The inquisitors’ devil
in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft

The authors of ‘Malleus Maleficarum,’ Institoris and Sprenger, began their analysis of witchcraft by observing that, for witchcraft to have any effect, three things must concur: the devil, the witch and the permission of God. This chapter follows in the inquisitors' footsteps and examines the relationships between witchcraft, God and the Devil, revealing how the authors reconciled data from testimony and experience with their assumptions about the nature of the universe. For them, as for us, the devil provides a convenient starting point, because the witchcraft of the text depends upon an unusual conception of what the infernal side of the Christian pantheon is all about. The inquisitors' devil is not amenable to simple definition; nor is it easy to determine in what form and to what extent the devil was actually present in people's minds. They embraced an oddly bifurcated devil; a being of transcendent but mechanical power for evil, and a creature whose physical presence was more often than not of an almost trivial appearance. This disjunction between impressive diabolic power and minimal diabolic presence demanded a mediator who could channel and direct disordering and harmful forces on earth. In the text, Malleus, the witch, becomes the effective agent of diabolic power, a living, breathing devil on earth in respect to those around her.


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