Origins and arguments
in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft

This chapter provides an understanding of the basic arguments of Henry Institoris and Jacob Sprenger's ‘Malleus Maleficarum’: its origins, structure and methods, locating the text and its authors in space and time, as the products of both Dominican and German experience. The arguments of the text aim to demonstrate the existence and prevalence of witchcraft, and the terrible threat it poses. The text provides sufferers from witchcraft with a broad range of remedies, both legal and spiritual, of proven effectiveness, and is also a guide for civil and ecclesiastical authorities to the successful detection and prosecution of witches. Institoris and Sprenger provide a remarkably complete picture of their witch, along with descriptions of her origins, habits and powers. Before this image could be plausible, even intelligible, to a theologically sophisticated audience, however, they had to define appropriate relationships between witchcraft and established conceptual fields. In order to construct a category of ‘witch’ on the basis of such beliefs, theoreticians were obligated to make it compatible with a learned, theologically informed worldview.

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