Malleus Maleficarum: The Witch Hammer, by Jacob Sprenger , Heinrich Kramer

Malleus Maleficarum: The Witch Hammer, by Jacob Sprenger , Heinrich Kramer

Written by Inquisitors Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, the Malleus Maleficarum (latin for “The Hammer of Witches”) is one of the most famous medieval treatises on witches,  guilty for having sawn death and despair more than any other book ever written. First published in Germany in 1487, the Malleus Maleficarum was the ultimate, irref51fsK0MWuEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgutable, unarguable authority for every magistrate of that time.

The book is divided into three sections: the first section aims to prove the existence of witches, the second section deals with practice and powers of witchcraft and how witches are recruited, and the third section making it one of the first published books that offered explicit instructions on the subject and practice of criminal profiling– focuses on the investigation, interrogation and prosecution of witches.

Presented to the Faculty of Theology at the University of Cologne (Germany), it’s still unclear whether the book had been granted approval.  However, the inclusion of the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII (Summis Desiderantes Affectibus) in which the Pontiff delegates Kramer and Sprender as inquisitors certainly gave such impression.

General consensus is that the members of the Inquisition strongly condemned the book as illegal an unethical; some sources also report that the Malleus Maleficarum was banned by the Church in 1490,  and later placed on the (in)-famous Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Prohibited Books”).

Whether or not the book was ever officially banned, it was the middle of the Sixteen century when the Malleus has its greatest effect.  A lot of its popularity is due to Johannes Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century which  allowed the work to spread rapidly throughout Europe.

The book saw fourteen editions printed between 1487 and 1520, and at least sixteen editions between 1574 and 1669. Translated in other languages including German, French and -in 1584- English, the Malleus Maleficarum had tremendous influence in the witch hunt that ravaged Europe between the 1550s to the 1650s -a century called “the burning times“.
The Malleus remained in use for three hundred years before being replaced by the civil courts with other witch hunting manuals.

I wouldn’t consider the Malleus Maleficarum an easy read, interesting but quite heavy to digest. Unbelievable and enlightening for anyone interested in religion, the Inquisition, and the witch hunting.


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3 thoughts on “Malleus Maleficarum: The Witch Hammer, by Jacob Sprenger , Heinrich Kramer

  1. The book had become the 2nd most popular book just behind the bible. Considering the Catholic precept that only clergy could read it the Malleaus was the most influential book of the time. It harnessed the innate racism and social fear of anyone who behaves outside the norm. It resolved medieval cognitive dissonance. And legitimized psychopathic behavior.
    I think one reason for Indexing the book because it became a threat the power of the church. And the mounting atrocities it provoked. It was a work of a mad man and stands beside the “120 days of Sodom” by the Marquee de Sade.

  2. The alleged approval from the theologians at Cologne, which Kramer included in the Malleus with a list of names of theologians who he claimed approved the book, has also been questioned by many historians, since In 1490 the clergy at Cologne condemned the book and at least two of the clergy listed by Kramer, Thomas de Scotia and Johann von Worde, publicly denied having approved the Malleus.

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