Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Malleus is scientific

The Malleus Maleficarum, written in the 1480s, very carefully outlines how to locate witches, question them, and punish them. The authors, two friars, structured the book like a legal argument, with questions posed, considered and then answered. This structure makes the book feel reasonable and logical. That's one of the most chilling things about it.

Here is a scientific analysis of how dreams work. It's under Question VII of Part I: "Whether Witches can Sway the Minds of Men to Love or Hatred." Among other methods, witches work to sway opinion while the person sleeps:

The apparitions that come in dreams to sleepers proceed from the ideas retained in the repository of their mind, through a natural local motion caused by the flow of blood to the first and inmost seat of their faculties of perception; and we speak of an intrinsic local motion in the head and the cells of the brain.

And this can also happen through a similar local motion created by devils. Also such things happen not only to the sleeping, but even to those who are awake.

See, we are influenced by the scientific-sounding description of blood through the cells... and then the friars slide in the reference to devils. It is hard to argue with such authoritative-sounding facts. And unhappily, few medieval folks did.

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