By Steve Hubrecht
A rare and creepy book has found its way to the valley.
The book is written in Latin the English title roughly translates to A Discourse on Magic and, according to its current owner and local bookstore entrepreneur Andrew Watt, was likely used to persecute people accused of witchcraft and heresy in the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts in the late 1600s.
This actual book that I have in my hands was likely opened and used in a public court to condemn people of witchcraft, said Mr. Watt. The chances of this book landing in Fairmont Hot Springs (where Mr. Watt owns Bishops Books) is pretty slim.
The 1070-page book is leather bound, with wood inset and is written on rice paper parchment. It was printed in 1624 in Rome and has some inscriptions from previous owners one in 1669, one in 1881 and then three during World War I (the late 1930s and early to mid-1940s).
This leads me to believe that it was moved around a lot during that time of conflict in order to keep the book safe, said Mr. Watt.
The Discourse of Magic, written by Jesuit priest Martin DelRio, was initially published as six volumes, but Mr. Watts copy is an encyclopedia of all these volumes. He estimates there are likely fewer than 100 copies of the encyclopedia in any kind of decent condition, the majority of them probably held by the Vatican.
The first four sections of the encyclopedia deal with heretical matters, mainly the practice of witchcraft, while the last two sections deal with issues of justice pertaining to those accused of heresy.
It was one of the most popular books of its day, according to Mr. Watt.
It was considered to be the manual during the 1600s to convict perfectly innocent people of witchcraft and is referred to today by collectors as the ‘witch hunters manual, he said.
During the mass hysteria surrounding the Salem witch trials, 19 people were hung and hundreds more imprisoned.
Fear of false accusation was constant during those darkest of times and it arose everyday with as much power as the sun, said Mr. Watt. Ultimately, this book is the result of what will always go hysterically wrong in society when church and state share the same office.
The crimes he (Mr. DelRio) was suggesting were of course, lunacy. There is no such thing as witchcraft, said Mr. Watt. Without this book, wed have a less dark chapter in the human story.
Mr. Watt wouldnt say exactly where he bought the book, but would say he came across it in Canada while perusing the collections of private dealers of antiques.
I did not find this book, it found me, quite unexpectedly. It is worth approximately $10,000, but finding a buyer will be tricky, said Mr. Watt. I literally handle it with gloves.
The books author, Martin DelRio, was of Spanish descent but was born in Antwerp, Belgium. The multi-lingual priest taught at a Catholic university.
He (Mr. DelRio) was a smart fellow for his day, said Mr. Watt. Mr. DelRio was considered a moderate at the time as he recommended that torture be applied only a maximum of three times how nice, how thoughtful.
Mr. Watt has been speaking with book dealers in Europe, but says he still has to do more research into the book.