04 March 2015

The Malleus Maleficarum Series

Witches, Midwives, and Nurses by Ehrenreich and English, 1973, Excerpts

The age of witch-hunting spanned more than four centuries [from the 14th to the 17th century] in its sweep from Germany to England. It was born in feudalism and lasted well into the “age of reason.” The witch-craze took different forms at different times and places, but never lost its essential character: that of a ruling class campaign of terror directed against the female peasant population. Witches represented a political, religious and sexual threat to the Protestant and Catholic churches alike, as well as to the state, a female-led peasant rebellion, connected to the peasant rebellions of the time. The witch-craze did not arise spontaneously in the peasantry. It was a calculated ruling class campaign of terrorization.

The witch-craze was neither a lynching party nor a mass suicide by hysterical women. Rather, it followed well-ordered, legalistic procedures. The witch-hunts were well-organized campaigns, initiated, financed and executed by Church and State. To Catholic and Protestant witch-hunters alike, the unquestioned authority on how to conduct a witch hunt was the Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, written in 1484 by the Reverends Kramer and Sprenger, the “beloved sons” of Pope Innocent VIII. For three centuries this sadistic book lay on the bench of every judge, every witch-hunter.

The extent of the witch-craze is startling: In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries there were thousands upon thousands of executions – usually burnings at the stake – in Germany, Italy and other countries. In the mid-sixteenth century the terror spread to France, and finally to England. At Toulouse, four-hundred were put to death in a day. In the Bishopric of Trier, in 1585, two villages were left with only one female inhabitant each. The total number killed is estimated to have been in the millions.

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