Demonology: Jean Bodin - A Different Kind of Demonologist

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Jean Bodin

(Portrait of Jean Bodin, undated, as given in Robbins, 54)

  • 1529 - 1596
  • was a Carmelite monk before becoming a professor of Roman law at the University of Toulouse.
  • wrote De la Demonomanie des Sociers (The Demonmania of Witches) in 1580


Jean Bodin was a French demonologist and political theorist whose work, The Demonmania of Witches, differs strongly from the arguments made by other French demonolgists at the time in that Bodin's goal was not to defend the Catholic church.

A Renaissance thinker, Bodin believed in religious tolerance and the power of demons and angels in controlling the world. Bodin argues that witchcraft was a crime against God in any religion. He uses as references not only Christian sources but ancient pagan and Hebrew writings as well. (Pearl 23)


Demonmania is divided into four books, but its subject matter better falls into the following three categories:

  1. Definition of legal vs. illegal magic
  2. Beliefs about witches and witchcraft
  3. Method of prosecuting witches in court

(title page of the first edition of Demonmania, 1580, as given in Robbins, 55)


(author unknown, L'Execution d'Urbain Grandier [detail], 1634)

While he advocated religious tolerance, especially for the protestants, Bodin was no less zealous in his persecution of witches than other demonologists. Bodin preferred burning as the method for execution and frequently forced children to testify against their parents. He justified the use of torture to extract confessions because that torture "was mild compared to the hell that awaited the condemned witch" (Guiley 33).

Bodin's Legal Definition of a Witch:

"One who knowing God's law tries to bring about some act through an agreement with the Devil"

(Robbins 54)


While to modern readers, Bodin's understanding of a just legal system seems skewed at best, his assumptions are not unfounded. The Roman law system, upon which many legal codes in early modern Europe were based:

  • allowed for confessions to be extracted under torture as long as that confession was freely repeated the next day.
  • required two eye-witnesses for a crime
  • generally regarded a woman's testimony as worth only half of a man's. (Pearl 25)

Although Bodin's actions were harsh, when looked at under the lights if the legal system of the time period, Bodin does not seem egregiously out of line. Today, we tend to see our legal system as a protection of an individual's rights from abuse of the state. In Bodin's time, the law was more concerned with protecting society from the wicked, even when that meant violating what we would call an individual's inherent rights.


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