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Malleus Maleficarum - The Witches' Hammer, part 5

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Question 10 (Can witches turn men into animals?)

While witches cannot actually turn people into creatures, they can deceive the senses and make a person think that they have turned into one. This part of the text more or less argues the mechanics of such a thing, but that seems to be the bottom line. Witches and the Devil can cause people to hallucinate that they are an animal or that someone else is an animal, but there's an (antisemitic) anecdote that suggests they cannot do this to especially pious people.

For we read in the Lives of the Fathers, that a certain girl would not consent to a young man who was begging her to commit a shameful act with him. And the young man, being angry because of this, caused a certain Jew to work a charm against her, by which she was changed into a filly. But this metamorphosis was not an actual fact, but an illusion of the devil, who changed the fancy and sense of the girl herself, and of those who looked at her, so that she seemed to be a filly, who was really a girl. For when she was led to the Blessed Macarius, the devil could not so work as to deceive his senses as he had those of other people, on account of his sanctity; for to him she seemed a true girl, not a filly. And at length by his prayer she was set free from that illusion, and it is said that this had happened to her because she did not give her mind to holy things, or attend the Sacraments as she ought; therefore the devil had power over her, although she was in other respects honest.

Question 11 (Do midwives abort fetuses or give newborns to Satan?)

Oh good, I knew we would get back to misogyny sooner or later. Women who help other women give birth are definitely up to no good.

Midwives were basically always women, given that it would have been improper for a man to be involved in such a thing. The book itself even clearly states the following:

"...since the devils do these things through the medium of women, and not men, this form of homicide is associated rather with women than with men..."

Some anti-pregnancy witchcraft methods were apparently: - preventing pregnancy

- causing a miscarriage

- eating the baby after it's born

- giving the baby to Satan after it's born

The first two methods could be done without the Devil's help: through the use of herbs, for example. The last two methods were strictly for witches who had made a pact. Eating the baby was a possibility because witches were considered to have no human-like qualms about such things; many non-human animals eat their young under different circumstances, as I'm sure anyone who's ever had a pet hamster likely knows.

Considering that even today, miscarriages occur in about 10-20% of pregnancies, we can only imagine how many midwives were accused of these deeds back when medical knowledge and treatment were so incredibly limited. Accused women offered midwives as a scapegoat, probably under torture or under the promise of freedom.

We must add that in all these matters witch midwives cause yet greater injuries, as penitent witches have often told to us and to others, saying: No one does more harm to the Catholic Faith than midwives. For when they do not kill children, then, as if for some other purpose, they take them out of the room and, raising them up in the air, offer them to devils.

We'll get to torture and "confessions" later in the book, but just know that there will be a lot of women throwing other women under the bus to try to save themselves. Given the circumstances at the time, it's hard to be too angry with them, but this was a contributing factor to the body count.

Question 12 (Is witchcraft God-approved?)

This should be an interesting chapter. It was asserted earlier in the book that witches cannot exist without the permission of God, since God is all-knowing and all-powerful and so could easily stop witches if the need arose.

Four questions are posed in this section:

  1. Does and act of witchcraft have to be permitted by God?

  2. Does God allow "naturally sinful" creatures to practice witchcraft?

  3. Is witchcraft the worst evil that God allows?

  4. How should this information be explained to others?

For the answers:

  1. God does not like (or dislike?) that evil deeds are done, but allows them to be done for the sake of perfecting the universe, which needs both good and evil. Evil things can lead to good things, which makes them acceptable in a way.

  2. God allows humans to practice free will, so any sinful acts they choose to perpetuate are allowed.

  3. God allows many kinds of evil, including witchcraft, cruel tyrants, and the slaughter of animals. It's because these evils are necessary or some good ultimately comes from them.

  4. This concept really just boils down to "the ends justifies the means" on a cosmic scale. God is just and wise, so any evil God allows has a higher purpose.

Also, I need you all to see this particularly disturbing bit (emphasis mine).

For there is among the arguments, not so much of Laymen as of certain Wise men, this in common; that they do not believe that such horrible witchcraft as had been spoken of is permitted by God; being ignorant of the causes of this Divine permission. And by reason of this ignorance, since witches are not put down with the vengeance that is due to them, they seem now to be depopulating the whole of Christianity.

Of course, this book is a witch-hunting manual, so we need to expect that it calls for the extermination of witches. But, when viewed from a historical lens, we have to remember that thousands of innocent people (mostly women) were murdered because of these sentiments. It makes passages like the one provided above incredibly chilling to read. This isn't some work of fiction. It's an informational book by a fanatic calling for the systematic murder of other human beings. Being hundreds of years removed from it makes it seem unreal, but this really happened. Things like this are where we desperately need to learn from the mistakes of our past.

On that cheerful note, I think this is a good stopping point for this week.

Stay safe!

- me

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