Hemmerlin's Views on Magic


Hemmerlin’s views on magic were unusual for his time: unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not associate the totality of what was considered 'magic' with the Devil. He viewed magic as a neutral force, and sometimes he even promoted kinds of spells that he considered benevolent. For example, he argued for the legitimacy of certain spells in his Opuscula et tractatus—including ones used to heal cattle and others that were used to get rid of pests in crop fields—as he perceived them as having a positive influence on the world. Essentially, Hemmerlin believed that magic was not evil so long as it did not directly invoke demons. Hemmerlin viewed both benevolent magic and sorcery as things that were merely a part of peoples’ everyday lives. While he believed that anyone could practice witchcraft, he associated the act primarily with peasants and women.

On the subject of sorcery, Hemmerlin focused on the demons behind the witchcraft, unlike contemporary German churchman Heinrich Kramer, who focused on the actions of witches and methods for punishing them. Hemmerlin believed that demons were in control of evil magic and did not simply have their powers borrowed by mischievous witchcraft practitioners. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, he viewed demons as a real and tangible force that were permitted by God to act on their own without human influence; thus, it was demons that were responsible for harmful magic, and not the witches themselves. 

While he was surprisingly tolerant of magic, Hemmerlin was true to his upper-class background and despised peasants. He viewed them as embodying everything ugly and loathsome in society and blamed them for the bad reputation that magic held during his time. On a similar note, Hemmerlin was one of the biggest critiques of the ascetic idealization of poverty and was at odds with the Franciscan and Beguine religious orders, who believed that a life of poverty was a way to be closer to the kingdom of God. Hemmerlin published a treatise arguing against the Beguine lifestyle while he was attending the Council of Basel (1431), the event that made the concept of witchcraft synonymous with demons during later centuries.

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