Contested categories
in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft

This chapter reveals the extent to which the category ‘witch’ was contested in late fifteenth-century Germany. In Helena Scheuberin's trial, all the learned men believed in witchcraft. Up to a point, Bishop Golser and his representatives had supported the inquisitor with no real enthusiasm; they certainly had not interfered with his investigation. Nor did they object to prosecuting those who caused injuries through magic. They and the inquisitor simply disagreed about how a witch should be recognised, and, on a more fundamental level, about what a witch actually was. This was not simply an isolated confrontation between inquisitorial and local authorities, but rather a reflection of a much more widespread debate within the learned, ecclesiastical community over these same issues. Therefore, the problem of the construction of witchcraft in fifteenth-century Europe is examined, with particular reference to the text, the ‘Hammer of Witches’ or the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’, one of the best-known, most quoted and, indeed, most infamous of all medieval texts brought into existence because of the insults of an otherwise obscure woman, Helena Scheuberin.


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