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Malleus Maleficarum - The Witches' Hammer, part 1

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Before I start this post, I feel like it's necessary to make a few things clear.

  1. I do not necessarily agree with anything in the books I read and the notes I take on them. I'm just trying to condense some information for ease of consumption.

  2. Many people today call themselves witches and are nothing like the people described in this book. The term has changed a lot over time. While it used to have a very negative connotation, now it is a much more neutral term.

  3. This is a mega old book written by a misogynistic dude in a very, very sexist society. As such, expect some values dissonance. Again, it's important to note that I don't agree with the author, I'm just here to summarize.

Now that's out of the way, so let's go.

The Witches' Hammer, which can be read here, was a witch-hunting manual written in 1486 and used for hundreds of years in Europe. There is some controversy among modern magic users about how to/whether we should use the information given in this manual. After all, it seems fair to assume that many, many innocent people (that is, non-magic users) lost their lives to this, so is it even really about witches? How sure are we of this text's accuracy?

Well, it's worth checking it out to see if there are any tidbits we can gleam. And I'm here to type those tidbits into little blog posts to make them easier to digest.

Part 1, Question 1 (the nature of witches is explained and the argument for why they should be hunted and executed is given)

The manual starts out by discussing if belief in witchcraft is heretical. It is determined that belief in witchcraft is not heresy, that witches are heretics, and heretics should be executed. This seems to imply that the accused witches weren't executed because those in power were worried about their spells being dangerous, but more because behaving as a witch is heresy.

It is stated that witchcraft cannot permanently change the human body, and that maybe even getting demons involved won't result in permanent changes. The author points out also that most physical ailments are brought about by natural means, especially the stars, citing Aristotle's Physics. Demons have less power than the stars and witches have less power than demons. This reinforces my interpretation above, which is that witches were not executed due to fear of their power; what power they had was not considered very strong.

So what we can take from this part of the book is that:

  1. Witches are real and their power is real.

  2. Witches have some amount of power, but they are less powerful than demons, and demons are less powerful than the planets and stars,

  3. Witches are heretics for believing in their power.

  4. Witches are to be executed not for being witches but for the heresy required to be a witch.

  5. A witch can only exist if she has made a pact with the Devil, and since the Devil is less powerful than God, this means a witch cannot exist if it goes against God's will.

Wait what

Yeah, it says that. Witches cannot exist without God's approval. If it were me, I would take this as a sign that maybe witches are okay, but I guess that's not how these guys saw it.

The author lists three heretical assumptions non-witches make about witchcraft: 1. There's no such thing as magic. People just attribute things they don't understand to witchcraft.

2. Witches exist, but the effects of their magic are purely psychological.

3. Witches exist, but their use of magic is only trickery. (Think glamours, for example.)

In short, it is the author's view that witchcraft is real and it's heresy. This whole section was mainly just the author's argument for why witches should be executed. Witchcraft was a minor offense before this book gained popularity.

(The history of this book is kind of wild, to be honest; The author wrote it after being expelled by the bishop due to his obsession with the sexual habits of an accused witch and then later it was banned by the Catholic church but then later it was used for witch hunts. There's a lot of misogyny involved, but I won't get into that here besides to tell you that the Latin title is feminine, strongly hinting that women are the main targets.)

The author introduces the term "Pythons" - persons in or by whom the devil either speaks or performs some astonishing operation. I'm simply making a note of it in case this word comes up again later (and also because I like snakes).

That's pretty much all that I find noteworthy of the first section of this book. The rest of the section just continues finding justifications for condemning witches, basically. Nothing groundbreaking. A few Bible quotes, quoting other authors, etc.

Next time we'll do Part 1, Question 2, which seems to focus on whether witches have to work with the devil.

Stay safe!

- me

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