BOB RICKARD ex­plores the con­nected world of Bri­tain’s 17th cen­tury proto-forteans in the era be­fore the Royal So­ci­ety turned its back on the study of strange phe­nom­ena.

Fortean Times - - Contents - ✒ BOB RICKARD started Fortean Times in 1973 and was its co-edi­tor for 30 years. He is the au­thor of nu­mer­ous books and ar­ti­cles and a founder of the Charles Fort In­sti­tute.

BOB RICKARD ex­plores the con­nected world of Bri­tain’s 17th cen­tury proto-forteans in the era be­fore the Royal So­ci­ety turned its back on the study of strange phe­nom­ena.

As I be­gan re­search­ing a num­ber of Bri­tish cases from the 16th and 17th cen­tury sug­ges­tive of lev­i­ta­tions and tele­por­ta­tions (for an up­com­ing FT ar­ti­cle), I be­came in­creas­ingly aware that they shared some­thing. They were con­nected, not nec­es­sar­ily through the man­i­fested phe­nom­ena, but through the net­work of peo­ple that re­ported and com­mented upon them.

The group of peo­ple that con­cerns us here cen­tred upon, pri­mar­ily, Robert Boyle, Lord Or­rery, Henry More, Joseph Glanvill, John Aubrey, and Richard Bax­ter – but also in­cluded Robert Hooke, Isaac New­ton, John Eve­lyn, Christo­pher Wren, John Locke, Robert Plot, Sir Kenelm Digby, Sa­muel Pepys and oth­ers – all of them in­volved (one way or an­other) in the es­tab­lish­ment of the Royal So­ci­ety in the early 1660s, or as con­tribut­ing mem­bers. 1

When the Royal So­ci­ety was even­tu­ally es­tab­lished with two char­ters, in 1662 and 1663 2 – many of its mem­bers were also earnest Pu­ri­tans who saw them­selves as a bul­wark against a grow­ing athe­ism. While Boyle was ready to be­lieve with Glanvill that there were such en­ti­ties as “witches and ap­pari­tions”, he ad­vised cau­tion, ac­knowl­edg­ing in his es­say Rea­son and

Re­li­gion (1675) that most ac­counts were “false and oc­ca­sioned by the credulity or im­pos­ture of men”.

The prin­ci­pal mem­bers of the In­vis­i­ble Col­lege, in­deed, shared an in­ter­est in ac­counts of anoma­lous phe­nom­ena as they man­i­fested in the con­text of con­tem­po­rary myth, lo­cal su­per­sti­tion, folk medicine, ap­pari­tions and poltergeists, witches and fairies. This did not mean they all be­lieved un­crit­i­cally in ev­ery fan­tas­tic ac­count – they rep­re­sented a range of opin­ions – but they did agree that some ev­i­dence of a truth or fact should be sought if, in­deed, it ex­isted. For ex­am­ple, Glanvill ar­gued that the le­gal pro­ceed­ings against witches pro­vided suf­fi­cient rea­son to ac­cept the ex­is­tence of spir­its and the machi­na­tions of the Devil; and Boyle, a keen al­chemist, rea­soned from scrip­tural grounds, that an­gels were at­tracted to the Philoso­phers’ Stone, and if prov­able it “would be an in­stance of the in­cor­po­real be­ing af­fected by the cor­po­real”. This search for demon­stra­ble ev­i­dence was at the heart of the es­tab­lish­ment of the English school of Nat­u­ral Phi­los­o­phy.

Robert Boyle and his brother Roger (Lord Or­rery) were An­glo-Ir­ish no­bil­ity; Robert was a physi­cist and founder of mod­ern chem­istry, while Roger was de­scribed as hav­ing a se­ri­ous and con­tem­pla­tive dis­po­si­tion. Hooke was an ar­chi­tect and prodi­gious in­ven­tor of phys­i­cal and op­ti­cal de­vices who, af­ter the Great Fire of 1666, made sur­veys of dam­aged Lon­don for Sir Christo­pher Wren. He was one of the pow­ers be­hind the scenes at the Royal So­ci­ety and be­came the se­cond edi­tor of Philo­soph­i­cal

Trans­ac­tions, the world’s first truly sci­en­tific jour­nal.

