Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Evidence of Witches and Apparitions Discovered (330 Years Ago)

by Stephen J. Gertz

Welcome to Rare Book Nightmare Alley, the series that brings antiquarian bad dreams in print to light.

This week, we tear the curtain that separates the living, naked or otherwise, and the dead, the bitch from the witch, and the doofus from the demon.

Attention Ghost Whisperers, Ghost Busters, and Witch Patrol: evidence that your job is not simply glorified make-work, ungainful employment  for the highly credulous, and the answer to "Who Y'Gonna Call?" when reason fails and whoa-nelly! prevails, has now surfaced.

Actually, it surfaced 330 years ago. But who, aside from those on the Other Side, is counting? The devil, witches, warlocks, and miscellaneous demonic desperados are  kvetching for their share of our waking nightmares and official recognition for their malignant presence in our otherwise benign and placid lives.

What these twisted spirits need is a Rev. Jesse Jackson to raise their self-esteem: "I AM somebody!" They want proof of their reality firmly rooted in our mental flowerbed; if only one person doubts their existence the bloom is off the black rose. Supernatural beings are only as strong as the total number of  those who believe in them; doubt is the silver bullet, the clove of garlic, the wooden stake that casts them out of our dimension, and, no insult intended to the blind, out of sight, out of mind. For the devil that just won't do.

Jesse Jackson is, alas otherwise busy. So, look no further than Joseph Glanvil, who, in his Saducimus Triumphatus (1681), provides  hard evidence for easy belief in the supernatural beings we've all come to appreciate as the beloved villains of our dark imagination, the wacked-out members of the family that periodically emerge from the worm hole in our brain to hex and vex us.

The hard evidence - anecdotal, assessed with the  critical reasoning skills usually associated with developmentally disabled mollusks  -  is hardly worth considering. But, then, there'd be no joy in Mudville, mighty Casey striking out the bats in the belfry. This is natural philosophy's last gasp before Newton and the rationalists dominated the sciences. But not before Saducismus Triumphatus's  influence upon Cotton Mather led, eleven years after its publication, to the Salem witch trials of 1692-93.

In that respect, the book is seriously frightening, truly a rare book nightmare, its text an extended footnote to a dark chapter in early American history, and a chillingly scarce volume in first edition. 

Not much point in dwelling upon the text; the book's engravings do the talking. If, however, you actually hear them talk call Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,

or Mademoiselle Zeena, carnival spiritualist.

Hard, reliable evidence for the existence of witches and the efficacy of witchcraft was actually discovered 276 years after Glanvil's Saducimus Thriumphatus, in 1957, by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, publicly presented, with an assist from Nelson Riddle, for the first time by the Chairman of the Board, who, unsurprisingly, has the last word on the subject:


GLANVIL, Joseph. Saducimus Triumphatus: or,  Full Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions. In Two Parts: The First Treating of their Possibility. The Second their Real Existence. With a Letter of Dr. Henry More on the same Subject. And an Authentick, but wonderful story of certain Swedish Witches. Done into English by Dr. Horneck, Preacher at the Savoy. London: Printed for J. Collins...and S. Lownds, 1681.

First edition. Octavo. [5], 58; [8], 180, [9] , 310, [5], 311-328 [i.e. 348], [1] pp. Frontispiece. Woodcut illustrations.

ESTC R25463. Allibone, p. 676.

This is an extremely rare book in its first edition, with OCLC/KVK recording only two copies in library holdings worldwide, and ABPC reporting no copies at auction within the last thirty-six years.

6:54 AM CORRECTION: Well, this is embarrassing: an initial misspelling while searching auction and library records led me astray. The first edition is actually well represented in library holdings and there have been more than few copies at auction, though the majority of those were not in the best of condition. Please forgive the error.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this! There is a zine that puts your Glanvil into a pretty compelling context, "BURNING WOMEN: The European Witch Hunts, Enclosure,and the Rise of Capitalism", in digital form here:

    Although, admittedly socialist historiagraphy gets a bit like a witch hunt in and of itself...from time to time...but fun nonetheless.



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