Witchcraft, Demonology and the Inquisition

The Rare Book Library, University of Sydney, contains a significant collection of works on witchcraft, demonology, exorcism and the occult. Here also may be found related works on canon and civil law, reports of trials, the Inquisition, torture, prophecy and alchemy, and more modern texts on occult practices by writers such as A. E. Waite and Aleister Crowley.

The collection focuses on European, British and American witchcraft, looking at its theological and heretical aspects rather than at the level of folklore or anthropology. Here may be found many early texts from the 16th and 17th centuries, the period when the theories of the heretical aspects of witchcraft were being formulated. Among these are four editions of one of the more sinister works on demonology, the Malleus Maleficarum, a book that codified church dogma on heresy for centuries.

The Rare Book Library also contains many of the other defining texts of the early discussions on demonology and the occult. These include such works as Jean Bodin's De La Demonmanie des sorciers (1586), Peter Binsfeld’s Tractatus de confessoribus maleficorum, (1605), Martin Del Rio’s Disquisitionarum magicarum (1679), and Johannes Nider’s Formicarius.

Equally significant are the works of theologians who opposed the Inquisition and the witch trials, such as those of Balthasar Bekker and Laurent Bordelon. In England this point of view was to be supported and developed by men such as Reginald Scot, John Wagstaffe and John Webster.