Eve­lyn, Pepys and Aubrey were di­arists and col­lec­tors of cul­tural ephemera (Pepys’s diary, for ex­am­ple, in­cludes a pas­sage on rains of am­phib­ians). Henry More was one of Eng­land’s lead­ing Pla­ton­ist philoso­phers at Cam­bridge Univer­sity; ‘nat­u­ral phi­los­o­phy’ be­ing the an­ces­tor of mod­ern science. Bax­ter and Glanvill were Protes­tant ‘di­vines’ who had (at dif­fer­ent times) been chap­lain to the King, and both wrote his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant books: Bax­ter’s The Cer­tainty of the World of Spir­its (1691), and Glanvill’s fa­mous Sad­ducis­mus

Tri­umpha­tus (the 1681 edi­tion of which was edited by Henry More). But it was Robert Boyle who was the main hub of ‘progress’ in those early days, hav­ing used his wealth and re­sources to em­ploy Hooke (to make equip­ment for his ex­per­i­ments) and, at the other ex­treme, fund­ing the first trans­la­tion of the Bi­ble into Gaelic, made by the ill­fated min­is­ter Robert Kirk, au­thor of The Se­cret Com­mon­wealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (1691), whose later dis­ap­pear­ance was blamed upon the fairies (see FT61:29).


An ex­am­ple of their proto-fortean in­ter­ests con­cerned the leg­endary ‘weapon salve’ of Arthurian ro­mance. The idea was that treat­ing the weapon that caused the in­jury could heal the wound, no mat­ter the dis­tance be­tween them. This salve – some­times said to be an oint­ment or a pow­der – also oc­cu­pied the in­tel­lects of Paracel­sus, Della Porta, Ba­con, Fludd, and, later, Van Hel­mont. Sir Kenelm Digby – a naval com­man­der and diplo­mat who, like many no­ta­bles at that time, ex­per­i­mented with alchemy, and was a tu­tor to Boyle at some point – claimed to have dis­cov­ered the ‘sym­pa­thetic pow­der’ ver­sion of it. Boyle and col­leagues were keenly in­ter­ested in this sub­stance as a prac­ti­cal ex­am­ple of sym­pa­thetic ‘ac­tion at a dis­tance’ and thought it em­i­nently suit­able to test­ing and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.

De­spite their some­what dif­fer­ent back­grounds, they shared a de­light in, and a sin­cere cu­rios­ity about, the se­crets of na­ture and how they can be ren­dered ac­ces­si­ble to prag­matic in­ves­ti­ga­tion (ac­cord­ing to Ba­co­nian science). From this they ad­vo­cated a ra­tional, nat­u­ral philo­soph­i­cal science that did not rely upon re­li­gion for its author­ity. It was Robert Hooke who coined the Royal So­ci­ety’s motto Nullius In

Verba (“Take no­body’s word for it”, surely a watch­word for us forteans). The en­gine of this pro­gres­sive ap­proach was the group’s lively cor­re­spon­dence net­work. Each was aware of his col­leagues’ in­ter­ests and they for­warded to each other tran­scripts of in­ter­est­ing cases and sup­port­ing ref­er­ences. Also, each of them had his own pri­vate net­works of ‘in­tel­li­gence’ gath­er­ers. It was, truly, the In­ter­net of its day.

In his cor­re­spon­dence (around 1646 or 1647), Boyle refers to this net­work of “in­tel­li­gencers” as “our in­vis­i­ble col­lege”, the pur­pose of which was to “profit from science”. The con­text of this lat­ter phrase was not one of ir­re­spon­si­ble gain, but re­ferred to the spirit of Ba­co­nian in­quiry: that knowl­edge should be ap­plied to the well­be­ing of mankind. In a let­ter, Boyle re­ferred to the mem­bers as “the cor­ner stone of the in­vis­i­ble, or the philo­soph­i­cal col­lege,” adding that they “hon­our me with their com­pany – men of so ca­pa­cious and search­ing spir­its, that school-phi­los­o­phy is but the low­est re­gion of their knowl­edge.”

