The "Malleus Maleficarum" and the construction of witchcraft

The "Malleus Maleficarum" and the construction of witchcraft: Theology and popular belief

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 224
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    The "Malleus Maleficarum" and the construction of witchcraft
    Book Description:

    The Malleus Maleficarum is one of the best-known treatises dealing with the problem of what to do with witches. It was written in 1487 by a Dominican inquisitor, Heinrich Institoris, following his failure to prosecute a number of women for witchcraft, it is in many ways a highly personal document, full of frustration at official complacency in the face of a spiritual threat, as well as being a practical guide for law-officers who have to deal with a cunning, dangerous enemy. Combining theological discussion, illustrative anecdotes, and useful advice for those involved in suppressing witchcraft, its influence on witchcraft studies has been extensive. The only previous translation into English, that by Montague Summers produced in 1928, is full of inaccuracies. It is written in a style almost unreadable nowadays, and is unfortunately coloured by his personal agenda. This new edited translation, with an introductory essay setting witchcraft, Institoris, and the Malleus into clear, readable English, corrects Summers’ mistakes and offers a lean, unvarnished version of what Institoris actually wrote. It will undoubtedly become the standard translation of this important and controversial late-medieval text.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-075-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on translation
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction: contested categories
    (pp. 1-9)

    On the morning of October 29th, 1485, dignitaries began to assemble in the great meeting room of Innsbruck’s town hall. They included Cristan Turner, licentiate in the decretals and the special representative of Georg Golser, bishop of Brixen, Master Paul Wann, doctor of theology and canon law, Sigismund Saumer, also a licentiate in the decretals, three brothers of the Dominican Order, a pair of notaries, and the inquisitor, Henry Institoris.¹ They were there to witness the interrogation of Helena Scheuberin, who, along with thirteen others, was suspected of practicing witchcraft. Scheuberin would have been familiar to at least some of...

  6. 2 Origins and arguments
    (pp. 10-39)

    TheMalleusis an idiosyncratic text, reflective of its authors’ particular experiences and preoccupations. It is, in the first place, an expression of a distinctively clerical worldview, the product of two lifetimes of academic, spiritual, and pastoral experience within the Church. But more than this, it is also the result of a peculiarly Dominican encounter between learned and folk traditions, an encounter determined in part by the demands of inquisitorial office, and in part by the requirements of effective preaching and pastoral care. Yet although theMalleusis certainly a Dominican text, it is not necessarily representative of Dominican or...

  7. 3 The inquisitors’ devil
    (pp. 40-65)

    Institoris and Sprenger begin their analysis of witchcraft by observing that for witchcraft to have any effect, three things must concur: the devil, the witch, and the permission of God. For them, as for us, the devil provides a convenient starting point, because the witchcraft of theMalleusdepends upon an unusual conception of what the infernal side of the Christian pantheon is all about. Like so many late-medieval cultural icons, the inquisitors’ devil is not amenable to simple definition; nor is it easy to determine in what form and to what extent the devil was actually “present” in peoples’...

  8. 4 Misfortune, witchcraft, and the will of God
    (pp. 66-90)

    An obvious corollary to a belief in witches is the perception that certain kinds of recognizable injuries or misfortunes are due to witchcraft, and it is clear from the sources that many people in medieval Europe were, at times, prepared to accept certain kinds of misfortunes as the result of witchcraft or harmful magic.¹ Not everyone, however, understood the relationship between magic and its effects in the same way. For unlettered peasants and townsfolk – for everyone, in fact, but a small elite of educated men and women – the relationship between “magic” and its intended result was probably a straightforward case...

  9. 5 Witchcraft: the formation of belief – part one
    (pp. 91-121)

    Ambrosius de Vignate was a well-respected magistrate and legal scholar, a doctor of both canon and civil law, who lectured at Padua, Bologna, and Turin between 1452 and 1468. On several occasions he participated in the trials of accused witches: he tells us that he had heard men and women alike confess – both freely and under torture – that they belonged to the sect of witches (“secta mascorum seu maleficorum”) and that they, and others whom they implicated, had done all sorts of strange and awful things. The presiding inquisitors at these trials accepted this testimony as substantially true, and began...

  10. 6 Witchcraft: the formation of belief – part two
    (pp. 122-166)

    In the previous chapter we examined how motifs drawn from traditional beliefs about spectral night-traveling women informed the construction of learned witch categories in the late Middle Ages. Although the precise manner in which these motifs were utilized differed between authorities, two general mental habits set off fifteenth-century witch-theorists from earlier writers. First, they elided the distinctionas between previously discrete sets of beliefs to create a substantially new category (“witch,” variously defined), with which to carry out subsequent analysis. Second, they increasingly insisted upon the objective reality of their conceptions of witchcraft. In this chapter we take up a rather...

  11. 7 Witchcraft as an expression of female sexuality
    (pp. 167-188)

    That “a greater multitude of witches is found among the weaker sex of women than among men” was so obviously a fact to the authors of theMalleusthat, despite scholastic custom, it was completely unnecessary to deduce arguments to the contrary.¹ Witches, in their view, were entirely more likely to be women than men. The experience of the next two hundred years appeared to vindicate this judgment. Throughout most of central and western Europe, where witchcraft persecution was most intense, between 70 and 80 percent of convicted witches were women.² Institoris and Sprenger’s learned successors in the sixteenth and...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-204)
  13. Index
    (pp. 205-209)