Malleus Maleficarum  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for “The Hammer of Witches,” or “Hexenhammer” in German) is the most famous medieval treatise on witches. It was written in 1486 by "Heinrich Kramer" and "Jacob Sprenger", and was first published in Germany in 1487 (Jolly 2002, page 239).

It was the culmination of a long medieval tradition of treatises on witchcraft, the most famous being the Formicarius by Johannes Nider in 1435-1437 (Bailey 2003, page 30). The main purpose of the Malleus was to systematically refute all arguments against the reality of witchcraft, refute those who expressed even the slightest skepticism about its reality, to prove that witches were more often woman than men, and to educate magistrates on the procedures that could find them out and convict them (Jolly, 240). The Malleus Maleficarum spawned a number of French imitations, among which were Jean Bodin's La Démonomanie des Sorciers [Demonology Of Sorcerers] (1580) and Le Fléau des Démons et ses Sorciers [Plague Of Demons And Sorcerers] (1616).



The Malleus Maleficarum asserts that three elements are necessary for witchcraft: the evil-intentioned witch, the help of the Devil, and the Permission of God. The treatise is divided up into three sections. The first section tries to refute critics who deny the reality of witchcraft, thereby hindering its prosecution. The second section describes the actual forms of witchcraft and its remedies. The third section is to assist judges confronting and combating witchcraft. However, each of these three sections has the prevailing themes of what is witchcraft and who is a witch. The Malleus Maleficarum relies heavily upon earlier works such as Visconti and, most famously, Johannes Nider's Formicarius (1435).

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

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Malleus Maleficarum" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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