12/05 – Malleus Maleficarum

A Bulgarian painting warning viewers of the dangers of witchcraft. (Wikipedia)

On this day in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull (public decree) declaring an inquisition to stamp out witchcraft in Germany. Titled Summis desiderantes – or, we desire with supreme ardor – the papal bull was issued by the Pope at the request of Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor whose job it was to root out heresy and un-Catholic behaviours. The Pope likely granted the bull to get Kramer to stop bothering him, and it worked: Kramer attacked his new job with a disturbing enthusiasm and began combing the Rhine Valley for witches. Some of the alleged witch-crimes are as follows:

  • Witches had “… abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, [and] slain infants yet in the mother’s womb, as also the offspring of cattle“;
  • Perhaps worst of all, they had destroyed “pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals“;
  • Finally, witches “hinder men from performing the sexual act“. Maybe Kramer’s hunt for witches was more personal than he let on.

After months of Pope-approved witch hunting, Kramer found little evidence of witchcraft and was essentially laughed at by anyone he asked for help. In 1845 or 46, Kramer was kicked out of Innsbruck for “illegal sexual behaviours” and harassment of an accused witch, Helena Scheuberin. Like most disgruntled men, Kramer published a book in 1847 titled Malleus Maleficarum (or, Hammer of Witches). In it, Kramer advocated the burning of heretics and witches at the stake and espoused a pretty broad hatred of women. Although the book was quickly denounced by the Papacy after its release, it became one of the most significant sources of “information” on witchcraft. Cited often in the Salem Witch Trials and thousands of other ritualistic murders, Kramer’s tragically significant book may have been inspired by frustration at his own sexual impotence – and subsequent resentment of women.

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