Some of you may recog­nise the phrase ‘In­vis­i­ble Col­lege’ from the ti­tle of Jacques Val­lée’s 1975 com­men­tary upon the UFO phe­nom­e­non and its his­tory (see Jenny Randles’s UFO Files col­umn on p25). Sadly, Val­lée’s tip of the hat to Boyle and col­leagues – on be­half of the pre-In­ter­net net­work of cor­re­spond­ing ufol­o­gists and sci­en­tists work­ing be­yond the ken of ortho­dox sci­en­tists – is miss­ing from the wiki en­try for ‘The In­vis­i­ble Col­lege’. Val­lée is a bit more ex­pan­sive in his The

Heart of the In­ter­net: “… it should be pos­si­ble to build elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ties of ex­perts, in­vis­i­ble col­leges of kin­dred spir­its…”; and “I like the idea of us­ing group­ware to fa­cil­i­tate new types of ‘grapevines’ forc­ing old or­gan­i­sa­tions to evolve. In­for­mal net­works and ‘in­vis­i­ble col­leges’ have al­ways been the real har­bour of trust and the spring of ac­tion for so­ci­eties”. 3 Val­lée again pays trib­ute in Won­ders in the Sky (with Chris Aubeck), in de­scrib­ing the back­ground to 17th cen­tury in­ter­est in aerial anom­alies:

“Spurred on by strate­gic and sci­en­tific in­ter­est in nav­i­ga­tion, as­tron­omy un­der­went un­prece­dented growth dur­ing the 17th cen­tury. Ex­per­i­men­tal

and the­o­ret­i­cal pub­li­ca­tions flour­ished un­der the pens of Galileo, Huy­gens, Cassini, and nu­mer­ous ob­servers of the Moon and plan­ets us­ing the new­ly­in­vented tele­scopes. Sim­i­lar progress rev­o­lu­tionised physics, math­e­mat­ics and medicine, of­ten in spite of the dic­tates of the Church… This move­ment to­wards bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of na­ture and man’s re­la­tion­ship to it, long re­pressed by re­li­gious ide­ol­ogy, found its ex­pres­sion in the ‘In­vis­i­ble Col­lege’ and cul­mi­nated in the creation of the Royal So­ci­ety in Lon­don in 1660, while Har­vard Col­lege in the colony of Mas­sachusetts was awarded its char­ter in 1650... News of ex­tra­or­di­nary phe­nom­ena was greeted with keen in­ter­est, ei­ther for their ‘philo­soph­i­cal’ value or as omens of mys­ti­cal im­por­tance. An­ti­quar­i­ans and Chron­i­clers col­lected such re­ports and com­piled in­for­ma­tion from var­i­ous coun­tries, in­clud­ing North and South Amer­ica. We even be­gin to find re­ports of un­usual aerial sight­ings in the pages of the early sci­en­tific jour­nals, like the Philo­soph­i­cal Trans­ac­tions of the Royal So­ci­ety, of­ten in terms that seem sur­pris­ingly open and free com­pared to the staid, self-cen­sored, dog­matic, and of­ten ar­ro­gant sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture of to­day.” 4

How­ever, it is not quite true, as some have it, that the In­vis­i­ble Col­lege it­self trans­formed into the In­sti­tu­tion of the Royal So­ci­ety. There were sev­eral other groups of pro­gres­sive proto-sci­en­tists in­ter­ested in ‘in­duc­tive proofs’ that were based in Gre­sham Col­lege, Lon­don, where the birth of the Royal So­ci­ety pro­vided a com­mon fo­cus; th­ese in­cluded Sa­muel Hartlib’s Agency and the Philo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety of Oxford (Oxford Philo­soph­i­cal Club). Also, there were sim­i­lar net­works of cor­re­spon­dents on con­ti­nen­tal Europe and in the USA, some­times re­ferred to as the ‘Repub­lic of Let­ters’ 5 – and there is no doubt that the Bri­tish, Scot­tish and Ir­ish pi­o­neers were aware of them, in touch with them, and in­spired by them.


Given the grav­ity with which the Royal So­ci­ety is re­garded to­day as a ‘gate­keeper’ for sci­en­tific ex­cel­lence, it is rather ironic that its early mem­bers were in­spired by the thought of es­cap­ing re­li­gious au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, only to cre­ate a ve­hi­cle for its suc­ces­sor, the sci­en­tific es­tab­lish­ment. Charles Fort com­mented upon this par­tic­u­lar pass­ing of the ‘dom­i­nant’ ba­ton. But what if their de­vel­op­ment had gone an­other way? What kind of science would we have to­day if the Royal So­ci­ety had de­cided to take anoma­lous phe­nom­ena se­ri­ously as, at one point, it was poised to do? Would it have been the “more in­clu­sive” science that Fort cham­pi­oned?

