Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger

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From Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches)

Published in 1486 Reprinted in The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger in 1971 Edited by Montague Summers

The Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) was the official handbook for detecting, capturing, torturing, and killing witches (see Chapter 1). It was written in 1486 by Austrian priest Heinrich Kramer (also spelled Kraemer) and German priest Jakob Sprenger, at the request of Pope Innocent VIII, the head of the Roman Catholic Church. The document became the second-best-selling book in Europe for over two centuries (the top best-seller was the Bible). As the main justification for the persecution of witches, the authors relied on a brief passage in the Bible, that states: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18).

The Malleus Maleficarum was a three-part work that described witchcraft in elaborate detail. The first part acknowledged the existence of witches and condemned them as demons and heretics (those who break the laws of the church). Much power was given to an accuser, regardless of his or her status in the community, and anyone accused of witchcraft was immediately discredited. The Malleus Maleficarum specified that even criminals, the insane, or children could testify against an accused witch once the person was brought to trial.

Malleus Maleficarum changed the way governing bodies went about accusing and prosecuting supposed witches. Reproduced by permission of the Special Collections Library, University of Michigan.

The second part of the book preyed upon the imaginations and fears of the people by giving evidence of bizarre, disgusting, terrifying, and satanic activities of witches. The Malleus Maleficarum placed special emphasis on the relationship between female witches and the devil. Witches were accused of eating children, having sex with the devil, going to sabbaths (mass meetings where witchcraft was performed) with other witches and demons, and having evil connections with ani-

mals known as "familiars." Witches became the human agents of the devil and were held responsible for any number of imagined or real catastrophes.

The conclusion of the Malleus Maleficarum outlined the legal procedures required for finding, trying, and executing witches. This section gave free license to lawyers and clergymen, enabling them to take any means necessary to obtain a signed

Based on the guidelines in Malleus Maleficarum, accused witches were often checked for things such as moles, warts, and excessive body hair to "prove" that they were witches. Reproduced by permission of the Peabody Essex Museum.

or verbal confession. To absolve lawyers and clergy themselves from charges of murder, all accused witches were presumed guilty and innocence did not have to be proven. One of the most dangerous aspects of the Malleus Maleficarum was that it united the secular (nonreligious) world with the church, creating a murderous and violent regime sanctioned by both law and God. Any accused person could be taken from his or her home to the courts and subjected to various methods of extreme torture. The book prescribed these methods in detail, noting various markings that could "prove" a person was a witch. Such "evidence" included warts, excessive body hair, or extra nipples—all of which gave reason for intense punishment.

The following excerpt, from Chapter II of Malleus Maleficarum, describes the three kinds of witches and how they used their powers.

sacrilege: disrespect of something holy pact: a formal agreement fidelity: faithfulness addicted: dependent treatise: agreement

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