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Literature / Malleus Maleficarum

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Judge Claude Frollo WISHES he had what this guy had!
Red, stating her opinion on the author

The Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of the Witches) is a witch-hunting manual written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and first published in Germany, where it is known as Der Hexenhammer, in 1487. Jacob Sprenger's name is also attached to the book, though it is unclear if he did anything more than endorse it. The work also has an alleged approval and endorsement from a prestigious German university of the time, an endorsement that was very likely forged by Kramer. The book is virulently misogynistic, though it acknowledges that both men and women can be witches. It encouraged the use of torture to extract confessions in ways that were not actually legal under the laws of the Inquisition.

The chief crimes witches are accused of in the Malleus Maleficarum are the working of evil magic and making a Deal with the Devil in order to obtain this power. Women are, of course, more susceptible to The Devil due to their more carnal nature. Oddly enough, some of the most frequent crimes these sex-crazed sirens are accused of is stealing men's penises and causing impotency. Baby-killing and cannibalism were also apparently popular witch practices, often together.

Although some writers have claimed that the book was pretty much the cornerstone of the major anti-witchcraft movement and inquisitors and priests all over Europe had a copy, and thus is associated with the image of the Inquisition being a torture-fest, it's Dated History and it is not regarded to be nearly as officially endorsed as once thought. The book's author initially did have the support of Pope Innocent VIII in his bull Summis desiderantes affectibus, but the resultant manual fell out of favor three years after it was first published, being then officially banned by the Catholic Church due to its perceived excesses. As of the mid-1600s it was included in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, turning the very act of reading it into a sin for a good Catholic. Most theologians of Kramer's time condemned the book for recommending unethical and even outright illegal procedures, as well for being inconsistent with established Christian dogma on demonology, while the various Inquisitions had higher standards for evidence and ethics (the Inquisition established the modern Inquisitorial system used today) than the book proposed. However, it had conversely a strong effect in laymen, who neither knew nor cared much about theological affairs, and by 1669 it was still being printed at its 36th edition, with a very tangible presence in both Catholic and Protestant witch hunts.

It should be also said that the Malleus wasn't truly seminal by the time it was written. The witch-hunting ideas spoused in its pages had been already made popular in treatises like Johannes Nider's Formicarius (1435) and Alonso de Espina's Fortalitium Fidei (1458), so Kramer actually only followed the trend with more enthusiasm. This current of thought had never been given a lot of credit, as witchcraft was not something the Church fathers were especially interested in prosecuting (the prevalent view since AD 900 was that witchcraft was not real and that practitioners were instead heretics deluded by the Devil into believing they manifested arcane powers, therefore most punishments were light, either penances given in Confession, a spell in the city stocks, or at worst excommunication). However, the Malleus would have the effect of re-popularizing all those doctrines, which, combined with the Church's awkward silence about it in the Council of Trent, effectively caused a snowball of similar works, among them those of Jean Bodin, Nicholas Rémy, and Benedict Carpzov, thus really influencing the general thought. Notorious witch hunter Matthew Hopkins and his book, The Discovery of Witches, would become the spiritual successor to the Malleus, and bring the witch-craze to the New England colonies, with the Salem Witch Trials using Hopkins's methodology.

Tropes related to this book:

  • Alliterative Title: Malleus Maleficarum.
  • All Women Are Lustful: The reason women are (allegedly) more susceptible to becoming witches.
  • Author Appeal/Author Tract: Kramer had a particular obsession with impotency curses (including endorsing an urban legend/joke at the time about witches stealing men's penises as real), along with demon rape (the latter to the point of getting tossed from every monastery he got sent to after driving the monks up the wall by talking nonstop about it).
  • Burn the Witch!: How to deal with your witch problem.
  • Church Militant: Kramer, and the Holy Inquisition he worked for, but he was even more militant.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: How to get a "confession" out of someone.
  • The Dark Arts: As the power comes from The Devil, all witchcraft is this according to Kramer.
  • Deal with the Devil: How a witch gains power.
  • Eats Babies: Apparently, some witches make (presumably drinkable) potions out of infant corpses.
  • Eye of Newt: Witches used dead babies in their spells!
  • Hot Witch: Evil young witches would try to seduce good Christian men.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Cannibalism is described as a popular witch practice.
  • Knight Templar: It encouraged this behavior.
  • Magical Society: According to the manual, witches often gather to do evil deeds, and also go out and recruit new witches.
  • Magic Is Evil: Like many churchmen back in the day, Kramer subscribed to the belief that all magic was of the Devil.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: It was Kramer's firm belief that demons take special pleasure in raping human women.
  • Soulsaving Crusader: In the minds of Kramer and his devotees.
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: According to the Malleus, this was how demons reproduced in the human realm, being unable to do so normally. A succubus would seduce a human male to get his seed, then pass it on to an incubus who would use it to impregnate a human woman, resulting in a half-demon called a cambion. Anyone with a modern high school education (and specifically knowledge of how genetics work which wasn't available back in Kramer's day) would know why this would not work and why the kid produced would be completely human instead, though believers in this would most likely posit that something supernatural took place in order to alter the semen to be demonic in nature.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Not only is the original work based on the assumption that any woman who is not subject to a man, or has her own living made is on the devil's team, but the translation by Rev. Montague Summers says straight out in the introduction that the translation is "intended to counter the current destructive age of feminism where it seems that the sexes are confounded."
  • Tautological Templar: Kramer again. He uses such "reasoning" as a proof that the witches do actually fly on broomsticks and cast evil spells, rather than it happens in their imagination, as per some more reasonable claims. It goes like this: "If they didn't do those things in reality, there'd be no reasons for us to burn them. But we couldn't possibly be wrong on this accord, hence they do fly on broomsticks in reality. Burn the Witch!"
  • Torture Always Works: It's put forth as a reliable means of extracting true confessions from witches.
  • The Vamp: Pretty much every female witch, apparently. Possibly just every female in general; Kramer was a rampant misogynist.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: The Inquisition's standards for what was permissible when using torture were much higher than Kramer's. They understood that torture could result in false confessions, so the length of time in which torture was permitted was limited, and confessions made under torture were not valid unless confirmed after the torture had ceased. If the confession was retracted, it was not permissible to recommence the torture.
  • Wicked Witch: They are all wicked, according to Kramer.
  • William Telling: The book contains a story very similar to William Tell. Punker, Puncker, or Puncher of Rohrbach in the Upper Rhineland is said to have been ordered by "a very eminent person" in about 1430 to prove his extraordinary marksmanship (regarded by Kramer as a sign of consorting with the devil) by shooting a penny off the cap on his young son's head without disturbing the cap. Like William Tell, he too kept a second arrow in reserve to kill the eminent person who ordered it in case he failed.
  • Windmill Crusader: What most modern Westerners would call the witch-hunters. Also to a great extent what the Catholic Church of the time called them.
  • Widow Witch: Perhaps she fell into witchcraft because she lacked a husband's guidance, or perhaps she was the one who did him in.
  • Witch Hunt: A handy how-to guide.
  • The Witch Hunter: A manual for them.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Witches have a tendency to be baby-killers, according to the manual.