Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, who published the Malleus Maleficarum around 1487, believed that witches could weaponize weather, especially tempests and hailstorms. Naturally, if they believed that diabolical ceremonies could influence the weather, then they also believed that holy rituals could be performed to counteract such nefarious influences. A few of these supposed methods to ward off evil witch-inspired storms were included in the pages of their aforementioned book, a text with a title often translated as The Hammer of Witches.
Readers of the Malleus Maleficarum were given a variety of ways to counteract diabolical weather. The Inquisitors who wrote the text provided different types of rituals and charms that produced different results. For a person wanting to simply defend their farmland from a hailstorm, the text proposed that a protective symbol made from vegetation could be used. Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger wrote of people “who make the sign of the Cross with leaves and consecrated flowers on Palm Sunday, and set it up among their vines or crops; asserting that, although the crops all round should be destroyed by hail, yet they will remain unharmed in their own fields” (Malleus Maleficarum, part 2, question 2, chapter 7). If, however, someone wanted to completely cancel out the storm instead of only protecting a single field, then they might have opted for a different ritual that the Malleus Maleficarum provided.
For this next ritual, the easiest step was to gather three hailstones from the witch-inspired hailstorm. After retrieving these chunks of ice, the person performing the ritual needed to build a fire and study a slew of holy phrases which would be used shortly. When the time came to perform the ceremony, the three hailstones were tossed into the fire, accompanied by a long list of holy invocations and quotes from scripture that were ritualistically read out and often repeated three times. If the ceremony was done correctly, and if the storm was indeed caused by witchcraft, then the hail would supposedly cease. The Malleus Maleficarum described this complicated ritual in the following way:
“In addition to the setting up of the sign of the Cross which we have mentioned, the following procedure is practiced against hailstorms and tempests. Three of the hailstones are thrown into the fire with an invocation of the Most Holy Trinity, and Lord’s Prayer and the Angelic Salutation are repeated twice or three times, together with the Gospel of S. John, In the beginning was the Word. And the sign of the Cross is made in every direction toward each quarter of the world. Finally, The Word was made Flesh is repeated three times, and three times, ‘By the words of this Gospel may this tempest be dispersed.’ And suddenly, if the tempest is due to witchcraft, it will cease” (Malleus Maleficarum, part 2, question 2, chapter 7).
The authors of the Malleus Maleficarum expressed the utmost confidence in this latter method. In instances when it inevitably did not work, the failure could be explained away (at least by them) through claiming that the still-existent storm must have naturally occurred, as the ceremony only worked against witch-inspired weather. Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, in their conclusions about this ritual, felt the need to make distinctions between the holy invocations and the witchcraft-inspired hailstones used in the ceremony. The true power behind this ritual, they claimed, was solely in the invocation of the holy phrases—the addition of throwing the hailstones into the fire was apparently little more than a flourish done to annoy demons.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration titled The Tempest, created in 1908 by Edmund Dulac (c. 1882-1953), released by the New York Public Library Digital Collections [no known copyright restrictions]).
- From The Malleus Maleficarum (Part II, Question 2, Chapter 7) by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).