From the ideological crucible of the Reformation emerged an embittered contest for the human soul. In the care of souls, the clergy zealously dispensed spiritual physic; for countless early modern Europeans, the first echelon of mental health care. During its heyday, spiritual physic touched the lives of thousands, from penitents and pilgrims to demoniacs and mad people. Ironically, the phenomenon remains largely unexplored. Why? Through case histories from among the records of over 1,000 troubled and desperate individuals, this regional study of Bavaria investigates spiritual physic as a popular ritual practice during a tumultuous era of religious strife, material crises, moral repression and witch hunting. By the mid-seventeenth century, secular forces ushered in a psychological revolution across Europe. However, spiritual physic ensconced itself by proxy upon emergent bourgeois psychiatry. Today, its remnants raise haunting questions about science and the pursuit of objective knowledge in the ephemeral realm of human consciousness.
New Studies in European History
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