Misfortune, witchcraft, and the will of God
in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft

This chapter provides an understanding of the relationship between the will of God, witchcraft and misfortune. An obvious corollary to a belief in witches is the perception that certain kinds of recognisable injuries or misfortunes are due to witchcraft, and many people in medieval Europe were prepared to accept certain kinds of misfortunes as the result of witchcraft or harmful magic. A problem faced by all witch theorists was to explain why a just God would grant permission for witches to wreak such havoc upon the world. The belief in a powerful, aggressive, threatening witch corresponded to a mechanical and liberal view of divine permission. Where God provided meaningful oversight to demons, witchcraft was not particularly threatening. If, however, God was so offended by human sin that virtually all diabolic requests to visit punishment upon it were approved, witches were free to utilise the power of the devil almost automatically. While God and the devil retreated into mechanical passivity, the efforts of their human followers became increasingly important. The witch becomes the effective agent of diabolic power, a living, breathing devil on earth in respect to those around her. For this reason, the arguments of the text focus as much upon spiritual remedies as upon the power of witches, and upon the thin but critical line that separates the diabolic power from the divine.

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