Malleus Maleficarum  

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The Malleus Maleficarum, usually translated as the Hammer of Witches is the best known treatise on witchcraft. It was written by the Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer (under his Latinized name Henricus Institoris) and first published in the German city of Speyer in 1486.

It endorses extermination of witches and for this purpose develops a detailed legal and theological theory.

It has been described as the compendium of literature in demonology of the fifteenth century.

The top theologians of the Inquisition at the Faculty of Cologne condemned the book as recommending unethical and illegal procedures, as well as being inconsistent with Catholic doctrines of demonology.

The Malleus elevates sorcery to the criminal status of heresy and recommends that secular courts prosecute it as such in order to eliminate witches. The recommended procedures include torture to effectively obtain confessions and the death penalty as the only sure remedy against the evils of witchcraft.

At that time, it was typical to burn heretics alive at the stake and the Malleus encouraged the same treatment of witches. The book had a strong influence on culture for several centuries.

Jacob Sprenger's name was added as an author beginning in 1519, 33 years after the book's first publication and 24 years after Sprenger's death; but the veracity of this late addition has been questioned by many historians for various reasons.

Kramer wrote the Malleus following his expulsion from Innsbruck by the local bishop, due to charges of illegal behavior against Kramer himself, and because of Kramer's obsession with the sexual habits of one of the accused, Helena Scheuberin, which led the other tribunal members to suspend the trial.

It was later used by royal courts during the Renaissance, and contributed to the increasingly brutal prosecution of witchcraft during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Contents

Section I

Section I argues that because the Devil exists and has the power to do astounding things, witches exist to help, if done through the aid of the Devil and with the permission of God. The Devil’s power is greatest where human sexuality is concerned, for it was believed that women were more sexual than men. Libidinous women had sex with the Devil, thus paving their way to become witches. According to the Malleus “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.” The first section mentions using a Cruentation to find a witch or sorcerer.

Section II

Matters of practice and actual cases are discussed, and the powers of witches and their recruitment strategies. It states that it is mostly witches, as opposed to the Devil, who do the recruiting, by making something go wrong in the life of a respectable matron that makes her consult the knowledge of a witch, or by introducing young maidens to tempting young devils. It details how witches cast spells, and remedies that can be taken to prevent witchcraft, or help those that have been affected by it.

"Nest of virile members"

"And what then is to be thought of those witches who in this way sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many and is a matter of common report?
For a certain man tells us that, when he had lost his member, he approached a known witch to ask her to restore it to him. She told the afflicted man to climb a certain tree, and that he might take which he liked out of a nest in which there were several members. And when he tried to take a big one, the witch said : You must not take that one; adding, because it belonged to a parish priest."--Translated by Montague Summers, from chapter VII "How, as it were, they Deprive Man of his Virile Member" [1][2]

Section III

Section III is the legal part of the Malleus that describes how to prosecute a witch. The arguments are clearly laid for the lay magistrates prosecuting witches. Institoris and Sprenger offer a step-by-step guide to the conduct of a witch trial, from the method of initiating the process and assembling accusations, to the interrogation (including torture) of witnesses, and the formal charging of the accused. Women who did not cry during their trial were automatically believed to be witches.

See also




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