and hold back when you know that your strength is lost on Christ? For it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks; and, verily, the longer it takes you to go, the worse it will go with you. Begone, then, take flight, thou venomous hisser, thou lying worm, thou begetter of vipers!"[14]

And this procedure and its results were recognized as among the glories of the Church. As typical, we may mention an exorcism directed by a certain Bishop of Beauvais, which was so effective that five devils gave up possession of a sufferer and signed their names, each for himself and his subordinate imps, to an agreement that the possessed should be molested no more. So, too, the Jesuit fathers at Vienna, in 1583, gloried in the fact that in such a contest they had cast out twelve thousand six hundred and fifty-two living devils. The ecclesiastical annals of the middle ages, and, indeed, of a later period, abound in boasts of such "mighty works."[15]

Such was the great result of a thousand years of theological reasoning, by the strongest minds in Europe, upon data given in Scripture regarding Satan and his work among men. Such were the results and remedies arrived at by the highest development of "sacred science."

Under the guidance of theology, always so severe against "science falsely so called," the world had come a long way indeed from the soothing treatment of the possessed by Him who bore among the noblest of his titles that of "The Great Physician." The result was natural: the treatment of the insane fell more and more into the hands of the jailer, the torturer, and the executioner.

To go back for a moment to the beginnings of this unfortunate development. In spite of the earlier and more kindly tendency in the Church, the Synod of Ancyra, as early as 35 A.D., commanded the expulsion of possessed persons from the Church; the Visigothic Christians whipped them; and Charlemagne, in spite of some good enactments, imprisoned them. Men and women, whose distempered minds might have been restored to health by gentleness and skill, were driven into hopeless madness by noxious medicines and brutality. Some few were saved as mere lunatics—they were surrendered to general carelessness, and became simply a prey to ridicule and aimless brutality; but vast numbers were punished as tabernacles of Satan.

One of the least terrible of these punishments, and perhaps the most common of all, was that of scourging demons out of the body of a lunatic. This method commended itself even to the judgment of so thoughtful and kindly a personage as Sir Thomas More, and as late as the sixteenth century. But if the disease continued, as it naturally would after such treatment, the authorities frequently felt justified in driving out the demons by torture.[16]

Interesting monuments of this idea, so fruitful, in evil, still exist. In the great cities of central Europe, "witch-towers," where witches and demoniacs were tortured, and "fool-towers," where the more gentle lunatics were imprisoned, may still be seen.

In the cathedrals, too, we still see this idea fossilized. Devils and imps, struck into stone, clamber upon towers, prowl under cornices, peer out from bosses of foliage, perch upon capitals, nestle under benches, flame in windows. Above the great main entrance, the most common of all representations still shows Satan and his imps scowling, jeering, grinning, while taking possession of the souls of men and scourging them with serpents, or driving them with tridents, or dragging them with chains, into the flaming mouth of hell. Even in the most hidden and sacred places of the mediæval cathedral we still find representations of Satanic power in which profanity and obscenity run riot. In these representations the painter and glass-stainer vied with the sculptor. Among the early paintings on canvas a well-known example represents the devil in the shape of a dragon, perched near the head of a dying man, eager to seize his soul as it issues from his mouth, and only kept off by the efforts of the attendant priest. Typical are the colossal portrait of Satan, and a vivid picture of the devils cast out of the possessed and entering into the swine, as shown in the cathedral-windows of Strasburg. So, too, in the windows of Chartres Cathedral we see a saint healing a lunatic—the saint, with a long devil-scaring formula in Latin issuing from his mouth; and the lunatic, with a little detestable hobgoblin, horned, hoofed, and tailed, issuing from his mouth. These examples are but typical of myriads in cathedrals and abbeys and parish churches throughout Europe; and all served to impress upon the popular mind a horror of everything called diabolic, and a hatred of those charged with it. These sermons in stones preceded the printed book; they were a sculptured edition of the Bible, which preceded the pictorial editions of Luther's printed Bible.[17]

Satan and his imps were among the principal personages in every popular drama, and "Hell's Mouth" was a piece of stage scenery constantly brought into requisition. A miracle-play, without a full display of the diabolic element in it, would have stood a fair chance of being pelted from the stage.[18]

