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The Witchcraft Sourcebook Notes

History Notes > Witch-craft and witch-hunting in Early Modern Europe (OS8) Notes

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The Witchcraft Sourcebook (Second Edition)
Brian P. Levack (Ed.)
Routledge (2015)

Chapter 14: Heinrich Kramer: Malleus Malificarum, 1486
Pg. 59

Malleus Malificarum = 'The Hammer of Witches'
- Primarily the work of Dominican theologian and inquisitor Heinrich Kramer, but Jacob Sprenger also named as a co-author
Written in a time of resistance to witch prosecutions in upper Germany / the Rhineland 1484 - Pope Innocent VIII issues a papal bull in response to Kramer and Sprenger 'confirming their authority to proceed against witches in these areas'
The bull was provided as a preface to the Malleus - legitimising their work and warning others of the threat posed by witches
Widely printed between 1486 and 1520, and 1569 and 1669
Three main themes to the book:
- Firstly, 'the determination to counteract the skeptical argument that witches do not exist, a position that Kramer argues is heretical'
- Secondly, 'the Devil needed witches as well as the permission of God to perform their destructive work'
- Thirdly. 'the highly misogynistic argument that witchcraft was practiced mainly by women whose intellectual feebleness, moral weakness, and sexual passion led them to become witches'

Pg. 60

Question 1: 'that obstinacy to maintain the opposite opinion [I.e. to refuse belief in witches]
manifestly savours of heresy'
Kramer describes various people who do not belief in witchcraft:
- Those who believe witchcraft 'only exists in the imagination of those men who ascribe natural effects... to witchcraft and spells'
- 'others who acknowledge indeed that witches exist but they claim that the influence of magic and effects of charms are purely imaginary and phantasmical'
Those who 'maintain that the effects said to be wrought by magic spells are altogether illusory and fanciful, although it may be that the devil does really lend his aid to some witch'
On the first kind: Kramer maintains that these beliefs are heretical, as the Bible supports the idea of witchcraft: 'the authority of the Holy Scripture says that devils have power over the bodies and the minds of men, when God allows them to exercise this power, as is plain from many passages in the Holy Scriptures

Pg. 61

He accepts that people may believe magic is a projection of imagination, but that devils fell from heaven and thus have the power to 'do many wonderful things which we cannot do' •

Thus, 'those who try to induce others to perform such evil wonders are called witches'
On the second two types, I.e. those who accept the existence of demons but differ on how magic / witches operate
- Those who believe that anyone but God can change the behaviour of a person, for good or bad, is 'an infidel and worse than a heathen'

Pg. 63

'This then is our proposition: devils by their art do bring about evil effects through witchcraft,
yet it is true that without the assistance of some agent they cannot make any form, either substantial or accidental'

Question 2: 'in order to bring about some effect of magic the devil must intimately cooperate with the witch'
Why has the activity of witches grown?
For witches to be active, three things must concur: 'the devil, the witch and the permission of
God, who suffers such things to be'
Thus, the 'foul connection' between devil and human leads to witchcraft - usually a sexual connection
Four points are required in the practice of witchcraft: 'most profanely to renounce the Catholic
Faith... secondly, to devote themselves body and soul to all evil; thirdly, to offer unbaptized children to Satan; fourthly, to indulge in every kind of carnal lust with incubi and succubi and all manner of filthy delight'

Question 6: 'Concerning witches who copulate with devils.'
Kramer explains 'why a greater number of witches is found in the fragile female sex than among men'

Pg. 64

Evidence is in the Bible: 'the wickedness of women is spoken of in Ecclesiasticus xxv: There is no head above the head of a serpent, and there is no wrath above the wrath of a woman.'
Kramer goes on to list numerous reasons why women are 'wicked', including a quote from
Cicero which declares men are drawn to sin for numerous reasons, while for women it is only
'avarice' or greed
Women are thus far more polarised in their emotions - as Seneca declared 'A woman either loves or hates: there is no third grade'
Kramer accepts that there are 'good women', who are usually good because they help their husbands keep their faith etc...
Three reasons why women are more likely to be superstitious:
- They are more credulous
- They are impressionable

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