In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d write briefly about a book that was used for hundreds of years by Men of Science—although the science of the middle ages—and Men of Theology—zealots who used heavily biased religious texts against women who challenged the narrow definition of a female’s place in society, or who were mentally or physically unbalanced—to identify and prosecute witches.
Called the MALLEUS MALEFICARUM, meaning “Hammer of the Witches” in Latin, it was written in 1486 to refute the more rational citizens of the Tyrol region of Germany who doubted the existence of witches. The Church had officially denied the existence of witches since the time of Charlemagne, who in fact outlawed the practice of witch burning, calling it a pagan superstition. But the wide distribution of the Malleus, thanks in part to the development of the printing press, brought a resurgence of witch hunting in Europe and in the New World.
The author of the book was one Heinrich Kramer who was initally thrown out of his home district for being a crank. Called a “senile old man” by his local bishop, it has been theorized that the book was his act of vengeance against the established clergy in particular and women in general. And what a bloody vengeance it was. As many as 60,000 people, mostly women, were burned at the stake in Europe between 1480 and 1750.
According to the Malleus “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.” A very telling insight into the mindset of the author, and of the prosecutors of the unfortunate women labeled as confederates of the Devil. There were many stages of investigation, but a physcial examination almost always uncovered a wart or a mole that could be claimed to be the “witches teat” from which she fed her familiar—a cat, frog, newt, etc.—a demon in disguise.
We treated our witches a little more kindly here in the colonies in that we didn’t burn them at the stake. We only hanged them. But the 20 men and women who were killed in Salem in 1692 (my 9X great grandmother, Martha Carrier, among them) were some of the last wholesale victims of the Malleus.