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(Pelling & Webster, 1979: 234), as their 'magical' remedies

were deemed unorthodox by the authorities of the College of

the Physicians, and perceived as satanic by the ecclesiastical

authorities. The former thought that the supernatural

effectiveness of women healers’ remedies derived from their

experience rather than from proven doctrines; the latter

believed these magical cures interfered with God’s will and

only succeeded due to the aid of the devil. Unlicensed

practitioners of magical, astrological, and alchemical medicine

all risked being persecuted, as “[e]stablished mechanisms of

care came under pressure in the later sixteenth century in cases

where ecclesiastical authorities were inclined to exercise their

licensing function severely, or to impose sanctions against

magical practices” (234). However, while “[m]agical medicine

and witchcraft were stigmatized as related evils” (234), these

female medical practitioners (or witches) would still have been

admirable in the eyes of Paracelsus, the father of modern

medicine. For in 1527, Paracelsus burned his medical texts and

admitted that he knew nothing except what he had learned

from witches.


In terms of their medical efficacy, these witch-healers’

medical practices, unlike those of licensed physicians which

were based on doctrines and texts, were grounded in their own

perceptions and experiences, and thus more empirical. Indeed

their techniques were much closer to those of the

contemporary empirical healer Paracelsus, who also was

associated by the authorities with Satan as a result of his

opposition to the witch-hunts. Paradoxically, even though the

Paracelsian practice of alchemical/magical medicine was

strongly condemned by the medical authorities, “any success


We read in Jules Michelet’s

La Sorcière

: “

Quand Paracelse, à Bâle, en 1527,

brûla toute la médecine, il déclara ne savoir rien que ce qu’il apprit des


” (1863: x).