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Malleus Maleficarum - Kramer's Hammer of Witches

Witch hunts are a common trope in folk horror. They are also a recurring motif in religious history. All kinds of traditions and faiths have hunted down practitioners of foul magic in order to satiate their god's perceived bloodlust. Whether that god's teachings call for blood or not.

The thing about allegorical religious texts, is that they are open to interpretation. Objective truth not being real and all, most religions are what their believers make of them. Murderous faithful make for murderous gods.

Some books are not open to interpretation. They are purely destructive works, written by evil minds for the sole purpose of causing pain. Heinrich Kramer was one such evil mind, and his book, The Malleus Maleficarum, was certainly aimed at causing pain.


Heinrich Kramer - Sexual Repression Causes Hatred


Catholic clergymen are not allowed to participate in the basic human act of sexual expression. They are famously celibate, and the cloak of celibacy lures many hiding uncomfortable sexual desires. That is why so many deviants flock to the cloth. Hoping beyond hope that the clergy will give them the strength to resist their dark desires.

Heinrich Kramer was having naughty thoughts about women. He had tried to pray the thoughts away, but to avail. Almost as if his god had intended those thoughts to be a part of all humans.

He was a member of the clergy, and a Catholic Inquisitor. Unlike the capital C Church, he felt that there just wasn't enough suffering around.

Like many a religious conservative, he turned those desires into a deep resentment of the object of his desire. He then did what all good lawmakers do when something about themselves makes them uncomfortable - he tried to legislate against it.

Kramer's first attempt was in the city of Innsbruck, where he tried to host witch trials. The Tyrol region wasn't quite there yet, so they expelled the crazy old man. Heinrich, who was a small man, and easily offended, left in a huff.

So he published, in 1486, the Malleus Maleficarum as a kind of petty revenge, and to outline and codify his beliefs. The Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, has a few key points that it pushes to the forefront.

One of the biggest issues, according to Kramer, was that people didn't believe in witchcraft. It's always important to start off your moral panic by establishing the reality of the fake thing you are afraid of.

The next fact is that a witch is more often a woman than a man. In terms of narrowing the scope of a moral panic, this does pretty well. Women have long been a marginalized group in society, and they were most certainly regarded as second class citizens in the 15th century.

Now that he established the reality of witchcraft, and pinned it on a marginalized population, they were ready to legislate. Kramer argued that witches could be identified by a series of invasive tests, chief among which was the use of torture. Forced confessions were followed by brutal execution.

Years later, another Inquisitor was credited with the authorship of the Malleus Maleficarum. Jacob Sprenger was either an accomplice of Kramer's, or his greatest opposition (not in the hunting of witches, they agreed on that). Historians, as usual, cannot agree on his role.


The Malleus Maleficarum - Moral Panic Kindling



Catholicism has some pretty strong rules against heresy. While they never published the Malleus, they had set the ground rules upon which the persecution of witches was built.

Kramer argued that not only was witchcraft real, it was responsible for all the ills of the world. They tied old folk beliefs about witchcraft to the laws on heresy. Thus, the act of sorcery became a crime. Heresy, at the time, was punishable by death - burning at the stake.

His treatise on witchcraft became popular among secular authorities in his immediate region. Following this, he appealed to the pope for the explicit authority to prosecute witchcraft.

Pope Innocent VIII, who was apparently sick of innocence, released a papal bull titled summis desiderantes affectibus. This document granted Kramer the authority he needed to start hunting out the witches of Bremen, Cologne, Mainz, Salzburg, and Trier.

The stage was set for one of the deadliest moral panics in history. Kramer's witch trials spread fear and mania throughout Europe. By the end of the 15th century, the belief in witches was universally accepted. They were as real to the people of Renaissance Europe as the Satanic Pedophile Reptilian Shape-shifter Shadow Government Elite are to modern conspiracy theorists.


Witch Hunter's Arsenal



Witches are wily. They have a strong desire to not be burned alive. Among other things, they may fervently profess to not be witches. Luckily for the aspiring witch hunter, there are some legal ways of making them talk.

Torture was one of Kramer's go-to methods of getting a confession. Here's an excerpt from the Malleus to illustrate what we mean:


"And when the implements of torture have been prepared, the judge, both in person and through other good men zealous in the faith, tries to persuade the prisoner to confess the truth freely; but, if he will not confess, he bid attendants make the prisoner fast to the strappado or some other implement of torture. The attendants obey forthwith, yet with feigned agitation. Then, at the prayer of some of those present, the prisoner is loosed again and is taken aside and once more persuaded to confess, being led to believe that he will in that case not be put to death."

The Strappado in this excerpt refers to a torture method where the victim's arms are tied behind their back. Torturers will then attach their victim to a machine that hoists them up by their hands.

Let's try an experiment, put your hands behind your back. Now, regardless of hos difficult that may be for you, try to lift your arms as high as you can. It hurts, right? OK, you can stop now. No, really, stop it!

The victim's shoulder will slowly dislocate. Muscles and tendons are forced to tear apart under the victim's own weight.

Torture was in Kramer's eyes a great way to get a confession, but he admits that it is somewhat unreliable. People tend to admit to anything when enough pain enters the equation. His solution? Take the victim to a different location and make them repeat their confession.

Torture was only allowed for one day. But what was an intrepid inquisitor to do if their victim failed to repeat their confession? Kramer's got you:


"But, if the prisoner will not confess the truth satisfactorily, other sorts of tortures must be placed before him, with the statement that unless he will confess the truth, he must endure these also. But, if not even thus he can be brought into terror and to the truth, then the next day or the next but one is to be set for a continuation of the tortures – not a repetition, for it must not be repeated unless new evidences produced. The judge must then address to the prisoners the following sentence: We, the judge, etc., do assign to you, such and such a day for the continuation of the tortures, that from your own mouth the truth may be heard, and that the whole may be recorded by the notary."

Kramer Hates Women



Heinrich Kramer rationalized his hatred of women in the Malleus. He argued that women were fundamentally weaker than men, and were altogether more carnal in nature. Thus, they were more open to the temptations of the Devil.

Women, in Kramer's Malleus, are depicted as fickle, loose-tongued, temptresses whose only goal was to deny god and lead men astray. Men, on the other hand, were less likely to doubt the faith. Their goals for pursuing witchcraft was in a bid for supernatural power.

Overall, The Malleus Maleficarum is only one book in the long line of European misogynist writings. Hating women has been popular for a very long time, and it is not a purely European phenomenon.

Kramer and Sprenger agreed on one thing. The worst kind of woman was a concubine, followed by a midwife (you know, a learned woman), and finally bossy women. It's as if one of the modern misogynists wrote this thing.

Let's leave the idiotic war against women behind in the new 20s. People are people, are people.




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