Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Witch Hunter Baedeker

The Witch Hunter Baedeker Cover Meanwhile, witch-hunters' manuals multiplied, most notably the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches), published in 1486. Its authors, Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer, were experienced Dominican inquisitors who had burned 48 witches in one diocese alone and had obtained a papal bull approving their mission. Reversing the old principle of the Canon Episcopi, Sprenger and Kraemer proclaimed that not believing in the reality of witches was heresy. Witches regularly did physical as well as spiritual harm to others, they wrote, and allegiance to the devil defined witchcraft. Sprenger and Kraemer exhorted secular authorities to fight witches by any means necessary.

Malleus Maleficarum (notice the feminine possessive of "witches") was a vicious misogynist tract. It depicted women as the sexual playmates of Satan, declaring: "All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable." Ironically, Sprenger also had a deep devotion to Mary. He helped to shape the modern rosary and founded the first rosary confraternity.

Malleus Maleficarum did not cover its ground completely, failing to discuss the actual pact that witches made with the devil, the sabbat, familiars (imps in animal form who aided witches), and night-flying. But those elements did not always appear in witchcraft cases. By itself, the Malleus started no new witch-panics, but it was freely used by later witchcraft writers, Protestant and Catholic alike. The Spanish inquisitors were nearly alone in scoffing at its lack of sophistication.

The demonologists who absorbed the Malleus were highly cultured men, such as the Protestant Jean Bodin, "the Aristotle of the 16th century," and his contemporary, the Jesuit classicist Martin del Rio. Those theoreticians pounded home the principle of the crimen exceptum: Because witchcraft was so vile an offense, accused witches had no legal rights. "Not one witch in a million would be accused or punished," Bodin boasted, "if the procedure were governed by ordinary rules." Anyone who defended accused witches or denied their crimes deserved the same punishment as witches, Bodin wrote.

Socially elite persecutors, demonologists, and judges relentlessly hunted witches with the zeal of modern revolutionaries pursuing a political utopia. No cost was too great, because witch-hunting served the greater good of Christendom, in their view. They believed that witchcraft inverted society's key values, disturbed godly order, challenged the divine right of kings -- the ancient doctrine that rulers derive their right to rule from God -- and diminished the majesty of God. It was thought that witch-hunting saved souls and averted the wrath of God by purging society of evil as the End Times loomed.

Commoners, by contrast, simply wanted relief from the evildoers of folklore who, they believed, were harming them, their children, their cattle, and their crops. It was grassroots complaints that started most witch-hunts. If authorities were too slow to act, peasants were capable of lynching suspected neighbors.

Although maleficium -- physical harm -- loomed much larger than diabolism in common people's accusations against suspected witches, their folk beliefs cross-fertilized the learned ones of Bodin and others in complex ways. Through sermons, gossip, trial accounts, and luridly illustrated "witch-books" (especially popular in Germany), everyone learned what witches did and how to detect them.

Books You Might Enjoy:

Aleister Crowley - The Sixth Chakra Of The Human Body
Louise Huebner - Witchcraft For All
Aleister Crowley - The Winged Beetle
Tarostar - The Witchs Spellcraft Revised
Margaret Alice Murray - The Witch Cult In Western Europe

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