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Europe: The 17th Century

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Queen Christina of Sweden debates with Rene Descartes

Queen Christina of Sweden debates with Rene Descartes

Europe in the 17th Century

The story of Europe in the 17th century is a fascinating tale. By the end of the 17th century, "Christendom" started to fade as a term, and a new term, "Europe," began to be increasingly used in its place.

This is not because Europe had become less Christian; it is largely because Christendom implies unity, and the unity of Christendom had been shattered by the middle of the 17th century by the Protestant Reformation, and the rise of the sovereign nation states that put their own interests first.

 Home life in 17th century Christendom

Home life in 17th century Christendom

17th century Lucerne, Switzerland

17th century Lucerne, Switzerland

Life in 17th Century Europe

The large and prosperous cities of Christendom in the 17th century—London, Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva, and Strasbourg—were merely mud holes with lots of houses in them by modern standards. Streets were unpaved or poorly paved, and all of them doubled as open sewers as people dumped their waste from chamber pots into the narrow streets. Only Venice stood out as truly a beautiful city.

There were few windows in the 17th century, and they were taxed as a luxury item in many places. Houses featured one large chamber, and it was here that birth, life, and death took place; it was also the room in which the master of the house conducted business. Hence, the word chamber carries on by Chamber of Commerce and Judge in Chambers.

Chairs now had arms, fixed cushions, and higher backs. Boxes for storage had become chests of drawers. Whole families often slept together, mostly naked. Even visitors would pile in. The elderly usually wore a gown and nightcap. In hospitals, inns, and boarding houses you had to share your bed, sometimes with strangers.

Except in Italy, there were no plates or forks. You would eat with your fingers. Even spoons (and later forks) were only for serving, not for individual use. The custom of washing your hands before a meal was established by the 17th century. Leftovers were given to servants, and their leftovers to the poor. There were no vegetarians because there were hardly any vegetables.

Public bath houses were closed in Europe during the 17th century to control syphilis and prostitution. And so regular bathing came to an end. Clothes were dirty and worn in thick layers. High heels for upper-class women started to come into vogue. People who could afford them began wearing wigs, this allowed members of the upper crust to shave their heads in order to rid themselves of head lice.

Witches Cauldron

Witches Cauldron

Witchcraft

The witch craze reached its apex in the 17 century. It is here we find academic studies at universities of night-flying on broomsticks, spells and curses, the ingredients of the witches' cauldron. Of particular interest was the witches' sabbath sexual orgies, at which the Devil would appear as a stinking goat-man who liked to be kissed under his tail.

The word wicked is from the same root as witch; as is Wicca.

The Alchemists

The Alchemists

Alchemy

Alchemists were the forerunners of scientists. and perhaps of modern philosophers. Alchemists sought the 'philosophers stone,' a substance of legend that could turn base metals into gold and be used as an elixir of life. Alchemists had to acquire knowledge across a wide range of subjects, to include astrology, numerology, lapidary, herbal medicine, and chemistry.

In 1606, the Habsburg Archdukes complained of Emperor Rudolph II that he "is only interested wizards, alchemists, cabbalists, and the like." Rudolph held court in Prague, where he supported the occult arts. Europe was fascinated by the occult in the 17th century, and alchemists were viewed as the most important 'secret artists.'

The symbol of the Rosicrucian Order

The symbol of the Rosicrucian Order

The Rosicrucian Order

The Rosicrucian (rosy cross) Order was a secret society of eight doctors who were also Protestant mystics. It was founded early in the 17th century in Germany by Christian Rosenkreuz. The Rosicrucian Order believed that there are ancient esoteric truths hidden from the common man, which once rediscovered will provide insight into the physical and spiritual realms.

The Rosicrucian Order was instrumental in the rise of Freemasonry, and is credited with inspiring the Invisible College, which later became the Royal Society of London.

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The Rosicrucian Order still exists today, descended from the Scottish branch of the Rosicrucian Order. Only a Christian Master Mason may be a member.

Robert Fluud (1574-1637) was the prime defender of the Rosicrucian Order during his lifetime. Robert Fluud—who was also an occultist—is the first man to theorize (correctly) that blood circulates through people, with the heart as the center of circulation.

Juggler of the Vagabonds

Juggler of the Vagabonds

Vagabonds

Gypsies were not the only people living beyond the margins of settled society in Europe of the 17th century. There were also traveling bands of vagabonds, some of whom mutilated themselves for pity's sake.