The ques­tion has been ap­proached in a dif­fer­ent way: why did the Royal So­ci­ety, af­ter such “a promis­ing start with an il­lus­tri­ous set of fore­bears”, aban­don the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the para­nor­mal and lurch in the di­rec­tion of “a god­less sci­en­tific ma­te­ri­al­ism”? In his fas­ci­nat­ing pa­per on the Royal So­ci­ety and the de­cline of magic, 6 Michael Hunter (Boyle’s bi­og­ra­pher) pro­vides a num­ber of de­tailed ex­pla­na­tions. Cer­tainly, un­der the prag­matic ed­i­tor­ship of first Henry Olden­burg and then Robert Hooke, Philo­soph­i­cal Trans­ac­tions steadily be­came the pub­lic show­case of tri­umphant sci­en­tific suc­cesses, as well as demon­strat­ing how science should be done. In this, it was clear that as­tron­omy, physics, chem­istry and

medicine pro­vided ad­vances that could be repli­cated; where the same could not be said of the more vague, vari­able and in­tran­si­gent sub­jects that at­tracted the more mys­ti­cal mem­bers of the In­vis­i­ble Col­lege.

De­spite the zeal­ous tones of sev­eral mod­ern ac­counts of the his­tory of the Royal So­ci­ety, which claim that the So­ci­ety ac­tively chal­lenged and de­stroyed su­per­sti­tions and er­rors, “this was pre­cisely what did not hap­pen” ac­cord­ing to Hunter. Nor was there a cor­po­rate pol­icy of sidelin­ing or down­play­ing witch­craft and sim­i­lar sub­jects. Th­ese top­ics, Hunter notes, were nearly al­ways the pri­vate in­ter­ests of in­di­vid­u­als, not of the So­ci­ety it­self. Nev­er­the­less, there was a gen­er­ally un­stated re­straint or si­lence on th­ese mat­ters. Af­ter the ‘Glo­ri­ous Rev­o­lu­tion’ the re­li­gious mi­lieu gave way to the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, and the phi­los­o­phy be­hind the at­tack on athe­ism lost its wind. Where Glanvill’s quest for proof against the en­e­mies of Chris­tian­ity fiz­zled out, it was Boyle’s brand of sci­en­tific ad­ven­tur­ing that proved the more durable.

In fact, the Royal So­ci­ety found far more traction in keep­ing re­li­gion (and the phe­nom­ena ha­bit­u­ally as­so­ci­ated with it) at arm’s length. Ar­ti­cles on ‘anoma­lous’ top­ics in the Trans­ac­tions – al­though few to be­gin with – were qui­etly marginalised or turned down; books by mem­bers on witch­craft and other forms of su­per­nat­u­ral­ism were de­nied an im­pri­matur; and cor­re­spon­dence on such sub­jects fre­quently went unan­swered. In time, science was the dom­i­nant; sub­scrip­tions from the likes of Cot­ton Mather dropped away and Bax­ter’s ac­cu­sa­tion that the Royal So­ci­ety was now an athe­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion fell on deaf ears.

Com­ment­ing upon all this in con­nec­tion with a well-ob­served case of lev­i­ta­tion – one that was told to Lord Or­rery, Henry More and some oth­ers, which I will de­tail an­other time – the folk­lorist An­drew Lang, in his

Cock Lane and Com­mon-Sense, 7 thought that the sig­nif­i­cant new at­ti­tude that fol­lowed the Civil War and Restora­tion of the English monar­chy was “to scoff at witch­craft, to deny its ex­is­tence”. The ‘last stand’ of the English in­tel­lec­tu­als “against the drollery of Sad­ducism” 8 (as Glanvill had it), failed in the arena of science but took root on the fringes of re­li­gion and phi­los­o­phy. Lang sees “the psy­chi­cal re­searchers within the English Church, like Glanvill and Henry More,” or be­yond its pale, “like Richard Bax­ter and many Scotch di­vines”, as lay­ing the ground­work for the So­ci­ety for Psy­chi­cal Re­search (SPR). By de­fend­ing witch­craft and ap­pari­tions “as out­works of faith”, they re­moved them from the mirac­u­lous to the sphere of ab­nor­mal phe­nom­ena where, here too, dis­cov­ery and the­o­ris­ing no longer re­quired a be­lief in the Devil. Where “the old in­quir­ers saw witch­craft and de­mo­ni­a­cal pos­ses­sion… the mod­erns see hys­ter­ics and hyp­notic con­di­tions”.

