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Throughout the nineteenth century, as the medical profession established itself, religious healers were increasingly relegated merely to consoling and comforting the sick rather than actually diagnosing and curing. Clergymen in violation of this law were threatened with severe punishment. The incident is additional proof of the many-faceted use of this term, the use of which helped Prussian civil servants and physicians to repeatedly reassure themselves of its consistent definition and their shared point of view.

From this perspective, belief in miracles and witchcraft gave reason to repeatedly classify these incidents among similar occurrences, thus providing them with a semblance of a historical context and divesting them of their religious significance. Quite obviously, the administrative and medical view of the closely connected belief in witchcraft and the Devil changed visibly during the nineteenth century. While at the beginning of the century, exorcism caused official concern only when it became a public spectacle, at the end even its tacit toleration was frowned upon.


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With the beginning of the Prussian and German Kulturkampf this ostracizing discrimination joined wider controversies regarding Weltanschauung. This point of view was widely accepted among Prussian civil servants and led to many conflicts with the Catholic Church. Denominational motives were certainly behind some of these attacks.

Members of the Evangelischer Bund zur Wahrung der deutsch-protestantischen Interessen Evangelic Association for the Realization of German Protestant Interests and journalists associated with them often accused the Papacy and the Jesuits of concertedly promoting the belief in witchcraft. This propaganda may lie at the root of the persistent legend that early modern witch-hunts and the belief in witchcraft had been an almost exclusively Catholic phenomenon.

The persistence of traditional forms of piety, like the belief in witchcraft and the Devil, which were sporadically highlighted and lamented by the enlightened press forced church authorities into action. This blanket term was used to describe and denounce religious activities as varied as the reading of supposedly superstitious tracts, the use of spiritual therapies like exorcism and miracle cures, and the belief in witchcraft, hauntings, stigmatizations and other so-called false pieties.

More important to the Cologne Generalvikariat than the violations themselves were instances when the local clergy supported or even instigated these incidents, or when the events drew conspicuously large crowds. The difficulties of explaining the distinction between miracles and superstitions were quite apparent in the practical handling of the belief in witchcraft.

Outside the Catholic Church itself, all efforts to distinguish clearly the two fields of belief met with failure. For the Catholic Church, this meant constant rivalry in its relations with medical science and state-approved physicians and, at the same time, a loss of its normative function.

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An understanding of natural science lowered the probability of a miracle — even if it was, in principle, still possible — and incited general doubts about the truth of religious teachings. In addition, pressure from the press, which was extremely critical of any religious deviation, further constricted the radius of action for the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the leadership of the diocese did possess several instruments with which to react to religious deviations and miraculous incidents. The diocese tried to quell public perception that official recognition of the strange and miraculous was certain and imminent.

The usual practice throughout the nineteenth century was to select expert clergy to investigate miraculous affairs. The case interwove the belief in miracles, diabolism and witchcraft. She experienced apparitions of both the Virgin Mary and the Devil, who took regular turns to communicate with or through her.

This was often accompanied by the vomiting of coins, needles and steel nibs in addition to the more usual bloody bile. However, the woman died before the canon, suffragan bishop and later Archbishop of Cologne, Antonius Hubert Fischer, who had speedily hurried to Giesenkirchen, could complete his report. Still, there were phases when the Catholic Church reacted with caution and restraint, leaving things to run their natural course, especially during the German-Prussian Kulturkampf , when the toleration of miraculous apparitions of the Virgin Mary may certainly have been motivated by denominational politics.

Although many of the local clergymen tried to avoid exorcism, they were repeatedly forced to appeal to the church authorities. The position taken by the Generalvikariat assured the unquestioning acceptance of medical authorities and their responsibilities in order to avoid immediate interference from the Prussian state in internal Church affairs. Yet when clergymen clearly and unmistakably denounced the belief in witchcraft and miracles, they had to expect problems from below. When, for example, the priest of the Aachen parish of St Foilan, preached from the pulpit against a miracle healer, the next morning he found himself confronted with a graphic reprimand in the shape of a dead cat nailed to his house.

The demand of the state authorities for the immediate removal of superstitious clergymen from their parish duties put Church authorities in a precarious situation, as large parts of the clergy evidently tolerated or even encouraged such ideas and practices. The archival sources from the Cologne Generalvikariat show that some clergy actively participated in the popular discourse on witchcraft, possession and mystical phenomena, especially monastic clerics like Jesuits, Capucins, Redemptorists, and, in the Rhine province, Franciscans.

