Malleus Maleficarum

Title page of the seventh Cologne edition of the Malleus Maleficarum, 1520 (from the University of Sydney Library). The Latin title is "MALLEUS MALEFICARUM, Maleficas, & earum hæresim, ut phramea potentissima conterens." (English: The Hammer of Witches which destroyeth Witches and their heresy as with a two-edged sword).[1]

The Malleus Maleficarum[2] (Latin for "Hammer of the Witches", or "Der Hexenhammer" in German) is an infamous treatise on witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and was first published in Germany in 1487.[3] Jacob Sprenger is also often attributed as an author, but some scholars now believe that he became associated with the Malleus Maleficarum largely as a result of Kramer's wish to lend his book as much official authority as possible.[4]

The main purpose of the Malleus was to attempt to systematically refute arguments claiming that witchcraft does not exist, discredit those who expressed skepticism about its reality, to claim that witches were more often women than men, and to educate magistrates on the procedures that could find them out and convict them.[5] Kramer was denounced by the Inquisition in 1490.[6]



The Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1487 by Heinrich Kramer (Latinised Institoris)[7] and James Sprenger (also known as Jacob or Jakob Sprenger). Scholars have debated how much Sprenger contributed to the work. Some say his role was minor,[8] and that the book was written almost entirely by Kramer, who used the name of Sprenger for his prestige only,[7] while others say there is little evidence for this claim.[9]

In 1484 Kramer made one of the first attempts at a systematic persecution of witches in the region of Tyrol. It was not a success: Kramer was thrown out of the territory, and dismissed by the local bishop as a "senile old man". According to Diarmaid MacCulloch, writing the book was Kramer's act of self-justification and revenge.[10] Some scholars have suggested that following the failed efforts in Tyrol, Kramer and Sprenger requested and received a papal bull Summis desiderantes affectibus in 1484. It allegedly gave full papal approval for the Inquisition to prosecute witchcraft in general and for Kramer and Sprenger specifically.[11] Malleus Maleficarum was written in 1484 or 1485 and the papal bull was included as part of the preface.[11]

The preface also includes an approbation from the University of Cologne's Faculty of Theology. The authenticity of the Cologne endorsement was first questioned by Joseph Hansen but Christopher S. Mackay rejects his theory as a misunderstanding.[12] The university in fact condemned the book for unethical legal practices and contradicting Catholic teaching on demons. Scholarly opinion is divided on whether the Cologne endorsement was a complete forgery, but there is general agreement that even if it were genuine it was misrepresented by Kramer, and that neither the Pope nor the University of Cologne was aware of the true authorship of the book, or even of its contents.[13][14][15][16] The Malleus Maleficarum drew on earlier sources such as Johannes Nider's treatise Formicarius, written 1435/37.[17]

The book became the handbook for secular courts throughout Renaissance Europe, but was not used by the Inquisition, which even cautioned against relying on the work.[18] Between the years 1487 and 1520 the work was published thirteen times. It was again published between the years of 1574 to 1669 a total of sixteen times. Regardless of the authenticity of the endorsements which appear at the beginning of the book, their presence contributed to the popularity of the work.

Folk belief in reality of witchcraft had been denied by the church in earlier centuries; Charlemagne had specifically outlawed the old practice of witch burning "in the manner of the pagans".[19] By the 15th century, belief in witches was once again openly accepted in European society, but they typically suffered penalties no more harsh than public penances such as a day in the stocks.[10] Persecution of witches became more brutal following the publication of the Malleus, with witchcraft being accepted as a real and dangerous phenomenon.[20]


The Malleus Maleficarum asserts that three elements are necessary for witchcraft: the evil-intentioned witch, the help of the Devil, and the Permission of God.[21] The treatise is divided up into three sections. The first section tries to refute critics who deny the reality of witchcraft, thereby hindering its prosecution. The second section describes the actual forms of witchcraft and its remedies. The third section is to assist judges confronting and combating witchcraft. However, each of these three sections has the prevailing themes of what is witchcraft and who is a witch. The Malleus Maleficarum relies heavily upon earlier works such as Visconti and, most famously, Johannes Nider's Formicarius (1435).[22]

Section I

Section I argues that because the Devil exists and has the power to do astounding things, witches exist to help, if done through the aid of the Devil and with the permission of God.[23] The Devil’s power is greatest where human sexuality is concerned, for it was believed that women were more sexual than men. Libidinous women had sex with the Devil, thus paving their way to become witches. According to the Malleus “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.” The first section mentions using a Cruentation to find a witch or sorcerer.

