November 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Rare Witchcraft Book Found in Alberta

Massacre_of_the_Vaudois_of_Merindol.jpgThe Toronto Star reported Thursday that a history professor at the University of Alberta uncovered an exceedingly rare 15th treatise on the evils of witchcraft in the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library.  The professor, Dr. Andrew Gow, first found Invectives Against the Sect of Waldensians in 2005 while scouring the library for new teaching material. Last month, a rare book expert from the Netherlands arrived at the University to conduct a thorough investigation of the book.  The expert's conclusion: Alberta's copy may be the original Invectives, upon which the three other known copies were based. 

Invectives Against the Sect of Waldensians was likely written in 1465 by a French monk in Burgundy. The book's title is a reference to the Waldensian heresy, which was active in medieval France, until it was viciously and repeatedly suppressed by Catholic authorities. In addition to its Waldensian claims, Invectives instructs witch-hunters on how to identify the many signs and varieties of witchcraft. To that end, Invectives was successful - terribly successful - as it contributed to the atrocities of the witchcraft purges over the following 200 years.  Invectives also laid some of the foundation for the modern conception of witchcraft by describing bubbling cauldrons, flying on broomsticks, cursing crops, and so on.

The path traveled by the book from 15th century France to 21st century Alberta remains mysterious.  Dr. Gow suspects the book was housed in an English monastery until the Reformation when it was transferred to private hands.  But the facts are sparse: two members of the British Parliament inscribed their ownership signatures to the front endpapers in the 18th century. The book was donated to the University of Alberta in 1988 by the book collector John Lunn. 

But what happened in between remains an open question.

[Image of a Waldensian massacre from Wikipedia]