The especial point to be noted is that from the miracle-play of the present day Satan and his works have disappeared. The writer of this article was unable to detect, in a representation of the passion-play at Ober-Ammergau, in 1881, the slightest reference to diabolic interference with the course of events as represented from the Old Testament, or from the New, in a series of tableaux lasting, with a slight intermission, from nine in the morning until after four in the afternoon. With the most thorough exhibition of minute events relating the life of Christ, and at times with hundreds of figures on the stage, there was not a person or a word which recalled that main feature in the mediæval Church plays. The writer also made a full collection of photographs of tableaux, of engravings of music, and of works bearing upon these representations for twenty years before, and in none of these was there an apparent survival of the old belief. This would certainly seem to indicate that even the child-like faith of the Tyrolese has arrived at a point, under modern influences, which would make a representation of Satan and his minions incongruous; and that, while they believe that they believe, diabolism as a belief to be openly professed has become a thing to provoke derision.[19]

Not only the popular art, but all the popular legends embodied these ideas. The stories of the chroniclers are full of them; the "Lives of the Saints" abound in them; sermons enforced them from every pulpit. What wonder, then, that soon men and women had vivid dreams of Satanic influence, that dread of "possession" was like dread of the plague, and that this terror spread the disease enormously, until we hear of convents, villages, and even large districts ravaged by epidemics of diabolical possession![20]

And this terror naturally bred not only active cruelty toward those supposed to be possessed, but cold indifference to the sufferings of those acknowledged to be lunatics. As we have already seen, while ample and beautiful provision was made for every other form of human suffering, for this there was comparatively little; and, indeed, what provision was made was generally worse than none. Of this indifference and cruelty we have a striking monument in a single English word—a word originally significant

of gentleness and mercy, but which became significant of wild riot and brutality and confusion—Bethlehem Hospital became "Bedlam."

Modern art has also dwelt upon this theme, and perhaps the most touching of all its exhibitions is the picture by a great French master representing a tender woman bound to a column, and exposed to the jeers, insults, and missiles of street ruffians.[21]

Here and there, even in the worst of times, men arose who attempted to promote a more humane view, but with little effect. One expositor of St. Matthew, having ventured to recall the fact that some of the insane were spoken of in the New Testament as madmen, and to suggest that their madness might be caused by the moon, was answered that their madness was not caused by the moon, but by the devil, who avails himself of the moonlight for his work.[22]

One result of this idea was a mode of cure which especially aggravated and spread mental disease—the promotion of great religious processions. Troops of men and women, crying, howling, imploring saints, beating themselves with whips, visited various sacred shrines, images, and places, in the hope of driving off the powers of evil. The only result was an increase in the numbers of the diseased.

For hundreds of years this idea of diabolic possession was steadily developed. It was believed that devils entered into animals; and animals were accordingly exorcised, tried, tortured, convicted, and executed. The great St. Ambrose tells us that a priest, while saying mass, was troubled by the croaking of frogs in a neighboring marsh, and that he exorcised them, and so stopped their noise. St. Bernard, as the monkish chroniclers tell us, mounting the pulpit to preach in his abbey, was interrupted by a cloud of flies; straightway the saint uttered the sacred formula of excommunication, when the flies fell dead upon the pavement in heaps, and were cast out with shovels! A formula of exorcism attributed to a saint of the ninth century, and which remained in use down to a recent period, especially declares insects injurious to crops to be possessed of evil spirits, and names, among the animals to be excommunicated or exorcised, mice, moles, and serpents. The use of exorcism against caterpillars and grasshoppers was also common. In the thirteenth century the Bishop of Lausanne, finding that the eels in Lake Leman troubled the fishermen, attempted to remove the difficulty by exorcism.

Did any one venture to deny that animals could be possessed by Satan, he was at once silenced by reference to the entrance of Satan into the serpent in the garden of Eden, to the transformation of Nebuchadnezzar, and to the casting of the devils into the swine by the founder of Christianity himself.[23]

One part of this superstition most tenaciously held was the belief that a human being could be changed into the form of an animal. This became, indeed, a fundamental point. The most dreaded of predatory animals in the middle ages were the wolves. Driven from the hills and forests in the winter by hunger, they not only devoured the flocks, but sometimes came into the villages and seized children. From time to time men and women whose brains were disordered dreamed that they had been changed into various animals, and especially into wolves. Confessing this, and often implicating others, many executions of lunatics resulted; not to mention here the countless sane victims who, suspected of the same impossible crime, were forced by torture into confession of it, and sent unpitied to the stake. The belief in such a transformation pervaded all Europe, and lasted long, even in Protestant countries; probably no article in the witch creed had more adherents in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries than this. Nearly every parish in Europe had its resultant horrors.

