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Entirely new cultures and races had been found. The very nature of the universe and its creation came under increasingly sophisticated scrutiny with the inventions of the telescope and microscope. Advances in medicine, anatomy, and natural and physical sciences were coming thick and fast.

In all of this, writers and their reading public felt it important to have data, including imagery, presented faithfully so that these might then be further discussed and proved or disproved by others. The activities of the denizens of the dark side were part of this torrent of data. But, as we have noted, the dark side was also part of popular culture, folklore, and entertainment, and one did not always have to take a serious approach to the supernatural.

Thus, folktales have a part in my book as well as do other aspects of culture such as works of art and literature. It is easy today to forget that these authors wrote not only for the learned but also for the common people.

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It is the purpose of this book to lead the reader into that other side of the Renaissance, the dark side that was such a considerable component of Early Modern European culture. The term Renaissance meant rebirth, that is, the rebirth of the ancient world of Greece and Rome. The presence of the dark side in European culture was in part a continuation of what Renaissance literati called a middle age, a gothic barbarian period, between the ancient world and the modern world.

Nevertheless, the dark side was not set adrift as something vestigial from the past in Early Modern Europe. On the contrary, it blossomed. Some years ago I spoke at a conference on Netherlandish history where my topic was 16th- and 17th-century Netherlandish art that depicted witches killing children and practicing cannibalism on their re- Introduction mains.

I have always thought these topics interesting. When I was a child, my favorite holiday was Halloween. It still is. These fueled my scholarly interest in the dark side. I wrote my dissertation on the religious and mythological paintings of David Teniers II. Teniers was one of a small number of 17th-century baroque artists who frequently chose themes from the supernatural. Many of his works contained images of witches, alchemists, and devils. It is fair to say that once I embarked on this journey into the supernatural and paranormal, I have never looked back and have spent my professional career, at least in part, with the dark side of European culture in the Early Modern period.

There are two premises to this study. No distinction was to be made, for example, in studying the Devil or studying a West Indian iguana. Both were to be carefully analyzed and depicted with great detail in writing and in imagery. Most Europeans never stopped believing in the Devil. The stamp of authenticity, given to many aspects of the dark side, came literally from the fact that people thought this was a matter of religious orthodoxy.

Devils and witches were as real to these Christians as were Jesus and Mary. And he thought witches existed. This book begins with a chapter on the Devil and devils.

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This seemed the logical point at which to begin because so much of the dark side is concerned with the Devil in his permutations and with what they did. The next several chapters deal with witches, diabolic possession and exorcism, and demonology. All these topics are interrelated as one could not have witches without the Devil; nor could one have need for exorcisms unless individuals were possessed by devils. And naturally one could not have a formal study of the Devil unless people thought he was real.

In these chapters, I wish to present a number of examples of beliefs about the activities of witches and devils in some detail. The intent here is in accordance with the premises of the book. These things were real, or at least people thought they were real, and they were a huge component of everyday life in Early Modern Europe.

The chapters on possession and exorcism and demonology will take the reader to a somewhat closer examination of the old books themselves. Naturally, there are some examples of art depicting the possessed and innumerable examples of art that showed devils. They did not necessarily come into the hands of the lay reader, although they could have done so. The interface between these subjects and the public came more from accounts of witchcraft trials; just general gossip and, of course, the sermons that they heard.

Black magic is treated here as a particular chapter topic in which I will discuss the activities of evil magicians who may not necessarily have been witches. Black magic is magic that does harm. Witchcraft is a Christian apostasy. One eschewed Christianity and became a worshipper of Satan instead of Jesus and the Trinity.

Thus, non-Christians, Jews, or Muslims could be magicians and perform black magic. This book continues with a special component of the supernatural, the phenomena of ghosts, specters, and poltergeists.

Some attitudes toward these phenomena are similar to attitudes of today, while others vary Introduction considerably. Spirits and ghosts were a commonplace theme throughout the period and were found in a wide variety of literature as well as art. The topic of werewolves is a most fascinating anomaly in the study of the supernatural, thus requiring its own chapter. Although werewolves could be witches, they need not be. Werewolves were thought to have achieved their state by a pact of some sort with the Devil.

Having done this, they could achieve the status of werewolf by magical charms, ointments or amulets, such as wolf pelts, that might be provided by the Devil. Werewolves did not necessarily have to renounce Christianity. If you were bitten by a werewolf, you did not become one: you probably just bled out and died. Our modern cinema is responsible for the notion that werewolves infected others with lycanthropy. Virtually every study written about witches or devils contained some section on werewolves; it seemed almost obligatory to include something about them.

Most of the experts did not really believe in werewolves and provided various explanations for what people thought they had been or had seen.

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This skepticism permeated religious, medical, and legal treatises that discussed lycanthropy. Early Modern European werewolves were the criminally insane of their times. And some writers went so far as to say just that. One of the last segments of this book is an account of some of the artists who depicted various aspects of the dark side.

This appendix will provide more detailed art historical comments on these artists. Some of the most important painters and printmakers of the Renaissance and the 17th century depicted the dark side in their works. Finally, I have included a set of brief biographies of the persons discussed in this book.

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Almost all the books that are described herein were mechanically printed. I do make some references to early editions of certain printed books that were originally in manuscript form. Normally illustrations in manuscripts were executed in water colors. Gold leaf might be used to adorn and highlight pages. Opening initials, called incipits, might have small illustrations, normally printed with the text itself.


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These are known as historiated initials. Historiated initials also were used in manuscripts, wherein all the work was done by hand. Some readers may be unfamiliar with the process of printing books in this period. Type was hand cast in lead. The individual letters or characters were placed in wooden rows surrounded by wooden frames, inked, and impressed on paper.

Each set of pages would have its own set of rows and frames; normally more than one page was printed in the given frame. If a book were large enough, the individual page might be placed in only one frame. The type for these printed works was placed in reverse and mirror image, one piece of type at a time. When one considers the size of some of these books, and the tiny typefaces used, this is astonishingly hard to do. Even with literally thousands of individual pieces of type, there are surprisingly few mistakes in the texts.


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  • Type was set for Latin and Greek and modern European languages with each piece place in backward; a mirror image as it were, with each word spelled backward and running from right to left instead of from left to right. If one did not do everything backward, one obtained a reversed and unreadable image when the frame was run through the printing press. Similarly, illustrations, whether woodcut made from a carved wood block , or engravings on copper plates, or later etchings engravings treated with acid solutions to achieve gradations and shading had to be carved or incised in reverse from the drawings that served as their templates.

    Sometimes drawings were used as literal templates and thus most likely destroyed in the process. Other drawings for prints survived. Many other plates survived as well. Once the pages were printed they would be folded into signatures, just as books are arranged today, and then the signatures were literally compressed in a vise-like press and sewn together. This book would then be ready for its cover.

    Early printed books often had bindings called book boards. They were just that, pieces of board. Book boards were Introduction generally covered by leather although they could be covered in fabric. The boards were tied to the binding stitches with additional cord or thread, or even leather straps. Books also had leather covers without boards, and there were paperback covers as well. Many of the books from this period look strikingly modern in their bindings. Book bindings are a special world of scholarship as one has to have a wide experience of training to know which work is older and which book imitates an older technique.

    The boards were covered with larger pieces of leather that were then wrapped like a burrito around the boards. Book chemises sometimes had straps so that one could carry them on a belt. Other books had metal clasps to hold them shut or leather straps that could be tied to hold the book shut.