The Malleus Maleficarum or "The Hammer of the Witches"

The Malleus Maleficarum "The Hammer of the Witches" is a book that outlines the characteristics of "witches," how to "interrogate" them and what their punishment should be. This infamous book was something of a manual during the Inquisitions. It was written by Inquisitors for Inquisitors. To the modern eye, it is a horrifying lesson in misguided power, the danger of false religious superstitions and the dangers of allowing a single religious institution to control the well-being of the public. It is quite possible that the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum are responsible for more torture and death than any other authors.

Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger finished the Malleus Maleficarum in 1486. It was published in 1487. Kramer and Sprenger were both members of the Dominican Order and they were both Inquisitors for the Catholic Church. Their book was intended to be a guideline for other Inquisitors. It was meant to aid them in detecting witches, tell them which rules to follow when questioning them and what punishment should be eked out to those who were uncooperative or found guilty.

The first part of the Malleus Maleficarum debates every argument against the reality of witchcraft. The use of the word heretical is of note. They believed that those who did not believe in witchcraft were heretics. The second and third parts of the Malleus Maleficarum outline what to look for in the search for witches, information extraction and punishment.

It is interesting to note the criteria for being labeled a witch. Things like mental illness, unusual features, living conditions and other such trivial things were believed to be proof of witchcraft. If you were to read the Malleus Maleficarum, you would be likely to find something that could have led to your torture, had you lived in those dark times. Simply being accused of it by an enemy would have sufficed. It is also interesting to note that many of the things these Inquisitors said witches do were most likely made up completely. It makes one wonder what kind of men invented this book. It is entirely fictitious, sadistically so, in many ways.

The Malleus Maleficarum does talk about torture more than an empathetic person would care to see. However, it does not specifically outline the torture methods that were used during the Inquisition. Instead, it refers Inquisitors to Canonical Law, which did grant them the right to use some of the most despicable forms of torture ever devised by humankind.

Common belief holds that the Malleus Maleficarum was banned just four years after it was written. However, it does not seem to appear on the first official list of banned books by the Catholic Church. Otherwise known as the "Pauline Index," Pope Paul IV's list did not include the Malleus Maleficarum. Still, it may have been banned, but it was not out of print or use. It was printed numerous times in the 16th and 17th century. It was also used extensively by both the Catholics and Protestants.

Shelly Barclay


Lovelace, Wicasta, Introduction to Online Edition, retrieved 8/30/10,

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