Bodin, Jean (1529–1596)

PaganGreen Pagan Witches

Bodin, Jean (1529–1596) French demonologist and
political theorist who encouraged the vicious persecution
of witches and helped fan the fires of the Inquisition
throughout Europe. Jean Bodin said that people
who denied the existence of witchcraft were witches
themselves and said that, with rare exceptions, no
accused witch should go unpunished.
Bodin was born in Angers, France. For a time, he
served as a Carmelite monk. He left the monastery for
the University of Toulouse, where he became a professor
of Roman law. Bodin possessed a brilliant intellect and
distinguished himself in his studies of philosophy, law,
classics and economics. In 1561 he left Toulouse for Paris,
where he worked in the service of the king. But his book
Six livres de la république, published in 1576, caused him
to fall out of favor with the king because of its concept
that sovereign power belonged to the people.
Bodin wrote other works of political theory, but he
is best known for his treatise on witchcraft, De la démonomanie
des sorciers (The Demonomania of Witches),
published in 1580. The book was an immediate success
and was reprinted frequently throughout Europe. Like
the Malleus Maleficarum published nearly 100 years
earlier, it served as a guide to witch-hunters and judges
in the matters of identifying, prosecuting and executing
witches. Bodin drew on his own experience as a judge at
numerous witchcraft trials.
Démonomanie describes witches, their methods of diabolic
acts and their abilities, such as pacts with Satan (see
Devil’s pact), flying through the air to their sabbats, copulating
with incubi and succubi and casting evil spells.
It also acknowledges that there are good daemons as well
as evil demons, and that good daemons can communicate
with man and provide inspiration. He himself had such a
daemon, who whispered instructions in his ear.
Bodin believed that authorities were too soft in prosecuting
witches, whom he saw less as heretics and more as
social deviants. He condoned convicting the accused on
the basis of lies by informants, confessions made under
torture, secret accusations and false promises of leniency.
He urged local authorities to encourage secret accusations
by placing a black box in the church for anonymous
He was adamant about torturing and punishing
witches, saying that God would reject those who did not
do so:
Those too who let the witches escape, or who do not
punish them with the utmost rigor, may rest assured
that they will be abandoned by God to the mercy of the
witches. And the country which shall tolerate this will
be scourged with pestilences, famines, and wars; and
Jean Bodin (Old engraving)
Bodin, Jean 31
those which shall take vengeance on the witches will be
blessed by him and will make his anger cease.
Even children and invalids were not to be spared torture,
as Bodin demonstrated time and again by his own
example as judge. Children, he said, should be forced to
testify against their accused parents. One of his favored
methods was cauterizing flesh with a red-hot iron and
then cutting out the putrefied flesh. That torture, he
said, was mild compared to the hell that awaited the condemned
Bodin took exception with exorcism, however, which
he said was both ineffective and dangerous to the exorcist.
Music was preferable as a form of exorcism; in the
Old Testament, Saul’s possession had been calmed by
music. Bodin did not believe that a person could cause
another to become possessed (see possession).
Bodin savagely criticized Johann Weyer, a Lutheran
physician and contemporary, who opposed the burning
of witches and maintained they were helpless victims.
Bodin said Weyer’s books should be burned.
Except for Démonomanie, which served the purpose of
the church, all of Bodin’s other books on political theory
were condemned by the Inquisition. Bodin died in Laon,
a victim of the bubonic plague.