Christian Deetjen Collection on Witchcraft


Dr. Georg Adolph Christian Deetjen (1863-1940), was a graduate of the University of Würzburg where he attended lectures delivered by Wilhelm Konrad Röntgen. He came to Baltimore as one of the earliest specialists in radiology, working at the Maryland Medical College, Maryland General Hospital, and the Howard A. Kelly Sanitorium. Deetjen lost several fingers and finally a hand due to radiation exposure and died after much suffering on December 28, 1940.
Christian Deetjen had a particular interest in the history of witchcraft and its relation to early medicine. In an address on the topic to the Johns Hopkins Medical History Club in 1932, he said, “The people had abundant cause to fear and hate the witches, for was not every known and unknown disease by them inflicted upon the poor defenseless people? … And how were the physicians of the time disposed to the question of witchcraft; did they believe in its reality? … In fact physicians as a profession helped greatly to keep the belief in witches alive. They almost invariably attributed to witchcraft the diseases which they in their ignorance could not explain and still less cure. In a London Hospital, in the 16th century, there were found 300 patients whose diseases were due to witchcraft.”
After Deetjen’s death, his extraordinary collection of rare works on witchcraft, demonology, and magic was offered for sale and purchased by the Boston Medical Library in April 1942—some 150 titles in all. Notable items in the Deetjen Collection include five editions of the juridical text, the Malleus maleficarum, including one incunable, along with works by Herman Coehausen, Francis Bragge, and Lewes Lavater, and other imprints from the 16th through the early 20th century. A number of works in the collection were presented or inscribed to Christian Deetjen by his friend, journalist H. L. Mencken.

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