Weyer, Johann

Weyer, Johann (1515-1588)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Johann Weyer was born in Brabant, Germany, into a noble Protestant family. In his De Praestigiis Daemonum (1563) Weyer states that he was a student of the scientist and reputed magician Cornelius Agrippa, working with him on a daily basis. Weyer's book was the most celebrated of all books to expose the witchcraft delusion at the time when it was at its height. He was one of the first to question the persecution of people on a charge of witchcraft and to try to separate those who did no true evil from those who really did align themselves with Satan. He said that whatever evil some women might think they worked was actually a hallucination. The true evil, he said, was done by Satan himself and alone.

Weyer studied medicine in Paris and went on to become tutor to the two sons and nephew of King Francis I of France. He travelled extensively with the boys, across France and to Crete and Africa. Later he became physician to Duke William of Cleves, and it was in that post that he started to write his books on witchcraft and what he perceived as the delusions of its practitioners. Through Weyer's diagnostics and writings, the Duchy of Cleves and Juliers-Berg became a sanctuary of sanity in the midst of the chaos of the persecutions. Had it not been for the protection of the Duke, Weyer would certainly have been taken himself and burned as a witch, or witch lover.

Weyer, a Protestant, spoke out openly against the clergy who readily accused others of witchcraft, sometimes just to get money for performing exorcisms. He cried out against the inhuman tortures inflicted on the elderly victims to gain confessions, and denounced the typical methods of the persecutors with their false accusations. His emphasis on the uselessness of false confessions extracted in this way laid the foundations for later humanitarians.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.