One of the con­se­quences of the ‘dumb­ing down’ of the pow­ers of evil, Lang thought, “was to re­move from sto­ries, like the ones… of in­ter­est to us, any men­tion of the more an­cient (yet still thriv­ing) com­mon be­lief in the pow­ers of fairies and witches”. This point brings me back to the won­der that was Robert Boyle, the 14th child of Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork. The youngest mem­ber of the In­vis­i­ble Col­lege’, his in­quir­ing in­tel­lect ranged freely over an im­pres­sive spec­trum of in­ter­ests, sci­en­tific, anoma­lous and re­li­gious (he was said to have read the Ko­ran in both French and Latin trans­la­tions). By all ac­counts, he was a 17th cen­tury fortean in­deed. 9

Per­haps it helped, that, in his day, there was no ortho­dox science against which his in­quiries could be judged as un­ortho­dox. Or per­haps – as Peter Costello re­cently re­minded me – it was the way he was brought up; a way that fell out of fash­ion in its own time too. Peter quoted from An­thony Pow­ell’s edi­tion of Aubrey’s Brief Lives: “[Boyle] was nursed by an Ir­ish nurse, af­ter the Ir­ish man­ner, where they putt the child into a pen­du­lous satchell (in­stead of a cra­dle), with a slitt for the child’s head to peep out.”

“There is a hint here,” wrote Peter, “that he was fos­tered out in the old Gaelic cus­tom,

which meant that from his ear­li­est years he was ex­posed to the Celtic thought pat­terns of the lo­cal peo­ple.”

That up­bring­ing – in which a con­sid­er­a­tion of the ‘su­per­nat­u­ral’ pre­ceded (and there­fore out­ranked) its outright re­jec­tion as non­sense – also shaped his brother Roger, the se­cond Earl of Or­rery, to be more re­cep­tive to the ‘in­vis­i­ble world’. 10 Ac­cord­ing to Bax­ter, Or­rery – who was in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing the Ir­ish healer Greatrakes to Eng­land – had, for many years, em­ployed as his cham­ber ser­vant the son of a French pas­tor whose house in the Bur­gundy town of Ma­con, in 1612, was the epi­cen­tre of a much-pub­li­cised talk­ing pol­ter­geist haunt­ing. Both Boyle and Or­rery knew Mon­sieur Per­reaud and his son for a long time and dis­cussed the case with th­ese eye­wit­nesses. They re­mained stead­fast in their be­lief in the case; so much so that Boyle him­self paid for the French ac­count to be trans­lated into English as The Devill of

Mas­con in 1658. 11


1 For most of my ci­ta­tions and facts about the Royal So­ci­ety and Robert Boyle, I have used Wiki ar­ti­cles on spe­cific top­ics; Richard Evans’s blog ‘The In­vis­i­ble Col­lege (1645-1658)’ at : https:// tech­ni­cale­d­u­ca­tion­mat­­vis­i­ble-col­lege-1645-1658/; and Michael Hunter’s nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles and vol­umes on Boyle’s life, work and pub­li­ca­tions, par­tic­u­larly Boyle: Be­tween God and Science (2010), and his an­thol­ogy Robert Boyle Re­con­sid­ered (1994).

2 The main can­di­date for who got the ball rolling is Ben­jamin Wors­ley. “Eight years Boyle’s se­nior, [Wors­ley] was ev­i­dently the ini­tia­tor of the ‘In­vis­i­ble Col­lege’”. He is de­scribed as “the friend and col­league [who] in­tro­duced Boyle to the plea­sures and use­ful­ness of nat­u­ral phi­los­o­phy.” John Henry, ‘Boyle and Cos­mi­cal Qual­i­ties’ in Hunter, Robert Boyle Re­con­sid­ered, p127.

3 Jacques Val­lée, The Heart of the In­ter­net (2003), pp43, 118.

4 Chris Aubeck and Jacques Val­lée, Won­ders in the Sky (2016), pp177-178.

5 Repub­lic of Let­ters:­ Repub­lic_of_Let­ters.

6 Michael Hunter, ‘The Royal So­ci­ety and the De­cline of Magic’ in Notes and Records of the Royal So­ci­ety of Lon­don, vol. 65, no. 2 (20 June 2011), pp103-119.

