Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and Magic in Enlightenment Europe

By Owen Davies; William de Blécourt | Go to book overview

10
The dissemination of magical knowledge in
Enlightenment Germany
The supernatural and the development of print culture

Sabine Doering-Manteuffel

The so-called Age of Enlightenment has traditionally been portrayed as a phase of European history during which new philosophies came into existence concerning people's ability to determine their own fate through reason. This era saw the development of future-oriented conceptions of state and society as well as new ideas about mankind's ability to control and govern nature. The dominance of theological world-views ceded considerable ground to secular intellectual concepts. Latin disappeared as the language of elite discourse. Increased educational provision provided access to sources of knowledge that were previously unattainable to all but a few. A market for books and newspapers, for journals and weeklies developed rapidly.1 More and more people lower down the social scale became increasingly involved in a literary culture. Accordingly, the 'common' people began to learn from their history. They were taught new methods of agriculture, trade and morals, were informed of the latest achievements and news from all over the world by self-appointed public enlighteners.2 As the eighteenth century progressed the populace became increasingly divorced from the old traditional oral cultures and conceptions of the world.

Although there are some truths in this classic version of the Enlightenment there is reason to give it only partial credence, as the study of supernatural literature of the period demonstrates. The development of printed media during the second half of the seventeenth century created a new information culture, which came to play a dominant role in the spread of new, more 'rational' ideas, yet not all of the information disseminated immediately strikes one as being 'enlightened'.3 Business-minded publishers took advantage of the continued, widespread belief in magic and supernatural phenomena. Belief in miracles, magic knowledge and fortune-telling were exploited in the new market, and the more literature that was printed in general, the more magic and occult literature was also printed. By the end of the eighteenth century, the market for mass-produced literature on magic and the occult had been established, and in the following century this

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