The Reformed Church in all its branches fully accepted the doctrines of witchcraft and diabolic possession, and developed them still further. No one urged their fundamental ideas more fully than Luther. He did, indeed, reject portions of the witchcraft folly; but to the influence of devils he not only attributed his maladies but his dreams, and nearly everything that thwarted or disturbed him. The flies which lighted upon his book, the rats which kept him awake at night, he believed to be devils; the resistance of the Archbishop of Mayence to his ideas, he attributed to Satan literally working in that prelate's heart; to his disciples he told stories of men who had been killed by rashly resisting the devil. Insanity, he was quite sure, was caused by Satan, and he exorcised sufferers. Against some he appears to have advised stronger remedies; and his horror of idiocy, as resulting from Satanic influence, was so great that on one occasion he appears to have advised the killing of an idiot child, as being the direct offspring of Satan. Yet Luther was one of the most tender and loving of men; in the whole range of literature there is hardly anything more touching than his words and tributes to children. In enforcing his ideas he laid stress especially upon the question of St. Paul as to the bewitching of the Galatians, and, in the case of idiocy, on the account in Genesis of the birth, of children whose fathers were "sons of God" and whose mothers were "daughters of men."

One idea of his was especially characteristic. The descent of Christ into hell was a frequent topic of discussion in the Reformed Church; Melanchthon, with his love of Greek studies, held that the purpose of the Saviour was to make himself known to the great and noble men of antiquity—Plato, Socrates, and the rest; but Luther insisted that his purpose was to conquer Satan in a hand-to-hand struggle.

This idea of diabolic influence pervaded his conversation, his preaching, and his writings, and spread thence to the Lutheran Church in general.

Calvin also held to the same theory; and, having more power, with less kindness of heart, than Luther, carried it out with yet greater harshness.

Under the influence, then, of such infallible teachings, in the older Church and in the new, this superstition was developed more and more into cruelty; and, as the Biblical texts, popularized in the sculptures and windows and mural decorations of the great mediæval cathedrals, had done much to develop it among the people, so Luther's translation of the Bible, especially in the numerous editions of it illustrated with engravings, wrought with enormous power to spread and deepen it. In every peasant's cottage some one could spell out the story of the devil bearing Christ through the air and placing him upon the pinnacle of the Temple,—of the woman with seven devils,—of the devils cast into the swine. Every peasant's child could be made to understand the quaint pictures in the family Bible or the catechism which illustrated vividly all those texts. In the ideas thus deeply implanted, the men who in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries struggled against this mass of folly and cruelty found the worst barrier to right reason.[24]

So was the treatment of demoniacs developed by theology; and such was the practice enforced by ecclesiasticism for more than a thousand years.

How an atmosphere was spread in which this belief began to dissolve away, how its main foundations were undermined by science, and how there gradually came in a reign of humanity, will be related in the next chapter.

