The Malleus Maleficarum: A Medieval Manual for Witch Hunters

Malleus MaleficarumThe Salem witch trials, which began in 1692 in Salem Village, Massachusetts bay colony, are one of the most well-known and notorious witch trials in history. Yet, this was not the only case of these acts, as witch trials had been conducted in Europe for almost three centuries by then. This was due to the fear engendered by the perception that there was an ‘organized threat’ by satanic witches against Christendom. One of the products of this phenomenon was the Malleus Maleficarum, a work that dealt specifically with the prosecution of the so-called witches.

The Malleus Maleficarum, which may be translated from Latin to English as the ‘Hammer of the Witches,’ was written in 1486 by a German Catholic clergyman by the name of Heinrich Kramer. Another man listed as the author of this treatise was Jacob Sprenger, though it is now believed that Sprenger contributed only his name and his authority as a leading professor of theology to this work. It may also be mentioned that both men belonged to the Dominican Order, and were Inquisitors.

The Malleus Maleficarum was first published in Kramer’s home country in 1487, and was submitted to the University of Cologne’s Faculty of Theology in the same year, in order to obtain its endorsement. Although the book contains a Letter of Approbation from The Faculty of Theology of the University of Cologne, which indicates that it had successfully obtained the faculty’s certification, it is generally believed that Kramer’s request was rebuffed, and that the letter of approbation was actually a forgery.

It is also generally accepted that this work was banned by the Catholic Church three years after it was first published. It has been suggested, however, that the reported denouncement of Kramer in that year by the Inquisition has been mistakenly interpreted as a ban on the Malleus Maleficarum. Nevertheless, it is said that Kramer’s work became one of the most popular witch hunter manual during its time, and had gone through at least 13 editions by 1520. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that between 1574 and 1669, the Malleus Maleficarum was revived in 16 more editions.



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