Sunday, August 16, 2009

The malleus maleficarum


This infamous text is essential for any serious student of witchcraft in early modern Europe. Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer were two Dominican monks who wrote this 'guide' to witchcraft in 1486. It served as a guide book for inquisitors during the Inquisition, providing information on identifying witches, wringing confessions from them and discussing suitable punishment of offenders.
This text has become the definitive example of misogyny in the witch-hunts. Throughout the book there are negative references to women such as 'When a woman thinks alone she thinks evil', 'She is a liar by nature', 'she is more carnal than a man as shown by her carnal abominations'. It also goes on to describe women as defective, weak, and basically claims any misfortune from illness through to crop failure was due to malign magic. Nothing had a natural cause in their view. Witches, according to Kramer and Sprenger, were responsible for all this plus infanticide, cannibalism, consorting with demons and any other abominable behavior they could imagine.
Putting the misogyny aside, this text gives an in depth, if somewhat harrowing, view of what was involved when identifying, interrogating and punishing the unfortunate accused. It is not a comfortable read to say the least, showing as it does mankind's complete inhumanity to fellow man during this period.


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