  1. On the general attribution of disease to demoniacal influence, see Sprenger, "History of Medicine," passim (note, for a later attitude, ii, 150-170, 178); Calmeil, "De la Folie," Paris, 1845, i, 104, 105; Esquirol, "Des Maladies Mentales," Paris, 1838, i, 482; also Tylor, "Primitive Culture." For a very plain and honest statement of this view in our own sacred books, see Oort, Hooykaas, and Kuenen, "The Bible for Young People," English translation, v, 167, and following; also Farrar's "Life of Christ," chap. xvii. For this idea in Greece and elsewhere, see Maury, "La Magie," etc., iii, 276, giving, among other citations, one from book v of the "Odyssey." On the influence of Platonism, see Esquirol and others, as above—the main passage cited is from the "Phædo." For the devotion of the early fathers and doctors to this idea, see citations from Eusebius, Lactantius, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzen, in Tissot, "L'Imagination," p. 369; also Jacob (i.e., Paul Lacroix), "Croyances Populaires," p. 183. For St. Augustine, see also his "De Civitate Dei," lib. 22, cap. viii, and his "Enarratio in Psal.," cxxxv, 1. For the breaking away of the religious orders in Italy from the entire supremacy of this idea, see Becavin, "L'École de Salerne," Paris, 1888; also Daremberg, "Histoire de la Médecine." Even so late as the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther maintained ("Table-Talk," Hazlitt's translation, London, 1872, pp. 250-256) that "Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind."
  2. It is significant of this scientific attitude that the Greek word for superstition signifies, literally, fear of gods or demons.
  3. For authorities regarding this development of scientific truth and mercy in antiquity, see especially Kraft-Ebing, "Lehrbuch der Psychiatrie," Stuttgart, 1888, p. 40 and the pages following; Trélat, "Recherches Historiques sur la Folie," Paris, 1839; Semelaigne, "L'Aliénation mentale dans l'Antiquité," Paris, 1869; Dagron, "Des Alienés," Paris, 1875; also Calmeil, "De la Folie," Sprenger, and especially Isensée, "Geschichte der Medicin," Berlin, 1840.
  4. It is, indeed, extremely doubtful whether Plato himself or his contemporaries knew anything of evil demons, this conception probably coming into the Greek world, as into the Latin, with the Oriental influences that began to prevail about the time of the birth of Christ; but to the early Christians a demon was a demon, and Plato's, good or bad, were pagan, and therefore devils.
  5. The Greek word "epilepsy" is itself a survival of the old belief, fossilized in a word, since its literal meaning refers to the seizure of the patient by evil spirits.
  6. For a striking statement of the Jewish belief in diabolical interference, see Josephus, "De Bello Judaico," vii, 6, iii; also his "Antiquities," viii, Whiston's translation. On the "devil cast out," in Mark ix, 17-29, as an undoubted case of epilepsy, see Cherullier, "Essai sur l'Épilepsie"; also Maury, art. "Démoniaque" in the "Encyclopédie Moderne." In one text, at least, the popular belief is perfectly shown as confounding madness and possession: "He hath a devil and is mad," John x, 20. Among the multitude of texts those most relied upon were Matthew viii, 28, and Luke x, 17; and, for the use of fetiches in driving out evil spirits, the account of the cures wrought by touching the garments of St. Paul in Acts xix, 12. On the general subject see authorities already given, and as a typical passage Tertullian, "ad. Scap.," ii; for the very gross view taken by St. Basil, see Cudworth, "Intellectual System," ii, 648; also Archdeacon Farrar's "Life of Christ." For a curious presentation of Greek views, see Lélut, "Le Démon de Socrate," Paris, 1886; and, for the transmission of these to Christianity, see same, p. 201, and following.
  7. See Cockayne, "Leechdoms, Wort-cunning, and Star-Craft of Early England" (in the Rolls Series), ii, 177; also 355, 356. For the great value of priestly saliva, see W. W. Story's interesting essays.
  8. For a very thorough and interesting statement on the general subject, see Kirchhof, "Beziehungen des Dämonen und Hexenwesens zur deutschen Irrenpflege," in the "Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatric," Berlin, 1888, Bd. xliv, Hft. 25. For Roman Catholic authority, see Addis and Arnold, "Catholic Dictionary," article "Emergumens." For a brief and eloquent summary, see Kraft-Ebing, "Lehrbuch der Psychiatrie," as above; and, for a clear view of the transition from pagan mildness in the care of the insane to severity and cruelty under the Christian Church, see Maudsley, "The Pathology of Mind," London, 1879, p. 523. See also Buchmann, "Die unfreie und die freie Kirche," Breslau, 1873, p. 251. For other citations, see Kirchhof, as above, pp. 334-336. For Bishop Nemesius, see "Trélat," p. 48. For an admirable account of Agobard's general position in regard to this and allied superstitions, see Reginald Lane Poole's "Illustrations of the History of Mediæval Thought," London, 1884.
  9. See Baas and Werner, cited by Kirchhof, as above; also Lecky, "Rationalism in Europe," i, 68, and note, New York, 1884. As to Basil's belief in the corporeality of devils, see his "Commentary on Isaiah," cap, i.
