The Malleus Maleficarum, perhaps the most influential book during the age of witch-hunts and inquisition, contained many examples of witchcraft within its pages. The authors of the text, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, liked to accompany their ideas on the supernatural with supporting stories and folklore that they had encountered in their careers and studies. Many of these tales were entirely unsubstantiated, with no mention of location, names or sources. Yet, some of the stories of witchcraft they provided were much more detailed.
In Part II, Question 1, Chapter 3 of The Malleus Maleficarum, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger recorded one of their more complete stories of witchcraft. Even though the participants in the story (including the accused witch) were not named, the rest of the story was surprisingly thorough compared to other tales of witchcraft in The Malleus Maleficarum. Here is the story:
In the village of Waldshut, located along the Rhine River in the diocese of Constance, the villagers were planning an elaborate party. A marriage was about to occur and most of the village would soon be present to sing, dance and feast in honor of the newlyweds. In fact, out of every single inhabitant of the village, only one woman was excluded from receiving an invitation—a detested, solitary woman suspected of practicing witchcraft.
As the uninvited woman watched, the whole community gathered and celebrated without her—she understandably began to feel wrathful toward her neighbors. Drunk with rage, the woman summoned a demon, intending to use its power to disrupt the wedding extravaganza. Her aim was to create a storm powerful enough to drive the partiers away from the wedding venue, putting a halt to their merriment.
The demon agreed to the plan and magically transported the scorned woman to a nearby hillside, where the lively wedding party could be seen in full swing. Here, on the hillside, the woman began her magic ritual to unleash a terrible storm on the celebrants. Don’t try this at home, kids.
According to The Malleus Maleficarum, the witch of Waldshut summoned a powerful, destructive storm with these three simple steps. First, she dug a small trench in the ground on the hillside. Second, she needed to fill the trench with water. Unfortunately, she brought no water with her to the hillside, but she apparently improvised with her own urine. For the third and final step of the ritual, the witch’s demon companion imbued the trench of liquid with dark magic, unleashing a mighty hailstorm.
As planned, the hailstorm ravaged its way down the hillside and slammed into the wedding celebration. To the witch’s delight, the partiers scrambled and scurried back to the shelter of their houses, seeking protection from the heavy hail. Once safely in shelter, the partiers immediately began to suspect witchcraft—a hailstorm such as that, they thought, had to be supernatural in nature. As the scattered celebrants began formulating these suspicions, they noticed the uninvited woman sneak back into town after the hailstorm had dissipated. Around the same time, shepherds arrived at the village, reporting that they had seen a woman summon a storm on the nearby hillside.
The woman who was not invited to the wedding celebration was soon arrested for witchcraft. The authors of The Malleus Maleficarum, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, wrote that the accused witch confessed all of the details of the story mentioned above. She reportedly also confessed to a range of other acts of witchcraft, though this was almost certainly under the painful encouragement of torture. In the end, the woman was burned to death for the crime of witchcraft.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers. New York: Dover Publications, 1971.