Section II

Matters of practice and actual cases are discussed, and the powers of witches and their recruitment strategies.[24] It states that it is mostly witches, as opposed to the Devil, who do the recruiting, by making something go wrong in the life of a respectable matron that makes her consult the knowledge of a witch, or by introducing young maidens to tempting young devils.[24] It details how witches cast spells, and remedies that can be taken to prevent witchcraft, or help those that have been affected by it.[25]

Section III

Section III is the legal part of the Malleus that describes how to prosecute a witch. The arguments are clearly laid for the lay magistrates prosecuting witches. Institoris and Sprenger offer a step-by-step guide to the conduct of a witch trial, from the method of initiating the process and assembling accusations, to the interrogation (including torture) of witnesses, and the formal charging of the accused.[26] Women who did not cry during their trial were automatically believed to be witches.[27]

Major themes

Because the work deals with women as witches, some believe and claim that the Malleus Maleficarum is a work of misogyny. The treatise describes how women become inclined for witchcraft, claiming they were susceptible to demonic temptations through their manifold weaknesses. It was believed that they were weaker in faith and were more carnal than men.[28] Michael Bailey claims that most of the women accused as witches had strong personalities and were known to defy convention by overstepping the lines of proper female decorum.[29] After the publication of the Malleus, most of those who were prosecuted as witches were women.[30] Indeed, the very title of the Malleus Maleficarum is feminine, alluding to the idea that it was women who were the villains. Otherwise, it would be the Malleus Maleficorum (the masculine form of the Latin noun maleficus or malefica, 'witch'). In Latin, the feminine "Maleficarum" would only be used for women while the masculine "Maleficorum" could be used for men alone or for both sexes if together.[31]

The Malleus Maleficarum accuses witches of infanticide, cannibalism, casting evil spells to harm their enemies, and having the power to steal men’s penises. It goes on to give accounts of witches committing these crimes.

The Malleus Maleficarum was heavily influenced by humanistic ideologies. The ancient subjects of astronomy, philosophy, and medicine were being reintroduced to the West at this time, as well as a plethora of ancient texts being rediscovered and studied. The Malleus often makes reference to the Bible and Aristotelian thought, and it is also heavily influenced by the philosophical tenets of Neo-Platonism.[32] It also mentions astrology and astronomy, which had recently been reintroduced to the West by the ancient works of Pythagoras.[33]

Factors stimulating widespread use

The Malleus Maleficarum was able to spread throughout Europe so rapidly in the late fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century because of the innovation of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century by Johannes Gutenberg. That printing should have been invented thirty years before the first publication of the Malleus, which instigated the fervor of witch hunting, and, in the words of Russell, "the swift propagation of the witch hysteria by the press was the first evidence that Gutenberg had not liberated man from original sin."[34] The Malleus is also heavily influenced by the subjects of divination, astrology, and healing rituals the Church inherited from antiquity.[35]

The late fifteenth century was also a period of religious turmoil, for the Protestant Reformation was but a few decades in the future. The Malleus Maleficarum and the witch craze that ensued took advantage of the increasing intolerance of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in Europe, where the Protestant and Catholic camps, pitted against one another, each zealously strove to maintain the purity of faith.[36]


Between 1487 and 1520, twenty editions of the Malleus were published, and another sixteen editions were published between 1574 and 1669.[37] However, there is scholarly agreement that publication of the Malleus Maleficarum was not as influential as earlier modern historians originally thought.[38][39][40] According to MacCulloch, the Malleus was one of several key factors contributing to the witch craze, along with popular superstition and tensions created by the Reformation.[10]

