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, irrefutable, 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.
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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