Witchcraft as an expression of female sexuality
in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft

The fact that a greater multitude of witches was found among women than among men was so obviously a fact to the authors of the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ that, despite scholastic custom, it was completely unnecessary to deduce arguments to the contrary. This chapter argues that Institoris and Sprenger's much noted emphasis upon women as the overwhelming practitioners of witchcraft is quite probably descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. Nonetheless, their interpretation of this apparent fact was very much their own, and depended closely upon their intense fear of the disordering power of female sexuality. Just as the person of the witch is closely identified with that of the devil in the text, Malleus, so too does unbridled female sexuality come to be all but indistinguishable from demonic power. For all their misogyny, Institoris and Sprenger never accuse chaste virgins of witchcraft. Indeed, one of the most remarkably virtuous characters to be found in their text is a woman, a ‘poor little virgin and most devout’, who was able to cure bewitched persons by merely reciting the Lord's Prayer with complete faith.

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