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Malleus on Witchcraft
Guidebook on how to deal with witches.

The Malleus Maleficarum, a guidebook for Inquisitors during the Inquisition, was designed to aid Inquisitors in the identification, prosecution, and dispatching of witches. It was written in 1486 by Kramer and Sprenger, two important priests in the Dominican order in Germany, and was supported by Innocent VIII in a papal bull that declared witchcraft a heresy. The Malleus Maleficarum was one of the earliest books to receive mass distribution. Six editions were published before 1550, at least thirteen more by 1620, and another sixteen by 1669. It was translated into German, French, Italian, and English, was intensively quoted in later manuals, and soon spread into civil law.

The Malleus Maleficarum launched the European witch persecutions that began in the late fifteenth century and continued through the seventeenth century. It criminalized and demonized religious folk customs and traditions and their practitioners, most particularly women. Kramer and Sprenger claimed that witchcraft "comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable" and thanked God for having "preserved the male sex from so great a crime." Kramer and Sprenger asserted that older women, spinsters, and widows were particularly susceptible to carnal lust and claimed that such women had sexual relations with the devil since no human male would have them. Kramer and Sprenger accused these women of feats that were fantastic and bizarre, that contradict our ordinary grasp of reality: night flights, turning men into animals, and charming away penises and hiding them in birds nests.

While all folk beliefs, customs, and traditions were deemed heretical, womens traditional roles and practices were particularly vulnerable to the charge of witchcraft. Kramer and Sprenger singled out midwives as particularly suspicious. Midwives eased the pain of labor and childbirth, a heretical act since pain in childbirth is Gods punishment for Eves sin. Midwives prescribed herbs as a method of birth control, a heretical act since human control of fertility interferes with Gods will.

Estimates of the number of people executed for witchcraft range from 100,000 to nine million. While researchers do not agree on the number of people tortured and murdered for witchcraft, there seems to be general agreement that 85% of those executed were women and that the accused were predominately very poor rural women, over fifty years of age, who were unprotected by a man (either spinsters or widows). Confessions of witchcraft were tortured out of the accused using a gruesome array of physically and sexually violent methods. Those accused of witchcraft were often tortured and burned alive in a public forum, thereby sending a powerful message to other members of the community, most particularly girls and women.

While the "official" European witch craze began to lose steam in the latter half of the seventeenth century, support for the Malleus Maleficarum and the witch persecutions continues to this day. Horrifyingly enough, The Malleus Maleficarum is still in print, and not simply as a curiosity or a research tool. In his introduction to the Malleus Maleficarum,1948 edition, priest Montague Summers wrote:

    "Certain it is that the Malleus Maleficarum is the most solid, the most important work in the whole vast library of witchcraft. One turns to it again and again with edification and interest: From the point of psychology, from the point of jurisprudence, from the point of history, it is supreme. It has hardly too much to say that later writers, great as they are, have done little more than draw from the seemingly inexhaustible wells of wisdom which the two Dominicans, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, have given us in the Malleus Maleficarum."

Summers was a complex man as you can see from his Brief Biography.

Clearly, the Malleus Maleficarum, is itself an abomination. It captures the worst expression of human nature; witch hunting is worse than genocidal despotism in one sense--it basically pits man against woman at all levels of society. The Malleus Maleficarum was actively supported by organized religion, not just by isolated or ignorant superstition.

Something that issues from superstition and Church and permeates society infecting so many secular and religious people in almost a mass hysteria just seems a worse harbinger for mankind than the rarer Hitler, Stalin, Ameer Ali (Thugs really), Pol Pot, Idi Amin, that most of us cannot even identify with. Witch hunters were ordinary people caught up by their own emotions. Maybe the despots are (were) too, but they are hardly ordinary. Sadly witch hunting still lives in parts of the world. See: Witch Hunts for

    "Witch-hunts in South Africa have become "a national scourge," according to Phumele Ntombele-Nzimande of the country's Commission on Gender Equality. (Quoted in Gilbert Lewthwaite, "South Africans go on witch hunts," Baltimore Sun, September 27, 1998.)"

Permeating society, the power of religion can influence world events, the very direction of society. So can a holocaust organized by an individual, but despotism of that nature dies with the despot. Religions go on and on with their "witch-hunter" tendencies for millennia. All three monotheisms, with terrorism part of their histories, attest to that fact. None seem to have asked, why are "we" driven to kill? The answer to that may apply to genocide as well.

Instead, we see in modern times Rev. Montague Summers extol the works of Malleus. From we read:

    "...Summers not only believed in the existence of witches as the Medieval Church perceived them, but felt that the Inquisition, and the Malleus, were both justified and necessary."

What else can one say about the position Montague Summers took? See Mecca School Fire (scroll down) for a present day equivalent of Malleus in action where Wahhabism orders the day.

A poem from Judy Grahns "A Woman is Talking to Death:"

    "They dont have to lynch the women
    very often anymore, although
    they used tothe lord and his men
    went through the villages at night,
    beating and killing every woman caught outdoors.
    The European witch trials took away
    the independent people;
    two different villages
    after the trials were through that year
    had left in them, each
    one living woman:

To the great credit of the Europeans, and westerners in general, they have largely risen above this madness driven by superstition and religion. That 15 young girls perished needlessly (for religious reasons) in a school fire implies if not proves monotheism has yet to complete its reformation.


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