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Introduction to Online Edition

Saint Magdalen by Peter Paul Rubens

The Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for “The Hammer of Witches”, or “Hexenhammer” in German) is one of the most famous medieval treatises on witches. It was written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, and was first published in Germany in 1487. Its main purpose was to challenge all arguments against the existence of witchcraft and to instruct magistrates on how to identify, interrogate and convict witches.

Some modern scholars believe that Jacob Sprenger contributed little if anything to the work besides his name, but the evidence to support this is weak. Both men were members of the Dominican Order and Inquisitors for the Catholic Church. They submitted the Malleus Maleficarum to the University of Cologne’s Faculty of Theology on May 9, 1487, seeking its endorsement.

While general consensus is that The Catholic Church banned the book in 1490 by placing it on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Prohibited Books”), the first Index was, in fact, produced in 1559 under the direction of Pope Paul IV. Therefore such claims are dubious, at best. I believe people are confusing the fact that the Inquisition reportedly denounced Heinrich Kramer in 1490 as being a ban upon the Malleus Maleficarum. Thus far, I’ve yet to find the Malleus on any Index Librorum Prohibitorum (copies of which are available on the Internet – most notably the 1559 and 1948 editions).

The papal bull, which appeared at the beginning of the book, could rightly be said to be misleading, because it addresses Kramer’s and Sprenger’s authorities as Inquisitors in certain lands, not the creation of the Malleus Maleficarum. The Catholic Encyclopedia states “Innocent’s Bull enacted nothing new. Its direct purport was simply to ratify the powers already conferred upon Henry Institoris and James Sprenger, inquisitors, to deal with persons of every class and with every form of crime (for example, with witchcraft as well as heresy), and it called upon the Bishop of Strasburg to lend the inquisitors all possible support.” So Kramer treated the bull as if it was an endorsement of his book, but it was not. However, the inclusion of the bull certainly gave the impression that the Malleus Maleficarum had been granted approval by Pope Innocent VIII.

Some believe that the Letter of Approbation from The Faculty of Theology of the University of Cologne was a falsified document. General consensus is that Heinrich Kramer brought the Malleus Maleficarum before the University of Cologne requesting an endorsement, but was rebuffed. Tradition has it that Kramer forged the document that he included with his work, that he and James Sprenger parted ways on bad terms, and that Kramer was denounced by the Inquisition in 1490. One would expect, however, that had such a document been forged, Mr. Kramer would not have subsequently been able to conduct very popular lectures in Venice starting in 1495, much less be empowered to proceed against the Waldensians and Picards in 1500.

I believe it’s much more likely that the Letter of Approbation was genuine, but that the Malleus itself was never actually read by the gentlemen who endorsed it. I think it’s much more likely that Dr. Edward Peters was correct when, in his section of the work Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Volume Three – The Middle Ages [page 239], he stated; “The approval of the theological faculty of Cologne was arranged through a complicated series of academic negotiations – it, too, does not address the remarkable qualities of the work itself.  It is doubtful whether Innocent VIII or the theological faculty of Cologne ever read the work.”

Also, according to Dr. Christopher Mackay, whose recent translation represents a reliable modern scholarly edition of the Malleus Maleficarum, “The argument was made in the nineteenth century by a scholar hostile to what the Malleus stood for that the approbation was a forgery by Institoris and that Sprenger had nothing to do with the composition. The evidence for this is in my view very tenuous (and the main argument is clearly invalid). Nonetheless, once the argument was put forward, it took on a life of its own, and people continue to advance arguments in favor of the idea that Sprenger’s involvement was a falsification perpetrated by Institoris, despite the fact that this argument was vitiated from the start.”

Whether or not the work was ever officially banned by the Catholic Church, the Malleus Maleficarum became the de-facto handbook for witch-hunters and Inquisitors throughout Late Medieval Europe. Between the years 1487 and 1520, it was published thirteen times, and between 1574 to 1669 it was again published sixteen times.

The Malleus Maleficarum perhaps owes most of its popularity to Johannes Gutenberg. It was the invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century that allowed the work to spread so rapidly throughout Europe.

– Wicasta Lovelace References & LinksWikipedia – Malleus MaleficarumCornell University – Malleus Maleficarum (Latin text)Original Site Introduction

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Carl Sagan And The Malleus Maleficarum

The Demon Haunted World by Carl SaganIn his book, The Demon-Haunted World, author and scientist Carl Sagan had this to say about the Malleus Maleficarum;

Innocent commended “Our dear sons Henry Kramer and James Sprenger,” who “have been by Letters Apostolic delegated as Inquisitors of these heretical [de]pravities” If “the abominations and enormities in question remain unpunished,” the souls of multitudes face eternal damnation.

