Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Hammer of Witches

Welcome to Metaphysical Booknotes, the show that Raises Dead Issues With Dead People.

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that this show has catered to dead white men for the most part. So, to make up for the overemphasis just a little, today we celebrate women in history with great affection in one of their greatest role’s – the everlovin’ witch.

Today’s interview is ironically with a dead white man by the name of Jacob Sprenger, one of the two authors of the Malleus Maleficarum. Latin for The Hammer of Witches. The MM was written by them slightly before before Columbus sailed the ocean blue by Sprenger and his partner, Heinrich Kramer. These two Dominican inquisitors couldn’t even get along with each other, but they sure did know how to identify, prosecute and execute witches, which is the subject of their book and our interview today.

Originally condemned by the church for going against the dogma of Catholic demonology, Kramer eventually became a successful lecturer and inquisitor. Unfortunately, the older Sprenger dropped dead a few years later, but, thankfully, is here in our studio right now. Mr.Sprenger has agreed to speak on this long dead subject only through direct quotation from the MM:

INTERVIEWER: I have always wondered why there were so many more witches than warlocks. Is that a fair characterization?

JS: "[A] greater number of witches is found in the fragile feminine sex than among men; it is indeed a fact that it were idle to contradict, since it is accredited by actual experience, apart from the verbal testimony of credibly witnesses."

INTERVIEWER: So, is it that just that women are plain evil?

JS: "When they are governed by a good spirit, they are most excellent in virtue; but when they are governed by an evil spirit, they indulge the worst possible vices."

INTERVIEWER: Just how bad can an evil woman get?

JS: "There is no head above the head of a serpent: and there is no wrath above the wrath of a woman. . . . . . All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman."

INTERVIEWER: I suppose that just the possibility that your wife is a witch would be grounds for divorce:

JS: "What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours! Therefore if it be a sin to divorce her when she ought to be kept, it is indeed a necessary torture; for either we commit adultery by divorcing her, or we must endure daily strife."

INTERVIEWER: Strange. I would think it would be a bad idea to keep a witch for a wife.

JS: "No might of the flames or the swollen winds, no deadly weapon, is so much to be feared as the lust and hatred of a woman who has been divorced from the marriage bed."

INTERVIEWER: I have a difficult time swallowing this whole premise. Why would women be worse than men?

JS: "The many lusts of men lead them into one sin, but the lust of women leads them into all sins; for the root of all woman's vices is avarice. And Seneca says in his Tragedies: A woman either loves or hates; there is no third grade. And the tears of woman are a deception, for they may spring from true grief, or they may be a snare. When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil."

INTERVIEWER: So, lust is the problem. I see. Is that it?

JS: "[Women] are more credulous; and since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he rather attacks them. . . . The second reason is, that women are naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit; and that when they use this quality well they are very good, but when they use it ill they are very evil."

INTERVIEWER: I take it you aren’t married.

JS: "I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than to keep house with a wicked woman."

INTERVIEWER: I still don’t know. Why can't women just understand the pitfalls of witchery and avoid it?

JS: "Women are intellectually like children."

INTERVIEWER: So, you think it is a matter of intelligence?

JS: "But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations."

INTERVIEWER: You act as if women are monsters. Yet, very often they seem much more empathetic than men.

JS: "When a woman weeps she weaves snares. "

INTERVIEWER: I suppose, from your religious background, you would believe that faith would be a safe haven for women.

JS: "[A] wicked woman is by her nature quicker to waver in her faith, and consequently quicker to abjure the faith, which is the root of witchcraft."

INTERVIEWER: Interesting. Now, how would you say it was best to go about protecting yourself from these witches?

JS: "[T]he exorcisms of the Church are . . . entirely efficacious remedies for preserving oneself from the injuries of witches."

INTERVIEWER: I hear that blessed salt works wonders with witches?

