A New “Hammer of Witches” for the 17th Century - An Excellent Copy

WITCHCRAFT. Del Rio, Martin Antoine, S.J. (1551-1608)

Disquisitionum Magicarum Libri Sex, Quibus Continentur Accurata Curiosarum Artium et vanarum superstitionum confutatio, utilis Theologis, Jurisconsultis, Medicis, Philologis. Autore Martino Del-Rio Societ. Iesu Presbyt. LL. Licent. et Theol. Doct. olim in Academia Graetcensi, et Salmanticensi, publico S. Script. Professore. Prodit Opus ultimis curis longe accuratius ac castigatius. Superiorum Permissu et Licentia.

Cologne: Sumptibus Hermanni Demen, 1679


Quarto: 21 x 17.5 cm. [14], 1221 (recte 1107), [48] p. Collation: *4, **4, A-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Zzz4, Aaaa-Zzzz4, Aaaaa-Zzzzz4, Aaaaaa-Zzzzzz4, Aaaaaaa-Fffffff4, Ggggggg2

NINTH EDITION (1st 1599).

A nice copy in contemporary vellum over wooden boards with clasps (staining to fore-edge of upper board, a few stains on rear board, front joint just starting.) Text with a small wormhole to outer margin, never touching the text. A few light marginal spots, occasional light browning or foxing but still an unusually nice copy of a book almost always found browned. Engraved title page.

The Jesuit jurist Martín del Rio’s “Disquisitionum Magicarum Libri Sex” (Six Books of Disquisitions on Witches) was written about 1596 and first published in 1599. The book had enormous impact and was consulted and cited for over a century. Much in the book is understandably frightening. Vague guidance is given for determining if a person has made a pact with the devil, and the methods recommended for extracting confessions from accused sorcerers and witches are horrifying. Even children, who are not to be racked, are nevertheless to be frightened into confession by being stripped naked, chained, and led to the rack.

“Its six sections discussed the following topics: 1. Magic in general, and the distinctions between natural and artificial magic; alchemy. 2. Diabolical magic; witches at the Sabbat; incubus demons; real and false apparitions. 3. Maleficia and how accomplished. How and why God allows men to be tormented by evil spirits. 4. Prophecy, divination (when heresy, when merely superstition), ordeals (Del Rio is somewhat dubious of the value of the ‘bain des sorciers’ or ‘swimming’). 5. Instructions to judges: indications and proofs of witchcraft follow practices for heresy but judges are allowed some latitude. 6. Function of the confessor; natural (coral, onyx) and supernatural (exorcism amulets) means to oppose maleficia.

“Under a veil of moderation-he permitted legal counsel for witches and he rejected lycanthropy -Del Rio revived the theories and procedures of the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ with credulity and blind intolerance. For example, Del Rio told ‘another quite well-founded story’. ‘In the year 1587, a soldier on guard shot into a dark cloud, and lo, a woman fell to his feet. Now what do those say who deny that witches ride to meetings? They will say that they do not believe it; let them remain incredulous, because they will not believe eyewitnesses of whom I could adduce many’.

“By 1600, the venom of witch hunters was directed against the witch lovers who questioned the theories and practice of the witch trials. Said Del Rio: ‘Judges are bound under pain of mortal sin to condemn witches to death who have confessed their crimes; anyone who pronounces against the death sentence is reasonably suspected of secret complicity; no one is to urge the judges to desist from the prosecution; nay, it is an indicium of witchcraft to defend witches, or to affirm that witch stories which are told as certain are mere deceptions or illusions”. Like Bodin, Del Rio was acceptable to Protestant witch hunters because of his friendship with Justus Lipsius of Leyden. Consequently, he became well known in England.” (Robins, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, p. 121-123)

For a discussion of Del Rio’s work and its influence in the age of early scientific inquiry, see Waddell, “Jesuit Science and the End of Nature’s Secrets”, p. 32 ff.

Faber du Four 1243. Graesse, Magica et Pneumatica, p. 47. Rosenthal 2903. VD 17 23:250512Y; Palau 268.284; de Backer-Sommervogel II, 1900