Bekker, Balthasar

Balthasar BekkerBalthasar Bekker (1634–1698). One of the most important and perhaps the most thorough opponent of witch-hunting in the 17th century, Bekker was a Dutch clergyman. In 1690, he published the first volumes of his De Betoverde Weereld (The Enchanted World), which was soon translated into German, English, and French.

A rationalist thinker following the model of the French philosopher René Descartes, in this work, he exhibited a complete skepticism about the very existence of witchcraft, unlike many other opponents of the witch-hunts who chose to criticize only the faulty procedures of witch trials, which they felt were producing numerous false convictions, while still maintaining the potential reality of witchcraft in the world.

Drawing on a new, mechanistic understanding of the universe, Bekker did not deny the reality of Demons, but he did deny that they could exert any influence or power over the natural world or human affairs. Rather than attribute certain occurrences to witchcraft, he maintained, authorities should look for natural explanations for these events, whatever they were.

Because Demons lacked any real power in the world, there was no basis for the supposed pact between witches and the devil. For his beliefs, Bekker was labeled an atheist and ultimately was expelled from the Dutch Reformed church.



Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft – Written by Michael D. Bailey