See also

Notes and citations

  1. ^ The English translation is from this note to Summers' 1928 introduction.
  2. ^ Translator Montague Summers consistently uses "the Malleus Maleficarum" (or simply "the Malleus") in his 1928 and 1948 introductions. [1] [2]
  3. ^ Ruickbie (2004), 71, highlights the problems of dating; Ankarloo (2002), 239
  4. ^ See for example Hans Peter Broedel, The "Malleus Maleficarum" and the Construction of Witchcraft: Theology and Popular Belief (2003) p. 19.
  5. ^ Ankarloo, 240
  6. ^ Gibbons, Jenny. "The Malleus Maleficarum (review)". Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. 
  7. ^ a b The Malleus Maleficarum and King JamesPDF (222 KB): Defining Witchcraft. Elizabeth Mack.
  8. ^ Russell (1972), 230
  9. ^ Mackay (2006), 103
  10. ^ a b c MacCulloch, Diarmaid (2004). Reformation: Europes House Divided. Vintage Books, 2006. pp. 563–568. ISBN 0140285342. 
  11. ^ a b Russell, 229
  12. ^ Mackay (2006), 128
  13. ^ 'But both the papal letter and the Cologne endorsement are problematic. The letter of Innocent VIII is not an approval of the book to which it was appended, but rather a charge to inquisitors to investigate diabolical sorcery and a warning to those who might impede them in their duty, that is, a papal letter in the by then conventional tradition established by John XXII and other popes through Eugenius IV and Nicholas V (1447-55).', Joyy et al., 'Witchcraft and Magic In Europe', p. 239 (2002)
  14. ^ 'So successful was this stroke of advertising strategy that the authors hardly even needed the approval of the Cologne University theologians, but just for good measure Institoris forged a document granting their apparently unanimous approbation.', Ibid., p. 115
  15. ^ 'there is not a shred of evidence that Innocent VIII ever saw the Malleus Maleficarum or had the faintest notion of the ideas it contained', Peters, 'The Magician, the Witch, and the Law', p. 173 (1978)
  16. ^ 'It is doubtful whether either Innocent VIII or the theological faculty of Cologne ever read the work.', Joyy et al., 'Witchcraft and Magic In Europe', p. 239 (2002)
  17. ^ Bailey (2003), 30
  18. ^ 'In 1538 the Spanish Inquisition cautioned its members not to believe everything the Malleus said, even when it presented apparently firm evidence.', Jolly, Raudvere, & Peters(eds.), 'Witchcraft and magic in Europe: the Middle Ages', page 241 (2002)
  19. ^ "Medieval Sourcebook: Charlemagne: Capitulary for Saxony 775-790". Fordham University. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  20. ^ Trevor-Roper (1968), 102-105
  21. ^ Russell, 232
  22. ^ Russell, 279
  23. ^ Broedel, 22
  24. ^ a b Broedel, 30
  25. ^ Mackay, 214
  26. ^ Broedel, 34
  27. ^ Mackay, 502
  28. ^ Bailey, 49
  29. ^ Bailey, 51
  30. ^ Russell, 145
  31. ^ Maxwell-Stewart, 30
  32. ^ Kieckhefer (2000), 145
  33. ^ Kieckhefer, 146
  34. ^ Russell, 234
  35. ^ Ankarloo, 77
  36. ^ Henningsen (1980), 15
  37. ^ Russell, 79
  38. ^ 'The effect that the book had on witch-hunting is difficult to determine. It did not open the door 'to almost indiscriminate prosecutions' 50 or even bring about an immediate increase in the number of trials. In fact its publication in Italy was followed by a noticeable reduction in witchcraft cases.', Levack, ‘The Witch-Hunt In Early Modern Europe’, p. 55 (2nd edition 1995)
  39. ^ 'In its own day it was never accorded the unquestioned authority that modern scholars have sometimes given it. Theologians and jurists respected it as one among many informative books; its particular savage misogny and its obsession with impotence were never fully accepted.', Monter, ‘The Sociology of Jura Witchcraft’, in ‘The Witchcraft Reader’, p. 116 (2002)
  40. ^ 'Nor was the Malleus immediately regarded as a definitive work. Its appearance triggered no prosecutions in areas where there had been none earlier, and in some cases its claims encountered substantial scepticsm (for Italy, Paton 1992:264-306). In 1538 the Spanish Inquisition cautioned its members not to believe everything the Malleus said, even when it presented apparently firm evidence.', Joyy et al., ‘Witchcraft and Magic In Europe’, p. 241 (2002)