7 An­drew Lang, Cock Lane and Com­mon-Sense (1912), ch.3. ‘Com­par­a­tive Psy­chi­cal Re­search’.

8 “Sad­ducees” – Against the back­ground of the English Civil War, the Non-Con­formists (Protes­tants and Dis­senters) re­jected the us­ages of the older Church of Eng­land, in which the Pu­ri­tan fac­tion was then dom­i­nant. Among the elite of Pu­ri­tan in­tel­lec­tu­als, athe­ists were cast as Sad­ducees, af­ter the rul­ing Jewish sect at the time of the Cru­ci­fix­ion who did not be­lieve in the pos­si­bil­ity of “the res­ur­rec­tion of the dead, the ex­is­tence of spir­its and the obli­ga­tion of oral tra­di­tion” but em­pha­sised the su­pe­ri­or­ity of the writ­ten Laws. The term was used rhetor­i­cally to taunt all who doubted that sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ences (like see­ing ghosts) had any re­al­ity.

9 How­ever, I have not yet de­ter­mined (to my own sat­is­fac­tion) the in­ter­est­ing claim by Tracy Twyman that Robert Boyle served as the “Grand Mas­ter of the Pri­ory of Sion be­tween 1654 and 1691”; see her blog ‘Robert Boyle and the In­vis­i­ble Col­lege’ at http://quintessen­tialpub­li­ca­ twyman/?page_id=64.

10 Richard Bax­ter, The Cer­tainty of the World of Spir­its… (1834), pp6-8. This was orig­i­nally pub­lished by Bax­ter him­self just a few months be­fore he died in 1691, and re­pub­lished in 1834 to­gether with Cot­ton Mather’s Won­ders of the In­vis­i­ble World (orig. 1702).

11 An in­ter­est­ing pa­per on the case – ‘The Devil Does His Mis­chief: An In­ter­est­ing Glimpse into the Huguenot World of De­monology dur­ing the Sci­en­tific Age’ – and Boyle’s role in pub­li­cis­ing it is by Kris­tine Wirts, in The Pro­ceed­ings of the Western So­ci­ety for French His­tory, vol. 39 (2011). Per­ma­link: http://hdl.han­ spo.0642292.0039.005. Wirts, in declar­ing that the orig­i­nal French ac­count shows “how French Protes­tant elites made sense of the su­per­nat­u­ral dur­ing the Sci­en­tific Rev­o­lu­tion”, in­vites an in­ter­est­ing com­par­i­son with the in­flu­ence of Glanvill’s Sad­ducis­mus upon the English Protes­tant elites. Cu­ri­ously, in re­search­ing this, I found an old Twit­ter post­ing (April 2016) from FT reg­u­lar Theo Paijmans, not­ing that a first edi­tion of L’An­tide­mon de Mas­con had been saved from the fire that razed the Bavar­ian State Li­brary in 1943.

LEFT: Robert Boyle. FAC­ING PAGE: The fa­mous fron­tispiece of Joseph Glanvill’s book on witch­craft and ap­pari­tions, Sad­ducis­mus Tri­umpha­tus, pub­lished posthu­mously in 1681 and edited by Henry More.

ABOVE LEFT: A 17th cen­tury al­chemist’s lab­o­ra­tory such as Boyle might have used. ABOVE RIGHT: The ‘Fairy Hill’ in Aber­foyle where Robert Kirk’s body was found in 1692. BE­LOW: The ti­tle page of Glanvill’s Sad­ducis­mus Tri­umpha­tus, con­cern­ing the ex­is­tence of, and ev­i­dence for, “witches and ap­pari­tions”.

ABOVE: Tele­phus, the son of Her­cules, is cured of a po­ten­tially fa­tal wound with some rust from Achilles’s spear, with which he had orig­i­nally been wounded. The search for such a ‘weapon salve’ was of great in­ter­est to Boyle and his as­so­ci­ates.

BE­LOW: Lord Or­rery, Henry More and oth­ers were given an ac­count of a well-ob­served case of ap­par­ent lev­i­ta­tion.

TOP: The fron­tispiece to Thomas Sprat’s His­tory of the Royal So­ci­ety of Lon­don, 1667, by Wences­laus Hol­lar. ABOVE: A view across the court­yard at Gre­sham Col­lege, circa 1700. This was the meet­ing place of the Royal So­ci­ety un­til 1710.

LEFT: An il­lus­tra­tion of the Ma­con pol­ter­geist episode of 1612, in which Mon­sieur Per­reaud and his fam­ily were plagued by a talk­ing pol­ter­geist.

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