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The Devil’s Bath: Curse-craft and Humoural Theory

March 8 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm


The Salem Witch Trial documents are densely woven with the fear of curses. Dr. Al Cummins will explain the philosophies supporting these beliefs within the seventeenth-century mind.

The Devil’s Bath – Curse-craft and Humoural Theory in Early Modern Britain
by Dr Alexander Cummins

The sorcerous use of the angry gaze could literally “look daggers”; many varieties of erotic-malefic “love-apples” employed various bodily secretions; talismans could be constructed to make the target afraid of their own body; and inciting dangerous melancholy could encourage all sorts of suffering. In this talk Dr Alexander Cummins will present these four elemental-humoural forms of cursework, and explore the underlying occult philosophy and magical application of humoural theory in medicine and maleficia.

Much early modern magic operated upon human subjects in manners apprehended and analysed through the lens of humoural theory. Humoural theory was the dominant medical model across Europe for over 1500 years, and engaged with through a variety of sorcerous methodologies. The four cosmological Elements’ corollaries in the moistures of mammalian bodies could be altered, innervated, or ennobled by magical materia and ritual. Most obviously, medical amulets attempted to re-balance a patient’s humours; to regain a vital equilibrium thought to underlie good health.
Conversely, many talismanic objects and sorcerous actions were employed to unbalance, debase, corrupt, or otherwise curse their targets’ humours – resulting in impairment of bodily functions, cognitive or emotional faculties, as well as spiritual debilities. Souring a target’s yellow bile would embitter their relationships in choleric rage. Overly heating or sweetening a victim’s sanguine humours could drive them insane with love-sickness. Infliction of fear, shame, and anxiety were inherently phlegmatic operations. Lastly, the griefs and sorrows of melancholia – ‘the Devil’s bath’ – could move a target to suicide, as well as attract the hauntings of unclean spirits.

Tickets $10.00 payable the night of the event, reserve seating at info@witchhouse.info



March 8
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Event Category:


Witch House
310 1/2 Essex Street
Salem, MA United States
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