The Pope appointed Kramer and Sprenger to write a comprehensive analysis, using the full academic armory of the late fifteenth century. With exhaustive citations of Scripture and of ancient and modern scholars, they produced the Malleus Maleficarum, the “Hammer of Witches,” — aptly described as one of the most terrifying documents in human history. Thomas Ady, in A Candle in the Dark, condemned it as “villainous Doctrines & Inventions,” “horrible lyes and impossibilities,” serving to hide “their unparalleled cruelty from the ears of the world.” What the Malleus comes down to, pretty much, is that if you’re accused of witchcraft, you’re a witch. Torture is an unfailing means to demonstrate the validity of the accusation. There are no rights of the defendant. There is no opportunity to confront the accusers. Little attention is given to the possibility that accusations might be made for impious purposes — jealousy, say, or revenge, or the greed of the inquisitors who routinely confiscated for their own private benefit the property of the accused. This technical manual for torturers also includes methods of punishment tailored to release demons from the victim’s body before the process kills her. The Malleus in hand, the Pope’s encouragement guaranteed, inquisitors began springing up all over Europe.

It quickly became an expense account scam. All costs of investigation, trial, and execution were borne by the accused or her relatives—down to the per diems for the private detectives hired to spy on her, wine for her guards, banquets for her judges, the travel expenses of a messenger sent to fetch a more experienced torturer from another city, and the faggots, tar and hangman’s rope. Then there was a bonus to the members of the tribunal for each witch burned. The convicted witch’s remaining property, if any, was divided between Church and State. As this legally and morally sanctioned mass murder and theft became institutionalized, as a vast bureaucracy arose to serve it, attention was turned from poor hags and crones to the middle class and well-to-do of both sexes.

The more who, under torture, confessed to witchcraft, the harder it was to maintain that the whole business was mere fantasy. Since each “witch” was made to implicate others, the numbers grew exponentially. These constituted “frightful proofs that the Devil is still alive,” as it was later put in America in the Salem witch trials. In a credulous age, the most fantastic testimony was soberly accepted—that tens of thousands of witches had gathered for a Sabbath in public squares in France, or that 12,000 of them darkened the skies as they flew to Newfoundland. The Bible had counseled, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Legions of women were burnt to death. And the most horrendous tortures were routinely applied to every defendant, young or old, after the instruments of torture were first blessed by the priests. Innocent himself died in 1492, following unsuccessful attempts to keep him alive by transfusion (which resulted in the deaths of three boys) and by suckling at the breast of a nursing mother, He was mourned by his mistress and their children.

In Britain witch-finders, also called “prickers,” were employed, receiving a handsome bounty for each girl or woman they turned over for execution. They had no incentive to be cautious in their accusations. Typically they looked for “devil’s marks” — scars or birthmarks or nevi — that when pricked with a pin neither hurt nor bled. A simple sleight of hand often gave the appearance that the pin penetrated deep into the witch’s flesh. When no visible marks were apparent, “invisible marks” sufficed. Upon the gallows, one mid-seventeenth-century pricker “confessed he had been the death of above 200 women in England and Scotland, for the gain of twenty shillings apiece.”

In the witch trials, mitigating evidence or defense witnesses were inadmissible. In any case, it was nearly impossible to provide compelling alibis for accused witches: The rules of evidence had a special character. For example, in more than one case a husband attested that his wife was asleep in his arms at the very moment she was accused of frolicking with the devil at a witch’s Sabbath; but the archbishop patiently explained that a demon had taken the place of the wife. The husbands were not to imagine that their powers of perception could exceed Satan’s powers of deception. The beautiful young women were perforce consigned to the flames.

There were strong erotic and misogynistic elements — as might be expected in a sexually repressed, male-dominated society with inquisitors drawn from the class of nominally celibate priests. The trials paid close attention to the quality and quantity of orgasm in the supposed copulations of defendants with demons or the Devil (although Augustine had been certain “we cannot call the Devil a fornicator”), and to the nature of the Devil’s “member” (cold, by all reports). “Devil’s marks” were found “generally on the breasts or private parts” according to Ludovico Sinistrari’s 1700 book. As a result pubic hair was shaved, and the genitalia were carefully inspected by the exclusively male inquisitors. In the immolation of the 20-year-old Joan of Arc, after her dress had caught fire the Hangman of Rouen slaked the flames so onlookers could view “all the secrets which can or should be in a women.”

