Parapsychology/Sources/Ancient and Medieval Paranormal Claims

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Ancient and Medieval Paranormal Claims[edit]

Carrington (1937). The Psychic World.

Howitt (1863). The History of the Supernatural in All Ages and Nations and in all Churches, Christian and Pagan, demonstrating a Universal Faith. (Vol. I, Vol. II)

Lang (1909). The Making of Religion.

Winkelman (1982). Magic, A Theoretical Reassessment (and Comments and Replies).

Dodds (1971). Supernormal Phenomena in Classical Antiquity.

Peters (1998). The Literature of Demonology and Witchcraft.

Scott (1584/1886). The Discoverie of Witchcraft. (very important skeptic text, though this emphasizes the positive side of skepticism, in opposition to religious bigotry. Dingwall said of this in his scathing 1971 attack The Need for Responsibility in Parapsychology: My Sixty Years in Psychical Research (NOTE: some of the writing I provide here partially critiques this - particularly, he can be challenged on the Cross-Correspondences and Geraldine Cummins - as Trevor Hamilton wrote to me on Oct 11, 2014, "I do know of Dingwall's criticisms of the cross-correspondences and of the inaccuracies of his comments on Swan on a Black Sea [or rather misunderstandings - see the reply of Mary Rose Barringto to Dingwall in the Complete SPR Correspondence on Geraldine Cummins' Swan on a Black Sea given below] and his much earlier efforts to get information about the mediums involved in the cross-correspondences especially Mrs Willett and Mrs Holland. In the former case the affair between Gerald Balfour and Winifred Coombe Tennant (Mrs Willett) prevented that and in the later case Alice Kipling/Fleming (Mrs Holland) did not want her family to know she was involved in automatic writing. The destruction of the original scripts was purely to save space and help organisation.The investigators were over-whelmed with the number of scripts that came in over the years and it took them ages to print and index them. So again, the motive here was not an attempt to hide fraud, incompetence or deception." - scroll also down to the "Psychical Research" section of this archived article for counters to other attacks:,

"The power of the demons in influencing the weather was questioned by a few bold men who were gradually beginning to see the enormity of the witchcraft persecutions. Such were Pomponazzi and Agrippa, but their suggestions were soon disposed of by writers of the caliber of Jean Bodin who relied on the supposed authority of the Bible and the pronouncements of the Popes. In this connection we are reminded that one of the critics of Jean Bodin and of the others with such views was Reginald Scot, whose great book The Discoverie of Witchcraft was first published in 1584. Scot, who had little patience with the occultists and demonologists, was, as might be expected, bitterly assailed by the believers, among whom was numbered King James I, who described Scot's views as damnable. It was Scot who tried to show that conjurers were able to demonstrate what seemed to be examples of the paranormal whereas, when explained, they were clearly simple tricks. Neither the occultists of the sixteenth century nor modern parapsychologists of the twentieth have ever been able to grasp the fact that, because they did not then and do not now understand how these tricks were and are done, this does not mean that the effects are paranormal. Our modern occultists have apparently learned nothing since the sixteenth century, since they are still assuming that, because they do not understand how certain tricks are done, these must be paranormal. I need hardly mention such examples as Sir Oliver Lodge and the Zancigs and Sir Conan Doyle and Houdini. Even as I write these words I have received a leading journal dealing with parapsychology that is largely devoted to the amazing paranormal phenomena exhibited by a performer who, from the accounts, would seem to be an ordinary playing card manipulator and card location expert."

