Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, Jakob

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Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, Jakob

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.

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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 animals

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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 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.

Things to remember while reading Malleus Maleficarum:

  • The Malleus Maleficarum was written almost two hundred years prior to the Salem hysteria.
  • The basis for the book was the concept (idea) of malefecia, which are mean and evil acts committed by witches or sorcerers. Malleus Maleficarum was actually written because Pope Innocent VIII felt that not enough witches were being prosecuted (punished) by the courts for acts of malefecia, and there needed to be a guide that would help people better identify witches and the acts of witchcraft.

From Malleus Maleficarum

sacrilege: disrespect of something holy

pact: a formal agreement

fidelity: faithfulness

addicted: dependent

treatise: agreement

The method by which they profess theirsacrilege through an openpact offidelity to devils varies according to the several practices to which different witches areaddicted. And to understand this it first must be noted that there are, as was shown in The First Part of thetreatise, three kinds of witches; namely, those who injure but cannotcure; those who cure but, through some strange pact with the devil, cannot injure; and those who both injure and cure. And among those who injure, one class in particular stands out, which can perform every sort of witchcraft and spell,comprehending all that all the others can individually do.Wherefore, if we describe the method ofprofession in their case, it willsuffice also for all the other kinds. And this class is made up of those who, against every instinct of human or animal nature, are in the habit of eating and devouring the children of their own species.

And this is the most powerful class of witches, whopractise innumerable other harms also. For they raise hailstorms and hurtfultempests and lightnings; causesterility in men and animals; offer to devils, or otherwise kill, the children whom they do not devour. But these are only the children who have not been re-born bybaptism at thefont, for they cannot devour those who have been baptized, nor any without God's permission. They can also, before the eyes of their parents, and when no one is in sight, throw into the water children walking by the water side; they make horses go mad under their riders; they can transport themselves from place to place through the air, wither in body or in imagination; they can affect Judges andMagistrates so that they cannot hurt them; they can cause themselves and others to keep silence under torture; they can bring about a great trembling in the hands and horror in the minds of those who would arrest them; they can show to othersoccult things and future events, by the information of devils, though this may sometimes have a natural cause (see the question: Whether devils can foretell the future, in the Second Book of Sentences); they can see absent things as if they were present; they can turn the minds of men toinordinate love or hatred; they can at times strike whom they will with lightening and even kill some men and animals; they can make of no effect thegenerative desires, and even the powers ofcopulation, causeabortion, kill infants in the mother'swomb by a mere exterior touch; they can at times bewitch men and animals with a mere look, without touching them, and cause death; they dedicate their own children to devils; and in short, as has been said, they can cause all the plagues which other witches can only cause in part, that is, when the Justice of God permits such things to be. All these things this most powerful of all classes of witches can do, but they cannot undo them.

comprehending: understanding

wherefore: in which case

profession: occupation

suffice: be enough

practise: practice

innumerable: too many to count

tempests: violent storms

sterility: inability to reproduce sexually

baptism: a religious ceremony where someone is sprinkled with water or dipped in water as they are welcomed into the Christian church

font: a basin that holds holy water for baptisms

magistrates: officials of the court

occult: having to do with magic and supernatural powers

inordinate: more than ordinary

generative: reproductive

copulation: to engage in sexual intercourse

abortion: the birth of a baby before it is old enough to survive

womb: the place in a woman where a baby gows before being born; the uterus

What happened next . . .

The Malleus Maleficarum went on to be used as the definitive handbook for the identification and punishment of witches well into the nineteenth century. It was used as a guiding force for religious writers, and for many of the courts trying to condemn accused witches not only for witchcraft but for heresy. The Malleus Maleficarum was also used as a manual for "witchhunters" such as Matthew Hopkins, who was famous for his witch-hunting tactics, and the number of witches he had captured.

Did you know . . .

  • The idea that witches flew on broomsticks was not introduced until the fifteenth century when it was first mentioned in Malleus Maleficarum.
  • The Malleus Maleficarum was the second most popular book sold in Europe and England (second only to the Bible) until the release of Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan in 1678.
  • Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger were known to have stated that no innocent person could ever be convicted or persecuted for being a witch, as God would not permit it.

For Further Study

Demos, John Putnam. Entertaining Satan: Witchraft and the Culture of Early New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Kramer, Heinrich, and Jakob Sprenger. The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. Edited by Montague Summers. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1971.

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Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, Jakob

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