The Malleus Maleficarum is one of the best-known treatises dealing with the problem of what to do with witches. Written in 1487 by a Dominican inquisitor, Heinrich Institoris, following his failure to prosecute a number of women for witchcraft, it is in many ways a highly personal document, full of frustration at official complacency in the face of a spiritual threat, as well as being a practical guide for law-officers who have to deal with a cunning, dangerous enemy. Combining theological discussion, illustrative anecdotes and useful advice for those involved in suppressing witchcraft, the treatise's influence on witchcraft studies has been extensive. The only previous translation into English, that by Montague Summers in 1928, is full of inaccuracies. It is written in a style almost unreadable nowadays, and is unfortunately coloured by Institoris's personal agenda. This new edited translation, with an introductory essay setting witchcraft, Institoris and the Malleus into clear English, corrects Summers' mistakes and offers an unvarnished version of what Institoris actually wrote. It will undoubtedly become the standard translation of this controversial late medieval text.
witches are described in many
tracts. It is only by deciding, a priori, that male witches are
insignificant that one could treat early modern demonology as
When we ‘discovered’ that
HeinrichInstitoris and Jacob Sprenger referred to witches in both masculine
and feminine terms, one of our first questions concerned the relative
frequency of the masculine usage. Just
Inquisitors HeinrichInstitoris (Kramer,
Krämer) and Jacob Sprenger, 6 believed that all witches were female. In Latin, groups
containing both males and females conventionally are represented by the
masculine plural, even if there are more females than males in the group.
The feminine plural
implies an absence of males from a group; therefore, the use of the feminine
in the title Malleus maleficarum suggests that all witches are
man’s relationship with God and with the devil,
and about witchcraft and witches, assumptions we shall now examine.
1 For biographical accounts of Institoris and Sprenger, see Peter Segl, “HeinrichInstitoris:
Persönlichkeit und literarisches Werk,” in Peter Segl, ed., Der Hexenhammer (Cologne:
Böhlau Verlag, 1988), 103–26; Joseph Hansen, ed., Quellen und Untersuchungen zur
Geschichte des Hexenwahns und der Hexenverfolgung im Mittelalter (reprint, Hildesheim:
Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1963), 360–407; Joseph Hansen, Zauberwahn, Inquisition und
survive in Brixen’s episcopal archives; they have
been partially edited by Hartmann Ammann, “Der Innsbrucker Hexenprocess von
1485,” Zeitschrift des Ferdinandeums für Tirol und Vorarlberg 34 (1890): 1–87. See also Eric
Wilson, “Institoris at Innsbruck: HeinrichInstitoris, the Summis Desiderantes and the
Brixen Witch-Trial of 1485,” in R.W. Scribner and Trevor Johnson, eds., Popular
Religion in Germany and Central Europe, 1400–1800 (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
2 “Pfie dich, du sneder minch, daz dich das fallend übel etc.” Ammann, “Innsbrucker
ludibriis.” See also
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, pt. 1, qu. 63, art. 2.
22 Hans Peter Duerr, Dreamtime, trans. Felicitas Goodman (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985),
23 For dates and biography of Felix of Hemmerlin (known in Latin as Felix Malleolus), see
Hansen, Quellen, 109.
24 “Nam dicti Principes non proposuerunt deum ante conspectum suum sed inter se
diviserunt regni terminos terrarum ante Triumphum.” Felix Hemmerlin, Tractatus de
Credulitate Daemonibus Adhibenda, in HeinrichInstitoris and Jacob Sprenger, Malleus
Maleficarum (Frankfurt, 1600), 2:431.
abbot who was visited by an angel, and ‘after that (forsooth)
was as chaste as though he had had never a stone in his breech’,
Scot’s derisive, bracketed ‘forsooth’ and clever punning ridicule the
story simply by telling it.48 Proponents of witchcraft, in their texts,
prefer to keep things as serious as possible. Scot, while making
disingenuous apologies for the filthiness of the stories he is sadly
46 Scot, iv.5, p. 79.
47 Scot, iv.4, pp. 77–78; HeinrichInstitoris and Jakob Sprenger, The Hammer
of Witches, translated by Christopher S. Mackay (Cambridge: Cambridge