When referring to anything in the Encyclopedie on things of the superstitious nature, it will almost always immediately dismiss these ideas as things that are immoral, barbaric, and utterly foolish. Clearly, many of the scholars involved find superstitions to be something that brings about, “self-incurred tutelage” which the Encyclopedie wishes to cure. Though this is one of the shorter entries we can understand Jaucourts disdain for the idea with words like “despotic tyrant,” “disordered imaginations,” “hypocrisy,” strewn about the reading. At one point he even claims it to be worse crime than “irreligion.”
So Jaucourt is not a fan of atheism it seems, but he’s also cautious enough to note the dangers of being, “too religious,” something superstitions are born from. Someone who holds dogma over natural reasoning is a fanatic, an entry which Jaucourt kindly links us to in at the end of this entry. Now some of this attack against the superstitious leads me to question how at a time of empirical study and reflection one can choose to believe in a Supreme Being capable of vast miracles despite no one having ever seen this being with their own eyes. They then choose to totally dismiss the idea that a human can somehow harness this sort of power. This power, known as supernatural MAGIC, was not only considered non-existent by many of the intellectuals of the 18th century but also having any claims of it's knowledge was an affront to God. However there are some positive magics listed in the entry that don't seem to be formed out of pure zealotry; both natural magic and divine magic seem to be acceptable forms of magic in the 18th century. Natural and divine magic are provided by God and do not alter the world in anyway nor do they just "magically" appear. Divine magic is knowledge provided by God and natural magic is knowledge provided through the sciences. It would seem that an understanding of an invisible supreme being would derive from this divine magic but one can argue that the existence of divine magic is just as incredulous as claims to supernatural magic.
In the Preliminary Discourse D’Alembert states “After men begun to study ancient works of every kind the rather large number of masterworks of antiquity that had escaped from superstitions and barbarism immediately caught the attentions of enlightened artist,” (p. 69) Again here we see why matters of the superstitious receive no sort of validation because the very point of the Enlightenment is to withdraw from any of superstitious ideas, as a result of it being considered savage. Also in the same reading if we look at the table on the “Detailed System of Human Knowledge” we find Superstition under Religion followed by the words “whence through abuse.” Yet Divination and Black Magic are on separate branches. So again we see that superstition is the product of religion and that it encompasses the negative aspects of the overzealous.
D’Alembert seems to have an interesting understanding on how times before The Enlightenment came to be superstitious. He claims that in those, “dark times” (pg. 61), many of the superior intellects of the time slapped themselves with the label of poet or PHILOSOPHER. In D’Alembert’s mind these self-proclaimed poets and philosophers fail because they take don't attempt to learn from the works of people who came before them such as the Romans and the Greeks. During these times poetry was just something these intellects did for the sake of asking silly questions or pondering foolish ideals which D’Alembert seems to think is wrong “an abuse of intelligence” (pg 62). he calls it. Rather he admires the poetry that observes nature or studies mankind. The trouble with that is, D’alembert is sort of making himself an authority on this idea and generalizing quite a bit as one. On one hand it’s understandable that he would say that these previous intellects should not have dismissed Roman and Greek writings—probably as a result of the religious shift from polytheism to monotheism—because they do have some sort of educational lessons that they provide, on the other hand he’s doing the same thing by dismissing the writings of the poets and philosophers before him.
Jaucourt also warns readers about what should happen if monarchy is affected by superstition, something that previously plagued many thrones before his time in history. Interesting to note that he claims it “cannot too strongly reign” in superstition rather than avoid it completely. There seems to be a notion that a monarch has some leeway within the superstitious and as long as it is not excessive they can rule successfully. So to what degree can a king rule superstitiously and exactly how would they use it in their reign successfully? Perhaps Jaucourt is arguing against THEOCRACY. Theocracy according to the link provided seems to be a system too easily capable of falling into superstition. The problem doesn't lie in the divine knowledge, or magic as I spoke about earlier, but rather the power it gives to those that lead it. One who leads a theocratic government runs the risk of falling into zealotry and therefore superstition due to the amount of power they are assigned. Jaucourt being an atheist himself seems to understand the usefulness of religion in monarchy as a tool. The idea that it would be used as the main foundation of government is understood to be too risky among many intellectuals of the Enlightenment.
According to Jaucourt superstition has four aspects to it, ignorance which introduces it, hypocrisy which maintains it, false zeal that spreads it and interest that perpetuates this. Now if this Encyclopedie is to rid the world of these things then why choose to include the very article that can run the risk of spreading it further? This technology is set up so that people who are interested will pick it up and read on it, while Jaucourt does a good job of giving superstitions a bad rap he can still perpetuate an interest in them to those who are barbaric enough to not heed his claims.
In no way am I trying to actually validate the superstitious but I do think it needs to be addressed a little more rather than dismissed the way these scholars are so quickly to do. If it is an age enlightenment then perhaps instead of immediately bastardizing the subject they should further expatiate on the topic find from where its uses originate. The Encyclopedie is a supposed to be a tool to help come to their own evaluations by use of several different scholars coming together and evaluating these terms and concepts in their own way. If all related topics under the Superstitious are given negative values then there’s no guess as to how someone reading these articles would come think about them. One might go further on to say that there is no superstitions listed in this article to begin with so what superstitions should people try to avoid? Does Jaucourt only refer to the overactive dogma of religion? What about those silly little harmless ones you hear about on the street “step on a crack break your mother’s back” or “don’t walk under a ladder that’s seven years bad luck” it could be clearer here as to which one he referring to. For people who are trying to welcome an age of the empirical there does not seem to be much empirical study of this particular subject matter.