As regards the contents and impact, Sidney Lee, in his article on Scott in his Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51, wrote of the book: "There are four dedications—one to Sir Roger Manwood, chief baron of the exchequer, another to Scot's cousin, Sir Thomas Scot, a third jointly to John Coldwell [q. v.], dean of Rochester (afterwards bishop of Salisbury), and William Redman [q. v.], archdeacon of Canterbury (afterwards bishop of Norwich), and a fourth ‘to the readers.’ Scott enumerates no less than 212 authors whose works in Latin he had consulted, and twenty-three authors who wrote in English. The names in the first list include many Greek and Arabic writers; among those in the second are Bale, Fox, Sir Thomas More, John Record, Barnabe Googe, Abraham Fleming, and William Lambarde. But Scot's information was not only derived from books. He had studied the superstitions respecting witchcraft in courts of law in country districts, where the prosecution of witches was unceasing, and in village life, where the belief in witchcraft flourished in an endless number of fantastic forms. With remarkable boldness and an insight that was far in advance of his age, he set himself to prove that the belief in witchcraft and magic was rejected alike by reason and religion, and that spiritualistic manifestations were wilful impostures or illusions due to mental disturbance in the observers. He wrote with the philanthropic aim of staying the cruel persecution which habitually pursued poor, aged, and simple persons, who were popularly credited with being witches. The maintenance of the superstition he laid to a large extent at the door of the Roman catholic church, and he assailed with much venom credulous writers like Jean Bodin (1530–1596), author of ‘Démonomie des Sorciers’ (Paris, 1580), and Jacobus Sprenger, joint-author of ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ (Nuremberg, 1494). Of Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535) and John Wier (1515–1588), author of ‘De Præstigiis Demonum’ (Basle, 1566), whose liberal views he adopted, he invariably spoke with respect. Scot performed his task so thoroughly that his volume became an exhaustive encyclopædia of contemporary beliefs about witchcraft, spirits, alchemy, magic, and legerdemain. Scot only fell a victim to contemporary superstition in his references to medicine and astrology. He believed in the medicinal value of the unicorn's horn, and thought that precious stones owed their origin to the influence of the heavenly bodies.

Scot's enlightened work attracted widespread attention. It did for a time ‘make great impressions on the magistracy and clergy’ (Ady). Gabriel Harvey in his ‘Pierce's Supererogation,’ 1593 (ed. Grosart, ii. 291), wrote: ‘Scotte's discoovery of Witchcraft dismasketh sundry egregious impostures, and in certaine principall chapters, and speciall passages, hitteth the nayle on the head with a witnesse; howsoever I could have wished he had either dealt somewhat more curteously with Monsieur Bondine [i.e. Bodin], or confuted him somewhat more effectually.’ The ancient belief was not easily uprooted, and many writers came to its rescue. After George Gifford (d. 1620) [q. v.], in two works published respectively in 1587 and 1593, and William Perkins (1558–1602) [q. v.] had sought to confute Scot, James VI of Scotland repeated the attempt in his ‘Dæmonologie’ (1597), where he described the opinions of Wier and Scot as ‘damnable.’ On his accession to the English throne James went a step further, and ordered all copies of Scot's ‘Discoverie’ to be burnt (cf. Gisbert Voet, Selectarum Disputationum Theologicarum Pars Tertia, Utrecht, 1659, p. 564). John Rainolds [q. v.] in ‘Censura Librorum Apocryphorum’ (1611), Richard Bernard in ‘Guide to Grand Jurymen’ (1627), Joseph Glanvill [q. v.] in ‘Philosophical Considerations touching Witches and Witchcraft’ (1666), and Meric Casaubon in ‘Credulity and Uncredulity’ (1668) continued the attack on Scot's position, which was defended by Thomas Ady in ‘A Treatise concerning the Nature of Witches and Witchcraft’ (1656), and by John Webster in ‘The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft’ (1677). More interesting is it to know that Shakespeare drew from his study of Scot's book hints for his picture of the witches in ‘Macbeth,’ and that Middleton in his play of the ‘Witch’ was equally indebted to the same source."

See also Ady (1656). A Candle in the Dark. - an overview of this text is provided by Loxton on pp. 21-23 of his essay)

Glanvill (1681). Sadducimus Triumphatus: or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions. In two parts. The first treating of their possibility. The second of their real existence (the SPR article on Glanvill notes the background to such work, and the influence Glanvill had on the texts The certainty of the worlds of spirits (1691) by Richard Baxter, and Pandaemonium (1691) by Richard Bovet.

This is a pioneering psychical research text and also a useful treatment of the subject from a Christian Platonist perspective. Alfred Russell Wallace, in his answer to the arguments of Hume, Lecky, and others against miracles, noted, "Another of Mr. Lecky's statements is, that there is an alteration of mental conditions invariably accompanying the decline of belief. But this "invariable accompaniment" certainly cannot be proved, because the decline of the belief has only occurred once in the history of the world; and, what is still more remarkable, while the mental conditions which accompanied that one decline have continued in force or have even increased in energy and are much more widely diffused, belief has now for twenty years been growing up again. In the highest states of ancient civilisation, both among the Greeks and Romans, the belief existed in full force, and has been testified to by the highest and most intellectual men of every age. The decline which in the present century has certainly taken place, cannot, therefore, be imputed to any general law, since it is but an exceptional instance.

Again, Mr. Lecky says that the belief in the supernatural only exists "when men are destitute of the critical spirit, and when the notion of uniform law is yet unborn." Mr. Lecky in this matter contradicts himself almost as much as Hume did. One of the greatest advocates for the belief in the supernatural was Glanvil,3 and this is what Mr. Lecky says of Glanvil.

He says that Glanvil "has been surpassed in genius by few of his successors."

"The predominating characteristic of Glanvil's mind was an intense scepticism. He has even been termed by a modern critic the first English writer who has thrown scepticism into a definite form; and if we regard this expression as simply implying a profound distrust of human faculties, the judgment can hardly be denied. And certainly it would be difficult to find a work displaying less of credulity and superstition than the treatise on The Vanity of Dogmatising, afterwards published as Scepsis Scientifica, in which Glanvil expounded his philosophical views . . . The Sadducismus Triumphatus is probably the ablest book ever published in defence of the reality of witchcraft. Dr. Henry More, the illustrious Boyle, and the scarcely less eminent Cudworth, warmly supported Glanvil; and no writer comparable to these in ability or influence appeared on the other side; yet the scepticism steadily increased."

Again Mr. Lecky thus speaks of Glanvil:--

"It was between the writings of Bacon and Locke that that latitudinarian school was formed which was irradiated by the genius of Taylor, Glanvil, and Hales, and which became the very centre and seedplot of religious liberty.

These are the men and these the mental conditions which are favourable to superstition and delusion!"

As regards an important poltergeist case in this text, see this. William Barrett, in his article Poltergeists, old and new (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 25, 377-412) stated that "more than two centuries ago, one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal Society, whom Mr. Lecky describes as a man of "incomparable ability," Joseph Glanvil, the author of Saducismus Triumphatus, dealt with every objection raised by modern critics, and demonstrated that neither fraud nor hallucination was adequate to explain the poltergeist phenomena which were abundant in his day. Like all other inexplicable supernormal phenomena, it is, as Glanvil says, simply a question of adequate and trustworthy evidence. With all deference, I venture to commend sceptics who dogmatize on this question to Glanvil's work on the Vanity of Dogmatizing, a book of which Mr. Lecky remarks: "Certainly it would be difficult to find a work displaying less of credulity and superstition than this treatise."")

Gurney (1886). Notes on Witchcraft (treats the phenomena similar to how Podmore treats Spiritualism, like Podmore though, he argues that there was evidence of telepathy when one sifts through some of these accounts)

Summers (1926). The History of Witchcraft and Demonology. (overview of the subject by a devout believer in the genuineness of the phenomena. c.f. Summers' text The Geography of Witchcraft, which is not visible online, but which is reviewed here

I will attempt to use books to counter Podmore's views on witchcraft, and concerning old cases of poltergeists, Pdomore is countered by Andrew Lang, The Poltergeist and his explainers (Appendix B), The Making of Religion, London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1900, pp. 324–39.)

Benedict XIV (1730). De Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione.

Grosso (2011). Extreme Phenomena and Human Capacity - An Essay Review of The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism by Herbert Thurston.