Education and admonition were primary among the preventative measures pursued by the Church. While thorough studies constituted the basis for a well-educated parish clergy, later additional education within the dioceses served to build upon these foundations. As a consequence Catholic Church admonitions were rather common. In the autumn of , for example, the wife of the bargeman Goswin Schneider of Remagen was ostracized as a witch and physically abused. The Remagen population accused the woman of having bewitched a sick child.

To resolve the tensions in the town the Prussian authorities relied on the admonishing influence of the experienced parish priest of Remagen, Johann Joseph Win-deck, who was told to calm his parishioners down. Did the official Ultramontane Church succeed in controlling and directing divergent Catholic practices and beliefs? This is an important question, not only for current research, but also to help contextualize the claims of nineteenth-century commentators who accused the Catholic Church of rein-vigorating the belief in witchcraft.

Even if Ultramontanism supported traditional forms of piety, its utopian goals were ultimately anything but traditional. Of course, its intentions were nurtured by the retroactive utopia of re-establishing old balances of power by modern means. Even beyond the middle of the century it was still obvious how narrow the radius of action was for clergymen trying to contain and suppress traditional forms of piety, as in conflicting situations they frequently had no choice but to accede to the wishes of their parishioners.

In the first place, there is the issue of source material. There are relatively few sources that derive directly from the pen of those actually involved in witchcraft disputes. Much research is still needed in this area. What we find in Catholic Church archives are numerous statements on the subject by those clergy who played secondary roles in disputes.

Miracle healers and lay exorcists certainly publicized testimonies from grateful patients to document their success rate, but we rarely hear directly from those patients. There are, for example, documents in which people apply for dispensation from the bishopric to conduct exorcisms for family members. Investigations by the official Church against clergymen charged with exorcism would also quite frequently contain testimonies from parish members stating their belief in witchcraft and the Devil.

During the first decades of the Prussian rule in the Rhine province from onwards, the cultural distance of many civil servants from the many customs of the Rhine area help explain the reason for numerous bans and prejudices. Lack of cultural comprehension could culminate in accusations of superstition by the new rulers. However, cultural and denominational distance must have played a prominent role and should not be underestimated, especially as it was used for auxiliary argumentation culminating in the handy and catchy accusation of superstition.

Behind such beliefs, which were widely denounced as expressions of irrationality and pre-modern thinking, we may find far more rationality than is evident at first sight. Consulting a witch doctor after numerous medical professionals had been consulted and failed to offer a solution can be seen as a rational act if we assume health to be a forward-looking value, in so far as it helps assure a better future. The Hela case from demonstrates the point. The sick fisherman, Johann Konkel, had little choice but to consult the cunning-man Kaminski for his help as no doctor had yet settled near the remote village.

It is interesting, though, that the brute force of the highly inebriated villagers was enacted against none other than a potential rival of the lay healer Kaminski.

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In addition, everyone thought that the easily excitable Christina Ceinowa was a witch who could induce as well as cure all kinds of illness. Belief in witchcraft and in warding off evil personified was not only rooted in a long and varied tradition of medical diagnosis and cure, it also remained a common source of resolving a multitude of fears and personal and communal crises. These emotions culminated in the fear of hell as punishment for religious and moral misbehaviour. But new fears were also integrated into traditional patterns of interpretation. An overt expression of this phenomenon was the common refusal to use the increasingly ubiquitous steam trains.

Popular prejudices against the railways, contemporary symbol of progress and facilitators of industrialization sometimes culminated in actual phobia.

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The trains, spewing sparks and steam, were thought by some to be a fiendish manifestation. In Baden, for example, it was said that people believed that the Devil took one passenger at each station as his reward. Protection from the evil influences of the Devil, ghosts and witches, or the warding off of general bad luck remained important to a significant section of the population throughout the century and beyond, as the impressive collection of scrapbooks and loose papers from the vicarage of Konfeld Trier Diocese shows.

It seems to have been compiled by several literate authors from different early modern magical texts. Bethzairle and all evil spirits, spirits human and airy, watery, seeds of fire and earth and all ghosts, I, N.

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It is remarkable that this formula aims to put witches, ghosts or devils to never-ending work in order to keep them eternally busy and unable to fulfil their evil intentions. Jahrhunderts, in H. Parallelen, Positionen, Frankfurt a. SIMON cds. Geschichte und Theorie, 2, Frankfurt a. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Kabinettsjustiz vornehmlich des Jahrhunderts, in S.

Studien zur Agrargeschichte des badischen Breisgaus vom Beginn des Jahrhunderts, Freiburg i. Jahrhunderts, Lippische Mitteilungen aus Geschichte und Landeskunde, , 43, p. Zur Wirkungsweise und Funktion staatlicher Strafverfolgung im Jahrhundert, in H. REIF ed. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt a. EVANS ed.