The chronicle of those who were consumed by fire in the single German city of Wurzburg in the single year 1598 penetrates the statistics and lets us confront a little of the human reality:

“The steward of the senate, named Gering; old Mrs. Kanzler; the tailor’s fat wife; the woman cook of Mr. Mengerdorf; a stranger; a strange woman; Baunach, a senator, the fattest citizen in Wurtzburg; the old smith of the court; an old woman; a little girl, nine or ten years old; a younger girl, her little sister; the mother of the two little aforementioned girls; Liebler’s daughter; Goebel’s child, the most beautiful girl in Wurtzburg; a student who knew many languages; two boys from the Minster, each twelve years old; Stepper’s little daughter; the woman who kept the bridge gate; and old woman; the little son of the town council baliff; the wife of Knertz, the butcher; the infant daughter of Dr. Schultz; a blind girl; Schwartz, canon at Hach…”

On and on it goes. Some were given special human attention: “The little daughter of Valkenberger was privately executed and burnt.” There were 28 public immolations, each with 4 to 6 victims on average, in that small city in a single year. This was a microcosm of what was happening all across Europe. No one knows how many were killed altogether — perhaps hundred of thousands, perhaps millions. Those responsible for prosecuting, torturing, judging, burning, and justifying were selfless. Just ask them.

They could not be mistaken. The confessions of witchcraft could not be based on hallucinations, say, or desperate attempts to satisfy the inquisitors and stop the torture. In such a case, explained the witch judge Pierre de Lancre (in his 1612 book, Description of the Inconstancy of Evil Angels), the Catholic Church would be committing a great crime by burning witches. Those who raise such possibilities are thus attacking the Church and ipso facto committing a mortal sin. Critics of witch-burning were punished and, in some cases, themselves burnt. The inquisitors and torturers were doing God’s work. They were saving souls. They were foiling demons.

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Quotes From The Malleus

“But (and this is remarkable) when on the next day the other witch had at first been exposed to the very gentlest questions, being suspended hardly clear of the ground by her thumbs, after she had been set quite free, she disclosed the whole matter without the slightest discrepancy from what the other had told…”

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Britannica Occultism Article Excerpt

In 1484 two Dominican friars, Heinrich Kraemer and Johann Sprenger, induced Pope Innocent VIII to issue a bull authorizing them to extirpate witchcraft in Germany; and two years later these two mean published the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches’ Hammer), a work that became the authoritative encyclopaedia of demonology throughout Christendom. It was a synthesis of folk beliefs that had hitherto been manifested in local outbursts of witchfinding. Its authority lasted for nearly three centuries, during the time of the European witch mania.

The demonology that the Malleus enshrined became an established and systematized theory attributing witches’ powers to their special links with the devil, especially their sexual relationships with him as incubus (embodiment in masculine form) if they were women or as succubis (embodiment in feminine form) if they were men. Though witches in other societies personify evil in general, in European history they became specifically identified as the earthly representatives of the Prince of Evil.

Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th Edition
Macropædia, Volume 25, Occultism, Pages 94 – 95

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Malleus Summation in Encyclopedia Britannica

What follows is the Malleus summation in Encyclopedia Britannica.

Malleus Maleficarm – detailed legal and theological document (c. 1486) regarded as the standard handbook on witchcraft, including its detection and its extirpation, until well into the 18th century. Its appearance did much to spur on and sustain some two centuries of witch-hunting hysteria in Europe. The Malleus was the work of two Dominicans: Johann Sprenger, dean of the University of Cologne in Germany, and Heinrich (Institoris) Kraemer, professor of theology at the University of Salzburg, Austria, and inquisitor in the Tirol region of Austria. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued the bull Summis Desiderantes, in which he deplored the spread of witchcraft in Germany and authorized Sprenger and Kraemer to extirpate it.

The Malleus codified the folklore and beliefs of the Alpine peasants and was dedicated to the implementation of Exodus 22:18: “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.” The work is divided into three parts. In Part I the reality and depravity of witches is emphasized, and any disbelief in demonology is condemned as heresy. Because of the nature of the enemy, any witness, no matter what his credentials, may testify against an accused. Part II is a compendium of fabulous stories about the activities of witches – e.g. diabolic compacts, sexual relations with devils (incubi and succubi), transvection (night-riding), and metamorphosis. Part III is a discussion of the legal procedures to be followed in witch trials. Torture is sanctioned as a means of securing confessions. Lay and secular authorities are called upon to assist the inquisitors in the task of exterminating those whom Satan has enlisted in his cause.

The Malleus went through 28 editions between 1486 and 1600 and was accepted by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike as an authoritative source of information concerning satanism and as a guide to Christian defense.

Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th Edition
Micropædia, Volume 7, Page 740

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