From illusion to disenchantment: Feijoo versus
the 'falsely possessed' in eighteenth-century Spain1
I conclude from the findings that there were no witches nor bedevilled people
in those places until they began to write about them. (Alonso de Salazar y
I prove the matter through the constant experience that on very rare occa-
sions does there appear to be any possessed person in places where no one
starts exorcizing. (Benito Jerónimo Feijoo)3
Among the many attacks that the Benedictine Father Benito Feijoo (1676– 1764) launched against the so-called vulgo (the 'common herd'), one of the most impassioned was undoubtedly that dedicated to those possessed by the Devil. Presenting himself as an exposer of false beliefs, for whom Spanish society at the time was crying out, Feijoo warned his contemporaries about the great number of falsely possessed wandering around the country. From his perspective, the proliferation of fake possessed people constituted one of the most serious deceptions, and also one of the most widely accepted by the masses. For this reason in his general encyclopaedic work, written 'to correct general misconceptions', the essay 'Demoniacos' was a key work that historians have identified as representative of the beginning of the Spanish Enlightenment movement.4
Before embarking fully on the main discussion, we find ourselves facing two significant lines of thought as much about the author himself as the public at whom the discourse was aimed. Feijoo considered himself a misunderstood benefactor: 'experience and discourse have taught me that the person who reveals truth not only falls out with the deceiver but also with the deceived'.5 He took for granted that the majority of those who read his writings, in other words the vulgo, among whom he includes 'a great many indiscreet priests', would be against his thesis. Not for nothing are the so-called vulgo depicted by the Benedictine as comprising a class of people mentally rather than socially defined, who did not use their intelligence, who rejected reflection, and guided by emotion ended up behaving like madmen.6 In spite of this, the author quixotically presented his revelations to
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and Magic in Enlightenment Europe. Contributors: Owen Davies - Editor, William De Blécourt - Editor. Publisher: Manchester University Press. Place of publication: Manchester, England. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 45.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.