JS: "Now it happened in the city of Spires, in the same year that this book was begun, that a certain devout woman held conversation with a suspected witch, and, after the manner of women, they used abusive words to each other. But in the night she wished to put her little suckling child in its cradle, and remembered her encounter that day with the suspected witch. So, fearing some danger to the child, she placed consecrated herbs under it, sprinkled it with Holy Water, put a little Blessed Salt to its lips, signed it with the Sign of the Cross, and diligently secured the cradle. About the middle of the night she heard the child crying, and, as women do, wished to embrace the child, and life the cradle on to her bed. She lifted the candle, indeed, but could not embrace the child, because he was not there. The poor woman, in terror, and bitterly weeping for the loss of her child, lit a light, and found the child in a corner under a chair, crying but unhurt."

INTERVIEWER: So . . . then you do recommend the salt?

JS: "In Ratisbon a man was being tempted by the devil in the form of a woman to copulate, and became greatly disturbed when the devil would not desist. But it came into the poor man's mind that he ought to defend himself by taking Blessed Salt, as he had heard in a sermon. So, he took some Blessed Salt on entering the bath-room; and the woman looked fiercely at him, and, cursing whatever devil had taught him to do this, suddenly disappeared. For the devil can, with God's permission, present himself either in the form of a witch, or by possessing the body of an actual witch."

INTERVIEWER: I’ll take that as a yes. What do you recommend doing with a witch when you catch one?

JS: "First, that her house should be searched as thoroughly as possible, in all holes and corners and chests, top and bottom; and if she is a noted witch, then without doubt, unless she has previously hidden them, there will be found various instruments of witchcraft. . . .

A second precaution is to be observed, not only at this point but during the whole process, by the Judge and all his assessors; namely, that they must not allow themselves to be touched physically by the witch, especially in any contract of their bare arms or hands.

The third precaution to be observed . . . is that the hair should be shaved from every part of her body. The reason for this is the same as that for stripping her of her clothes . . . for in order to preserve their power of silence they are in the habit of hiding some superstitious object in their clothes or in their hair, or even in the most secret parts of the their bodies which must not be named."

INTERVIEWER: Sounds reasonably modern. Let’s move on, though. So, if you take these precautions, the average witch can be made to confess?

JS: "[T]he devil might, without the use of such charms, so harden the heart of a witch that she is unable to confess her crimes; just as it is often found in the case of other criminals, no matter how great the tortures to which they are exposed, or how much they are convicted by the evidence of the facts and of witnesses."

INTERVIEWER: But how do they remain silent under torture?

JS: "This can be made clear from the example of a certain witch in the town of Hagenau . . . . She used to obtain this gift of silence in the following manner: she killed a newly-born first-born male child who had not been baptized, and having roasted it in an oven together with other matters which it is not expedient to mention, ground it to powder and ashes; and if any witch or criminal carried about him some of this substance he would in no way be able to confess his crimes."

INTERVIEWER: Let me try and sum up. It seems clear to me that the devil, the ultimate source of all this evil, is brought about by lustful women and that without them, we would not have evil. Or, have I overstated it?

JS: "[I]f it be asked whether the devil cannot inflict injury upon men and beasts without the means of a woman being seen in a vision or by her touch, we answer that he can, when God permits it. But the permission of God is more readily granted in the case of a creature that was dedicated to God, but by denying the faith has consented to other horrible crimes; and therefore the devil more often uses such means to harm creatures. Further, we may say that, although the devil can work without a witch, he yet very much prefers to work with one, for the many reasons which we showed earlier in this work."

INTERVIEWER: We are almost out of time, but, first, I’d like to give you a gift for coming in and talking with us – a red hot iron. I think you know what to do with this, don’t you?

JS: "Formal rules for initiating a process of justice were set down: how it should be conducted and the method of pronouncing sentence; when to use the trial by red-hot iron and other methods of torture for extracting confessions."

INTERVIEWER: Thanks. I hope the women in our audience appreciated a day dedicated especially to them. Come back next time when we interview Torqemada with tortures you can do in your own home.


  1. Anonymous1:23 PM

    You know, Malleus Mallefactorum is, interestingly, considered the first psychology text. I teach about it when I teach Theories of Personality. Good job snaring the author, you must introduce me to your exorcist, or whatever you call the folks who raise the dead. I chose to post about another dead white guy, sorry.

  2. No kidding. Well, there'sa class I'd like to teach. if I go to therapy and the Dr. is holding a red hot poker in his hand, I guess I'll know he's a follower of Sprenger.


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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .