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Calvin’s Geneva Confronts Magic and Witchcraft: The Evidence from the Consistory

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Abstract This essay examines the actions of the Consistory of Geneva, a morals court created and dominated by John Calvin, against reputed cases of magic and superstition. During the ministry of Calvin, the most common of these involved white magic to cure people of various illnesses. The Consistory was not unduly harsh in dealing with therapeutic magic, usually just rebuking the miscreants and temporarily excluding them from communion. It also showed a remarkable degree of skepticism when confronting accusations of maleficia, at times viewing the allegations as a form of defamation of the person accused of witchcraft. The Consistory, like the Catholic Inquisition, attacked superstition, but it extended superstition to include numerous practices that Catholics accepted. Calvinism’s elimination of many rituals and sacramentals greatly restricted access to the supernatural. Evidence from the Consistory suggests that Calvinism promoted the professionalization of medicine and, in the long run, the disenchantment of the world.

Affiliations: 1: University of Mississippi


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