In the bizarre book, The Malleus Maleficarum (published 1487), inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger wrote down the strange beliefs and lore held by witch hunters, commenting on subjects such as monsters, demons, witches and all sorts of spells, charms and curses that they believed could be used against humanity. The powers that they attributed to witches and demonic forces were broad, ranging from the unsubtle magic of controlling weather, to more inconspicuous illusions and emotion manipulation. Yet, the authors of the text thankfully narrowed down the broad array of powers that were supposedly available to witches into six concise categories. Furthermore, the list specifically dealt with the ways that witches could cause harm solely to humans, so it left out supposed spells against livestock or other such incantations that fell out of their scope. Here are the six ways witches could allegedly harm mankind:
- Witches had the power to induce evil love between men and women.
- Similarly, witches could inspire or stoke the human emotions of jealousy, hate and envy in order to cause mischief.
- Not only were witches said to have the ability to alter emotion, they also were thought to have the power to drive people thoroughly insane.
- Witches were commonly thought to specialize in making people infertile. Impotence, barrenness, miscarriages and lack of mother’s milk were often attributed to the activity of witches.
- Witchcraft could allegedly cause more physical harm than just infertility issues. Witches were also said to have the ability to harm internal organs by causing disease and illness.
- For the final category, the Malleus Maleficarum bluntly stated that witches could use spells and curses not only to injure, but also to kill their victims.
When writing about the supposed powers that witches could utilize, the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum kept an odd balance. They portrayed the witches as powerful and monstrous, but never hinted that the witches, or the demons that they supposedly received powers from, were more mighty than God. As such, the above six ways of harming humans allegedly did not apply to everyone. The Malleus Maleficarum stated that no witch could harm anyone blessed with God’s grace (including the inquisitors) and that the people who diligently followed the church would face only temptation from witches, not injury. Therefore, the inquisitors made the uncomfortable conclusion that witchcraft was a punishment released on the world by an angry God.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (two witches (Reutlingen- Otmar, 1489), fol. 15r. Hexenküche, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
From The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).