Witchcraft: The formation of belief – part two
in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft

This chapter discusses a different set of ideas about the construction of learned witch categories in the late Middle Ages, all of which, from the clerical perspective, revolved around the idea of direct or indirect commerce with the devil: heresy, black magic and superstition. In late medieval times, witchcraft was a composite – a combination of motifs derived from a number of quite different traditions: those associated with monstrous female spirits, animal transformation, demonolatrous heresy, maleficent magic and superstition being among the most prominent. The resulting composite figures were in no way haphazard; rather, each one of these established categories were used as a kind of conceptual template to provide the underlying principles around which one version of witchcraft was ordered and constructed. In the text, as in some other German texts, the witch was defined through her maleficium and practice of magic. Many French models of witchcraft depicted the witch more as a demonised heretic – a being defined by her willing entry into the demonic pact and her worship of the devil. In every case, however, the template originally chosen by the witch theorist both defined and restricted the field of his inquiry and the scope of his investigation, while determining, at the same time, the inherent plausibility of his definition of ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’, and the extent to which these categories could be used to drive witchcraft persecutions.

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