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An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

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Weyer, Johannes (also, Wier, 1515-1588) Born in Basel, Switzerland, Weyer was a sixteenth-century physician also known as Piscinarius, and a pupil of Agrippa.

The enlightened physician Johannes Weyer, at age sixty.

      In 1564, his book De Praestigiis Daemonum (“On the Activities of Demons”) tried to perform the same service as Reginald Scot's book The Discouerie of Witchcraft, which was published twenty years later, by denying that witchcraft was a genuine power or a threat to Christianity. In any case, both books were essentially ignored, and persecution of supposed witches continued. He was very enlightened on his subject when he observed:

      The uninformed and the unskilled physicians relegate all the incurable diseases, or all the diseases the remedy for which they overlook, to witchcraft. When they do this, they are talking about disease like a blind man does about color. Like many surgeons with their quackery, they cover their ignorance of our Sacred Art [medicine] with the playthings of magic malefactors and they themselves are the real malefactors.

      Weyer vigorously pursued various claims of magic and witchcraft, showing that they had no basis in fact. He met the claimants on their own terms and defeated them. He investigated one of the most famous of all demonpossession” cases, that of the Nuns of Cologne in 1564. He solved that matter by determining that certain rather robust convulsions entered into by these virtuous ladies had been brought about, not by religious visions, but by visitations of neighborhood dandies who had favored them with their attentions and subsequently induced various raptures in the women by their very efforts at negotiating the walls of the convent. The ladies had turned heavy romance into religious exultation.
      For his labors, Weyer was castigated by the church and his own profession. Complained one well-known physician of the time:

      Oh, if only such a man had never been born, or at least had not written anything! Instead of which, he gives many people through his books the opportunity to sin and to enhance the Kingdom of Satan.

      Weyer managed to survive this criticism, lived to the then-surprising age of seventy-three, and was accorded a proper Christian church burial.
      To many modern historians of medicine, he is looked upon as one of the founders of modern psychiatry; he is certainly one of the first philosophers to record a rational view of various human mental aberrations, many of which are believed even today, by the uneducated, to be caused by demons, witches, and other fanciful inventions. Weyer knew better and had the good common sense, intelligence, and fortitude to say so.
      Strangely enough, Weyer also published Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, a catalog of demons and their attributes, in 1563. It was an inventory of devils, of which he said there were exactly 7,405,926, in 1,111 divisions of 6,666 each. (Modern Lutherans claim that there are 2,665,866,746,664 devils or demons, but demons are lively folks and very difficult to get to stand still during a count.)

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