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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 47 (2005) 7, 415 - 424


Superstition, then and now - Notes on insanity in early modern times in the Low Countries

S. Tuinier †, M. Vrolijk

No other area of the history of medicine has been influenced so much by subjective prejudice as that of the history of psychiatry and mental disorder. Particularly during the first couple of decades after the Second World War a form of history became popular in which the distant past was depicted as an age in which everything was dominated by superstition and sorcery. However, in the aforementioned post-war period psychiatry itself was pervaded by some strange, unscientific ideas which won considerable support. Some examples of these modern aberrations are described. Various primary sources relating to mental disorder in the early modern period provide a picture that deviates markedly from the distorted representation that was once so popular. This article refers to sources which deal with penal law, civil legislation, the medical world and hospitals and which show that the mentally disturbed were regarded as sick persons and were cared for accordingly.

keywords civil, criminal law, legislation, modern history, sorcery, superstition