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1659 - Lavater - Early and Influential Work on Ghosts & Spirits

1659 - Lavater - Early and Influential Work on Ghosts & Spirits


Known in English as “Of Ghostes and Spirites Walking by Nyght, and of Strange Noyses, Crackes, and Sundry Forewarnings, Whiche Commonly Happen Before the Death of Menne, Great Slaughters, & Alterations of Kyngdomes,” from the 1572 English translation, this book is one of the most important demonological works of the Reformation era and was profoundly influential in Elizabethan literature.  The author, Ludwig Lavater (1527-1886), was a Swiss Zwinglian minister and theologian based in Zurich. In the 16th and 17th-century Protestant world, new questions surfaced regarding the nature of ghostly apparitions—particularly their origins. In the Catholic understanding, ghosts were generally thought to be spirits of the dead on leave from Purgatory. With their rejection of the doctrine of Purgatory, Protestant philosophers and theologians were compelled to search for new answers. One (fairly unpopular) position was taken by Reginald Scot in his DISCOURSE UPON DEVILS AND SPIRITS, appended to his 1584 work, DISCOVERIE OF WITCHCRAFT, in which he argued that because the age of miracles had ceased long ago apparitions must be no more than the products of human imagination or trickery. The dominant view in Protestant theology (if still not quite the popular mind), however, came to be what Lavater expressed here in DE SPECTRIS. Lavater argued that, while many apparitions may be indeed be products of false perception, ample evidence of real supernatural visitations had existed from biblical and classical antiquity to the present day. He concluded, however, that these phenomena are not the spirits of the dead but in fact agents of Hell (and perhaps occasionally Heaven) that will sometimes take human spiritual form. He relates examples of these phenomena throughout the work, together with a taxonomy of less-human specters such as Lamiae, Larvae, and Lemures and a variety of mythical creatures. 


Ludovico Lavatero. De Spectris. Liber Unus. In tres partes distributus. Lugd[uno] Batav[orum]: Apud Henricum Verbiest, 1659


12mo. 5 1/8 x 2 7/8 inches (130 x 73 mm). [2, blank], [1, engraved title], [1, title], *8, A-L6 (L3-6, blank]. Thick vellum reinforced with paper, boards faintly stamped in blind, vertical spine title in ink, two holes at fore-edge on both boards where, presumably, ties would have been. Soiled and lightly stained, corners bumped, 6 mm tear at bottom edge of upper board, small tear at foot of spine, front joint with 22mm crack. Text block edges soiled and toned, hinges cracked with spine mostly separated, front free endleaf slightly detached at top of gutter, front binder's blank loose, ownership inscription to recto of front free endleaf, rear pastedown split along bottom edge (also with small inked shelf marker); light foxing throughout, mainly to edges. Good. References: Caillet II 6237; USTC 450850; Thorndike VI 530; Rosenthal 1885; Adams L301 (1580 Latin edition). From the Gary Munson Collection

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