a.k.a.: Malleus Maleficarum
The Malleus Maleficarum (often translated to: ‘Hammer of Witches’) is the best known treatise on witchcraft. was written by the discredited Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer and first published in the German city of Speyer in 1487. It endorses extermination of witches and for this purpose develops a detailed legal and theological theory.
The Malleus elevates sorcery to the criminal status of heresy and recommends that secular courts prosecute it as such in order to extirpate witches. The recommended procedures include torture to effectively obtain confessions and the death penalty as the only sure remedy against the evils of witchcraft.
At that time, it was typical to burn heretics alive at the stake and the Malleus encouraged the same treatment of witches. The book had a strong influence on culture for several centuries. It was later used by royal courts during the Renaissance, and contributed to the increasingly brutal prosecution of witchcraft during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Witch-hunting plagued Europe, beginning in the 15th c. when the idea that witches worshipped the devil began to take hold. After the Reformation divided Europe into Protestant and Catholic in the early 16th century, both sides hunted witches. During this period of religious reform, rulers wanted to prove their godliness. They perceived the unholy and evil as the source of unrest and disorder.
Witch-hunting could be seen as an extension of the Protestant Reformation as parish ministers and government authorities sought to create a “godly state” in which everyone worshipped correctly, and sin and ungodliness were wiped out. Between 1590 and 1662, a series of intense panics erupted. As a result some 2,500 accused witches were executed in Scotland alone.
BBC, In Our Time
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss witchcraft in Reformation Europe. In 1486 a book was published in Latin, it was called Maleus Mallificarum and it very soon outsold every publication in Europe bar the Bible. It was written by Heinrich Kramer, a Dominican Priest and a so-called “witchfinder.” “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” says the chapter Exodus in the bible, and in the period of the Reformation and after, over a hundred thousand men and women in Europe met their deaths after being convicted of witchcraft. This radio documentary questions Why did practices that had been tolerated for centuries suddenly become such a threat? What brought the prosecutions of witchcraft to an end, and was there anything ever in Europe that could be truly termed as a witch?