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Malleus Maleficarum

2 Dec

The idea of the Inquisitor, the Catholic witch hunter of the Middle Ages, is potent: the grim-faced man with brands and scourges, thumbscrews and chains, who burns, strangles and drowns innocent and guilty alike to find the truth. It is comforting to know that such practices have not existed now for a couple of hundred years but one cannot help but shudder to think that they ever happened. There were Inquisition courts in many countries but the most famous were the Medieval Inquisition, which started in France and Italy, and the later Spanish Inquisition. Initially these Inquisitions were set up to combat the spread of heresy and apostasy, but eventually they came to be associated with an altogether darker enemy. It all began in the 15th century, when a pair of zealots published a book, a guide to witch-hunting bearing the name Malleus Maleficarum. It proved influential enough to bring about the painful deaths of thousands until well into the 18th century. Within a few years the Pope had condemned it as heretical, however, this did not stop people from using it. ‘The Hammer of the Witches’, as it was literally translated from Latin, was a detailed legal and theological document that came to be regarded as the standard handbook on witchcraft, including its detection and extirpation. Its appearance did much to spur on and sustain some two centuries of witch-hunting hysteria in Europe.

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