It’s a sinister book. Its pages have the stigma of evil. Its title makes us think of hell and its demons. Reading that book at midnight could be a terrifying experience. The arguments put forward by the authors carried millions of people to the stake, most of them women. Their screams of pain keep echoing in our ears as we turn over the pages. However, it is a fascinating book. It attracts us as much as the diamond that shines on Lucifer’s forehead. We refer to the book “Malleus Maleficarum”, known in English as “Hammer of Witches”. It is a manual of the Holy Inquisition, whose pages give off a glacial breath that seems to emanate from the very lungs of the Prince of Darkness. It was written by two friars of the Order of St. Dominic in the 15th century.
I knew the existence of the “Malleus Maleficarum” in 1997. I read an investigation by a German scholar about the misogynist persecution of women went on Middle Ages. The women hunt continued for a few hundred years in both Europe and America. Thousands of innocent women died at the stake accused of witches. The Holy Inquisition also burned some men for witchcraft, but the number of women sentenced to death was, in excess, greater. The German academic ensured that it is not possible to do any serious study on witchcraft without consulting, reading, and understanding the “Malleus Maleficarum”, “Hammer of Witches”, in English.
The influence of the book “Hammer of Witches” lasted several centuries. In New England, seventeenth century, territory ruled by the British Crown, many procedures recommended by the authors of the “Malleus Maleficarum” were applied. I mean the Salem witch trials. These were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, fourteen of them women, and all but one by hanging. Five others (including two children) died in prison.
The witch hunt does not end in 1693 in Salem. At a date as late as 1730 took place in France the trial against Katherine La Cadiere for witchcraft. This is a case that tells the historian French Jules Michelet in his book “The Witch”. The Jesuit priest Girard is the prosecutor and torturer in the trial against La Cadiere. This story, true, totally based on archives of the time, has an ingredient of psychopathy and madness very strong. It turned out that the one who actually practiced witchcraft was the Jesuit priest. Girard compelled Katherine to incriminate herself as a witch and a woman possessed by the devil. This the priest did to save himself from death, which reflects the sick mind of the inquisitors. The witch hunt is a broad subject. I wished to get myself into this one.
I began to get that book. The rare medieval codex was not in any of the bookstores I visited. I found the book “Malleus Maleficarum” in internet. I started reading without missing a beat. The “Malleus Maleficarum” or “Hammer of Witches” was writing by two friars of the Order of St. Dominic. They were Heinrich Kramer, also known as Heinrich Institoris, and Jacob Sprenger. The book was published in 1486, written in Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church. Both Kramer and Sprenger were doctors of divinity and men of scholarship according to the culture of their day.
Innocent XIII on December 5, 1484, issued the papal bull “Summis desiderantes affectibus”, in which the Supreme Pontiff recognized the existence of the witches, and revoked Canon Episcopi 906, where the Catholic Church affirmed that to believe in witches was a heresy. In “Summis desiderantes affectibus” Sprenger and Kramer are mentioned by their Latin names (Iacobus Sprenger and Henrici Institoris). The Pope ordered both friars to fight witchcraft in northern Germany. Becoming Vatican soldiers, Kramer and Sprenger undertook their mission with great happiness and sinister plans.
When I read the book “Malleus Maleficarum” I noticed that both inquisitors done a very thorough investigation. The research had a utilitarian purpose: to detect, to torture, and to burn at the stake to women who supposed to be witches. Kramer and Sprenger interviewed a multitude of people in rural Germany and collected a wealth of myths and legends about witchcraft in this region of Europe. If such detailed research had been done in the present 21st century it could be described as sociological and ethnographic studies. But it was in the fifteenth century, and the work of the two friars had a religious and criminal purpose.
In those rude German peasants still lived faith in the ancient Nordic religions, now transfigured into vague superstitions. They had mixed the gods of the German pantheon with the most one terrifying of the angels of Judeo-Christianity: Lucifer and his legions of demons. From these investigations and from the consultation of theological treatises of the time was that Kramer and Sprenger created the “Malleus Maleficarum” The “Hammer of Witches” soon became what we would call a best-selling book today. “Hammer of Witches” is writings in the same years in which the printing press was invented, for that reason it was a manual for inquisitors spread throughout the European territory.
