Putting a new spin on witchcraft
20 June 2016
A Cardiff historian has been shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Historical Society (RHS) Gladstone Prize, one of the most sought-after book prizes for early career historians.
Dr Jan Machielsen of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion features in the 2016 shortlist for his first book Martin Delrio: Demonology and Counter Scholarship in the Reformation.
The book is the first modern biography of Jesuit scholar Martin Delrio (1551–1608), one of the most influential contemporary writers on witchcraft and superstition.
Best known today for his book Disquisitiones magicae (‘Investigations into magic’), Delrio was often cast as a witch-hunter. He was an editor of classical commentaries and a friend - or enemy - of important humanist scholars, teaching at Jesuit Colleges across Catholic Europe.
Dr Machielsen’s book sheds new light on early modern witchcraft belief, the Catholic Counter-Reformation and a key period in history when the worlds of humanism and Catholic Reform collided.
It explores the diverse interests and complex career of Delrio, challenging the primacy of social history in the study of early modern witchcraft and demonology.
Dr Machielsen argues for a new perspective, deflecting the prism of the witch trials which have long painted Delrio as a hysterical bigot: “Delrio’s Investigations into Magic were based on a vast amount of reading and were a strange hybrid of the humanist tradition and the Counter-Reformation. Yet the fact that theywere not founded on personal experience paradoxically contributed to its longevity.
“Enlightenment thinkers found its book-based learning difficult to dislodge. In fact the book was reprinted more than twenty times, for the last time in Cologne in 1755. Delrio is often cast as a witch-hunter. The reality is that he may never have met a purported witch, let alone prosecuted her.”
Winners of the RHS 2016 awards will be announced on 6 July.