  • Ankarloo, Bengt (ed.); Stuart Clark (ed.) (2002). Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 3: The Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812217861. 
  • Bailey, Michael D. (2003). Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0271022264. 
  • Broedel, Hans Peter (2004). The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft: Theology and Popular Belief. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719064414. 
  • Flint, Valerie. The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. 1991
  • Hamilton, Alastair (May 2007). "Review of Malleus Maleficarum edited and translated by Christopher S. Mackay and two other books". Heythrop Journal 48 (3): 477–479. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2265.2007.00325_12.x. 
    (payment required)
  • Henningsen, Gustav. The Witches' Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition. University of Nevada Press. Reno, NV. 1980
  • Institoris, Heinrich; Jakob Sprenger (1520). Malleus maleficarum, maleficas, & earum haeresim, ut phramea potentissima conterens. Coloniae: Excudebat Ioannes Gymnicus. 
This is the edition held by the University of Sydney Library. [3]
  • Kieckhefer, Richard. Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, England. 2000
  • Mackay, Christopher S. (2006). Malleus Maleficarum (2 volumes). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521859778.  (Latin) (English) (bibrec) (editor's home page)
Volume 1 is the Latin text of the first edition of 1486-7 with annotations and an introduction. Volume 2 is an English translation with explanatory notes.
  • Maxwell-Stewart, P.G. (2001). Witchcraft in Europe and the New World. New York: Palgrave. 
  • Ruickbie, Leo (2004). Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 0709075677. 

External links

A disclaimer says: "Please note that we at the Malleus Maleficarum Online project are not scholars or experts on the subject."

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Malleus Maleficarum — Malleus Maleficarum, Lyon 1669. Le Malleus Maleficarum (« Marteau des sorcières », c’est à dire marteau contre les sorcières), est un traité des dominicains allemands Henri Institoris (Heinrich Kramer) et Jacques Sprenger, publié à… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Malleus Maleficarum — Студийный альбом Pestilence Дата выпуска сентябрь …   Википедия

  • Malleus maleficarum — Este artículo o sección necesita referencias que aparezcan en una publicación acreditada, como revistas especializadas, monografías, prensa diaria o páginas de Internet fidedignas. Puedes añadirlas así o avisar …   Wikipedia Español

  • Malleus Maleficarum — Titelseite des „Malleus maleficarum”, Lyon 1669 Der Hexenhammer (lat. Malleus Maleficarum) ist ein Buch, das der Dominikaner Heinrich Kramer (lat. Henricus Institoris) nach heutigem Forschungsstand im Jahre 1486 in Speyer veröffentlichte und das… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Malleus Maleficarum — (Witch Hammer)    The most influential and important witch hunter’s guide of the Inquisition. Published first in Germany in 1487, the Malleus Maleficarum was translated into dozens of editions throughout Europe and England and was the leading… …   Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology

  • Malleus Maleficarum — El Malleus Maleficarum o Martillo de Brujas es el libro escrito en 1486 por Heinrich Kramer y Jacob Sprenger. Se trata el manual básico que se empleó en numerosos procesos por brujería durante años. Su primera traducción al inglés se debe al… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Malleus maleficarum — ▪ work by Kraemer and Sprenger       detailed legal and theological document (c. 1486) regarded as the standard handbook on witchcraft, including its detection and its extirpation, until well into the 18th century. Its appearance did much to spur …   Universalium

  • Malleus maleficarum — Mạlleus maleficarum,   Originaltitel des »Hexenhammers«, Hexe …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Malleus Maleficarum (альбом) — Malleus Maleficarum Студийный альбо …   Википедия

  • Malleus Maleficarum (album) — Malleus Maleficarum Studio album by Pestilence Released September 1988 …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.