  10. For a very full and learned, if somewhat one-sided, account of the earlier effects of this stream of charitable thought, see Yollemer, "Des Origines de la Charité Catholique," Paris, 1858. It is instructive to note that, while this book is very full in regard to the action of the Church on slavery and on provision for the widows and orphans, the sick, the infirm, captives, and lepers, there is hardly a trace of any care for the insane. This same want is incidentally shown by a typical example in Kriegk, "Aerzte, Heilanstalten und Geisteskranke im mittelalterlichen Frankfurt," Frankfurt a. M., 1863, pp. 16, 17; also Kirchhof, pp. 396, 397. On the general subject, see Semelaigne, as above, p. 214; also Lecky, "Rationalism in Europe," i, 88; also Calmeil, i, 116, 117. For the effect of Moslem example in Spain and Italy, see Kraft-Ebing, as above, p. 45, note.
  11. "Thesaurus Exorcismorum atque Conjurationum terribilium, potentissimorum, efficacissimorum, cum Practica probatissima: quibus spiritus maligni, Dæmones Maleficiaque omnia de Corporibus humanis obsessis, tanquam Flagillis Fustibusque fugantur, expelluntur," ... Cologne, 1626. Many of the books of the exorcists were put upon the various indexes of the Church, but this, the richest collection of all, and including nearly all those condemned, was not prohibited until 1709. Scarcely less startling manuals continued even later in use; and exorcisms adapted to every emergency may, of course, still be found in all the Benedictionals of the Church—even the latest. As an example, see the "Manuale Benedictionum" published by the Bishop of Passau in 1849.
  12. See the Conjuratio on p. 300 of the "Thesaurus," and the general directions given on pp. 251, 252.
  13. "Thesaurus Exorcismorum," 812-817.
  14. Ibid., 859.
  15. In my previous chapters—especially that on meteorology—I have quoted extensively from the original treatises, of which a very large collection is in my possession; but in this chapter I have largely availed myself of the copious translations given by M. H. Dziewicki, in his excellent article in the "Nineteenth Century" for October, 1888, entitled "Exorcizo Te." For valuable citations on the origin and spread of exorcism, see Lecky's "European Morals" (third English edition), i, 379-385.
  16. For prescription of the whipping-post by Sir Thomas More, see D. H. Tuke's "History of Insanity in the British Isles," London, 1882, pp. 29, 30.
  17. I cite these instances out of a vast number which I have personally noted in visits to various cathedrals. For striking examples of mediæval grotesques, see Wright's "History of Caricature and the Grotesque," London, 1875; Langlais's "Stalles de la Cathédrale de Rouen," 1838; Champfleury's "Les Sculptures Grotesques et Symboliques," Rouen, 1879; Viollet le Duc, "Dictionnaire de l'Architecture"; Gailhabaud, "Sur l'Architecture," etc.
  18. See Wright, "History of Caricature and the Grotesque"; F. J. Moue, "Schauspiele des Mittelalters," Carlsruhe, 1846; Dr. Karl Hase, "Miracle Plays and Sacred Dramas," Boston, 1880 (translation from the German). Examples of the miracle-plays may be found in Mone; in Mariott's "Collection of English Miracle-Plays," Basil, 1838; in Hone's "Ancient Mysteries"; in T. Sharp's "Dissertation on the Pageants ... anciently performed at Coventry," Coventry, 1828; in the publications of the Shakespearean and other societies. See especially the "Harrowing of Hell," a miracle-play, edited from the original now in the British Museum, by T. O. Halliwell, London, 1840. One of the items still preserved is a sum of money paid for keeping a fire burning in hell's mouth. Says Hase (as above, p. 42): "In wonderful satyr-like masquerade, in which neither horns, tail, nor hoofs were ever ... wanting, the devil prosecuted on the stage his business of fetching souls," which left the mouths of the dying "in the form of small images."
  19. Speaking of the part played by Satan at Ober-Ammergau, Hase says: "Formerly, seated on his infernal throne, surrounded by his hosts with Sin and Death, he opened the play, ... and ... retained throughout a considerable part; but he has been surrendered to the progress of that enlightenment which even the Bavarian highlands have not been able to escape" (p. 80).
  20. I shall discuss these epidemics of possession, which form a somewhat distinct class of phenomena, in the second part of this chapter.
  21. The typical picture representing a priest's struggle with the devil is in the city gallery of Rouen. The modern picture is Robert Fleury's painting in the Luxembourg Gallery at Paris.
  22. See Giraldus Cambrensis, cited by Tuke, as above, p. 79.
  23. See Menabrea, "Procès au Moyen Age contra les Animaux," Chambéry, 1846, pp. 31 and following.
  24. As to the grotesques in mediæval churches, the writer of this article, in visiting the town church of Wittenberg, noticed just opposite the pulpit where Luther so often preached, a very spirited figure of an imp peering out upon the congregation. One can but suspect that this mediæval survival frequently suggested Luther's favorite topic during his sermons.