In general, the Malleus Maleficarum (a 15th-century witch-hunting manual) is a horrible source for relationship advice. In fact, its passages can often be horribly sexist. For instance, the Malleus Maleficarum stated this lovely line: “it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives” (Part I, question 6). Yet, despite their poor credentials for giving relationship advice, the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum decided to touch on the topic of love, and not of the brotherly or sisterly kind. In particular, they sought to educate their readers of ways to escape the clutches of lovesickness.
To the credit of the Malleus Maleficarum, the text did admit that most cases of lovesickness, or excessive lust, longing and infatuation, were likely the result of natural and non-diabolical causes. Therefore, the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum addressed the issue in two ways—cures for natural lovesickness, and cures for witchcraft-caused lovesickness. Specifically, their aim was to educate their readers on how to avoid irreligious relationships and situations such as premarital or extramarital affairs. It was a serious topic for the authors, for they believed “if he cleaves to his earthly love, that will be his sole reward, but he will lose the bliss of Heaven, and be condemned to eternal fire” (Malleus Maleficarum, Part II, question 2, chapter 3).
Cures For Natural Lovesickness
- For the unmarried sufferer of longing or unrequited love, the Malleus Maleficarum advised, “if the law permits, he may be married to her, and so be cured by yielding to nature” (Part II, question 2, chapter 3). The text also offered an experiment that doctors or parents could try out if they believed a person was made bedridden by lovesickness but would not divulge who it was that caused their affliction. For such a situation, the Malleus Maleficarum advised checking the patient’s pulse while various people came to his or her bedside. If the patient’s heart rate quickened when a certain someone entered the room, the doctor or parent could discover the object of their charge’s desires. If the two were then married in holy matrimony, claimed the Malleus Maleficarum, the lovesickness would be cured.
- For those who were already married or in situations where chasing their desires would lead to an irreligious or illegal outcome, the Malleus Maleficarum claimed that one option was to take medicine or medicinal supplements. No specifics were mentioned by the authors, but they did stress that when browsing through the dubious love-related potions and herbs, only “lawful remedies” should be used (Malleus Maleficarum, Part II, question 2, chapter 3).
- Another self-help cure that the Malleus Maleficarum offered to those suffering from lovesickness was the idea of avoidance and busywork. For those beleaguered by unattainable or unrequited longing and desire, the authors suggested that such a person should distance themselves from the one they desired and then promptly delve into the most arduous and exhausting tasks available, so as to distract the mind through physical labor. By grinding away at such grueling chores, one could outwait the pangs of longing and survive lovesickness.
- Group-oriented methods of curing someone’s lovesickness were also proposed by the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum. One option was for the sufferer to be brought to a mentor or educator. Such a person, claimed the authors of the text, could chastise the victim of lovesickness about their misplaced emotions and use various philosophical arguments to guide them out of their dilemma. An argument favored by the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum for use against people suffering from unadvisable longing was apparently that “such love is the greatest misery” (Part II, question 2, chapter 3). Once the educator or mentor drilled that or a similar statement into the head of the suffering person, the victim of lovesickness, in theory, would be able to move on.
- If the mentor or educator method seems ineffective, then perhaps the Malleus Maleficarum’s friendly conversation route will be more palatable. For this, the sufferer of lovesickness need only visit a good friend—preferably a friend who is a good liar. This designated friend was then supposed to take up the ignoble task of shattering the aura of love and affection that the sufferer had for the desired person. In short, the Malleus Maleficarum suggested that the friends of a lovesick person could slander and defame the person whom the sufferer fancied. If the person who needed slandering was a woman, the Malleus Maleficarum advised the dutiful friend to “vilify the body and disposition of his [buddy’s] love, and so blacken her character that she may appear to him altogether base and deformed” (Part II, question 2, chapter 3). If smearing the name of an innocent person is not your cup of tea, the Malleus Maleficarum also admitted that introducing the lovesick individual to other men or women was a viable option if such matchmaking would not lead to a sin.
Cures For Witchcraft-Caused Lovesickness
- Unsurprisingly, as the Malleus Maleficarum was a witch-hunter’s manual, the text inevitably concluded that some cases of lovesickness and inordinate longing was not natural, but brought about by witchcraft. One remedy for such diabolical lovesickness was reportedly to utter certain sacred words, yet the authors of the text neglected to mention which words they had in mind. If simple holy words and phrases did not suffice, then this method could be escalated all the way to a full-blown exorcism, which, besides expelling demons, would apparently cure the witch-borne lovesickness.
- If an exorcism seemed too much of a hassle for a cure to lovesickness, then this next option provided by the Malleus Maleficarum may be more appealing. According to the authors of the text, the sufferer need only call on their guardian angel in order to be saved from their pesky supernatural lovesickness. In all, this method seems much more appealing than that of the exorcism.
- Lastly, if the guardian angel is on vacation or not responding, another option presented by the Malleus Maleficarum is for the sufferer of lovesickness to simply head to church and make use of the features that the house of worship has to offer. On these last few methods, the text proclaimed, “Let him daily invoke the Guardian Angel deputed to him by God, let him use confession and frequent the shrines of the Saints, especially of the Blessed Virgin, and without doubt he will be delivered” (Part II, question 2, chapter 3).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Tristan and Isolde drinking a love potion, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).