According to some authors and scholars today, “Hammer of Witches” it is guilty of the murder of between 2 and 5 million women accused of being witches. The technique, the method, the interrogations that were used to say that a woman had a personal connection to Satan, is in the pages of this sinister book.
The book is divided into three sections. Each part pretends to ask specific questions about witchcraft and tries to answer them. There is little original ideas in the book. “Hammer of Witches” is mostly a collection of preexisting witchcraft’s treatises in Europe in the Middle Ages. In addition, this manual for inquisitors contains arguments from earlier theological works. Kramer and Sprenger took much evidence suggesting use of enchantments from Nicolau Aymerich’s book “Directorium Inquisitorum” (1376). In “Hammer of Witches” it is also easy to detect ideas already presented in the book “Formicarius” (1435) by Johannes Nider.
The part I of the “Malleus Maleficarum” tries to prove that witchcraft exists. It details how the Devil and his followers, witches and sorcerers, do evil. However, in contradictory way, the authors of “Hammer of Witches” assert that sorcerers and Satan can harm their neighbors but only “with the permission of God Almighty.” In this part of the book, Kramer and Sprenger exposed several examples of witchcraft, some of them belong to pagan antiquity. This is the case of the witch Circe, who appears in Homer’s “The Odyssey”. Other examples of witchcraft are already from the Christian era. According to Kramer and Sprenger, women are more likely to fall into the temptation of witchcraft than men. This section I of “Hammer of Witches” put out a case, which according to tradition, happen in the Greek city of Corinth. This fact, more than witchcraft, seems to be an antecedent of the vampire myth. It is the story of a bride who dies a few days before marriage, and then leaves the grave to have sex with her boyfriend and the marriage is consummate. Presumably Goethe took up this legend to write his celebrated poem “The Bride of Corinth.” It is also possible that the German writer has taken the argument from the book “Rebus Mirabilis”, by Flegon de Trelles, and not from the “Hammer of Witches”. In any case, the story of a bride coming out of the grave to consummate marriage with her boyfriend was a legend that circulated in Europe, the same in the villages as in the palaces.
In my opinion Part I of “Hammer of Witches” is the most interesting. At times it is much like a fantasy novel. There are paragraphs that describe the copulation of witches with the devil in the woods. Kramer and Sprenger claim that Lucifer turned into mist or smoke. Thus the dark angel descended to the genitals of women and had sex.
Kramen and Sprenger also tell that witches can command the extreme forces of nature. These women create many thunderstorms that destroyed crops. The witches may also sink the ships into the sea and kill the entire crew. According to the authors of “Hammer of Witches” the sorcerers kill the fetuses in the belly of the women. The most pleasing sacrifice to Lucifer was that of an unbaptized child, a newborn baby whom the evil women stole.
Other fragments of first Part are truly laughable and humorous. They tell the story of a witch that took away a man’s penis. The penis was found by the inquisitors in a bird’s nest. Kramer returned the phallus to the victim. The inquisitors do not clarify how they were able to stick the penis back into that man’s body.
Part II of the “Malleus Maleficarum” describes the different ways of doing witchcraft. This section details how witches do spell and how enchantments can be prevented or remedied. In part II it is strongly emphasized that witches have a pact with the Devil and that the evils these women make are real facts and not legends. The information presented in Part II of “Hammer of Witches” was obtained from prosecutes against women conducted by Sprenger and Kramer. These are unreliable stories, as the victims confessed their sins under torture.
Part III teaches methods for detecting, prosecuting, sentencing, and killing witches. Torture in court proceedings against alleged witches is regarded as normal. If the witch did not voluntarily confess her guilt, then she is cruelly tortured. The inquisitors had only one aim, the woman should be to confess that she was practicing witchcraft.
The judges were taught to deceive the woman accused of pact with Lucifer, if this was necessary for gets out her confession. How did they deceive their victims? The friars offered mercy in exchange for the confession of the sin. This was something very reprehensible, detestable and cowardly. However, for the inquisitors to deceive the victim was something completely normal and good.
“Hammer of Witches”, despite the halo of curse that weighs on it, is a very interesting book. It is in our days a rare and exotic reading. I finally found the book printed in a bookstore. The copy of “Hammer of Witches” was very expensive, but I did not hesitate to buy this accursed book.