Testing for Demonic Possession: Scribonius, Goclenius, and the Lemgo Witchcraft Trial of 1583
The chapter discusses the epistemology of demons in the context of German school philosophy. It is shown how philosophers contributed to demonological debates as philosophers, i. e. trying to develop explanations of demonological phenomena within the conceptual framework of metaphysics and natural philosophy. Specific theories—such as those to do with the presence of demons in human bodies—were deduced from and were warranted by more general theories about the presence of spirits in the sublunary world. The debate between Wilhelm Adolph Scribonius and Rudolph Goclenius over the efficacy of an investigative method used in witchcraft trials, the so-called “water exam” (Wasserprobe) serves as a case study that demonstrates the inherent difficulties in providing a rational explanation of the presence of demonic forces in nature. Still, theories about knowing demons cannot be understood in isolation. Historians of philosophy should finally acknowledge that demonology and its philosophical underpinnings are a part of their own disciplinary tradition that must no longer be ignored.