Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Malleus Maleficarum

Obviously the best witches of all time.
As a medievalist I get to read a lot of fantastic material. Inbetween my studies of early scientific texts and medical treatise and looking at marginalia that include ass trumpets and inappropriate animals, I get to read things like the Malleus Maleficarum.
The Malleus Maleficarum, or the Witches Hammer, was written in Speyer, Germany in 1487. The book was written as a treatise for the systematic persecution of women and men (but mostly women) accused of being witches. Heinrich Kramer the primary author of the treatise had made an earlier attempt in 1484 to promote the widespread persecution of witches in the territory of Tyrol. However, he was thrown out the territory, and his writing of the Malleus is considered to be his act of revenge. Scholarship is divide on the issue if Kramer received the papal bull Summis desiderantes affectibus in 1484 to begin the inquisition and the persecution of witches on a large scale. The Malleus became the handbook for secular courts throughout Europe through the High Renaissance.
The Malleus is divided into three sections that assert the elements necessary for witchcraft. The first is the witch. The second is the help of the devil. And the third is the permission of God. The treatise also tries to persuade those who do not believe in witchcraft that such an evil was plaguing the world. The treatise describes how women and men fall victim to witchcraft and that women are more susceptible to becoming witches because of the inherent weaknesses in their gender. Usually women who were accused of being witches were those that acted outside of the gender roles of the medieval period, in particular those who were outspoken and leaders of their communities.
Due to the invention of the printing press the Malleus took hold of most of continental Europe and feed the flames of witch hysteria, a period known to us as the Burning Times, that lead to the wrongful deaths of over 25,000 people.
I was hoping to leave you with the work of a wonderful artist who has made commemorating the women who died during the Burning Times through her art, however, I am unable to remember who she is! She is a bronze sculptor and I saw her featured on the PBS series Art:21 in college. If anyone knows who I mean, please let me know! 

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