The Hammer of the Witches (The Malleus Maleficarum) is a Latin book written in 1486 and 1487. The authorship of the book is attributed to two German Dominican monks who were professors of theology (Heinrich Kramer, Jacob Sprenger). Some scholars believe that Sprenger’s role in writing the book has been largely symbolic rather than active.
In the late medieval period (1100-1500 C.E.), the Roman Catholic Church was divided by controversy. Several antipopes vied with the Vatican for ecclesiastical legitimacy, theological positions marked as heretical (including those of the Cathars, Waldenses, and Hussites) were vigorously persecuted, and in general, the spiritual unrest caused by the Protestant Reformation was becoming constant.
One response to these various (and related) crises was a general shift toward conservatism, insularity, and a type of religious xenophobia, culminating in the persecution of various individuals and groups deemed dangerous by religious authorities.
It was in this context that, on December 5, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued the Bull Summis desiderantes affectibus (“Desiring with the Supreme Ardor”), which authorized two German inquisitors (Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger) to act as they it seems in the fight against heresy, witchcraft and immorality.
This Bull prompted the composition of The Witches’ Hammer in 1486. Kramer submitted the manuscript to the Faculty of Theology at the University of Cologne in 1487, hoping to obtain an endorsement that would give the text legitimacy. Instead, the school convicted him of being unethical and illegal.
Despite this rejection, Kramer proceeded to insert a fraudulent endorsement of the University in subsequent print editions of the text. Similarly, most versions of the Witches’ Hammer also include the full text of the Bull Summis desiderantes afectibus, implying papal sanction.
Gradually it became one of the earliest and most influential manuals for witch hunters and Protestants in late medieval Europe and early modern Europe. Between the years 1487 and 1520, the work sold a total of sixteen editions, leading to an additional sixteen being printed and sold over the next hundred and fifty years.
Summary and Synopsis
Section I – Substantive assumptions
Section I argues that because the Devil exists and has the power to do amazing things, there are witches (immoral women) who manifest these powers. However, he avoids the theological problem of under-representing the power of the Divine by arguing that even these malicious actions are performed with the permission of God.
The central role that the text assigns to women in bringing evil into the world requires that the authors make certain ontological assumptions about the natural qualities of women.
Section II – Witchcraft in Practice
In Section II, the authors address more practical issues by discussing real cases. The section begins by exposing the multiple powers of witches, and then details their recruiting strategies. In doing so, he blames these duplicitous women directly, suggesting that they deliberately mislead moral women.
Given the supposed weakness of the feminine spirit, the second approach would have been seen as practically foolproof. This section also explores the mechanics of the evil spell, lists some of the terrible offenses perpetrated by these malefactors (including promoting disease, causing harm to livestock, sacrificing children, and even robbing a man of his “virile member” ). .
It concludes by instructing the reader in various defensive techniques that can be used against these powers, whether they are intended to avoid attack or mitigate the effects of existing curses.
Section III – Legal procedures for witch trials
Unlike the sensationalist views proposed in the previous sections, Section III is comparatively dry and legalistic. It describes in great detail the correct procedure for prosecuting an alleged witch.
There, the authors offer a step-by-step guide to conducting a witchcraft trial, from the method of initiating the process and collecting the charges, to the appropriate forms of defensive counsel, the questioning of witnesses, and the formal filing of charges against the accused.
Misogynistic attitudes are an unfortunately ubiquitous feature of The Witches’ Hammer. As discussed above, the treaty argues that women’s inherent flaws (more particularly their lewd sexuality) incline them toward participation in witchcraft, because they considered themselves susceptible to sexual temptations by demons.
Despite the unforgivable misogyny of the text, the witches’ hammer was significantly influenced by humanistic ideologies. Just as the ancient themes of astronomy, philosophy, and medicine were reintroduced in the West at this time, this work helps to expand the typical scholastic discourse by referring not only to the Bible and the early theologians, but also to Aristotelian and neo-thought. Platonism. It also mentions astrology and astronomy, which had recently been reintroduced into the West by the ancient works of Pythagoras.
“God in justice allows evil and witchcraft to be in the world, although He Himself is the provider and governor of all things …”
“All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is insatiable in women.”
“This is where one can take full measure of the certain logic of demonology, its capacity for self-confirmation: if the suspected witch confesses, then the guilt is firmly established; if the suspect does not confess, she is spellbound but equally guilty ”