The Hammer of Witches

The Hammer of Witches

In the Middle Ages, the illusion of the world of witches was transformed into a phenomenon that was real and frightening. The architects of this conversion were the authors of the book Malleus Maleficarum (the title is translated as The Hammer of Witches). The work describes the ways to identify witches and explains the need to execute them all as one of the greatest threat to people and their religion. The main idea of The Hammer of Witches is imbedded in the belief that sorcery exists, and it is a matter of the devil. Therefore, it is the right and responsibility of the children of God to destroy witches who practice the evil craft that corrupts people. The Hammer of Witches is by far the most distinguished work of literature that found its further implications in the wave of massive executions and deaths of thousands of people, particularly women. It was not the only or the first book on witchcraft, but its influence is immense. The ideas of the book spread over Europe and affected people for over two centuries resulting in famous witch trials (for example, in Salem). The current paper analyzes The Hammer of Witches, the authors, and the fact of popularity of the book with the main focus on its effect on the system of witch hunting and trials.

What Is Malleus Maleficarum?

The book Malleus Maleficarum is a historical document that reflects the main terms and provisions of the prosecution system accepted in the Middle Ages. The subject of the book is sorcery and witches who practised it. The Hammer of Witches includes the description of various actions that should be applied to address witches and their trials. This work introduced a new conception into the established system of capturing and torturing witches. Moreover, the book teaches how to detect women who are involved in magic, apply measures, and demand retribution.

The first edition of The Hammer of Witches was published in Latin in the year 1486 (Mackay, 1996, p. 1). Presently, a number of translations are available. The ideas of the book were relatively new. Centuries before the book was written, it was prohibited to allow thinking that sorcery was real and even to talk about witches. However, the book under consideration “attempts to prove the reality of sorcery, delineates the practices of sorceresses, and lays out the ways to directly contract those practices and to deal with the problem as a whole by exterminating the practitioners of sorcery through their conviction in court and execution” (Mackay, 2009, p. 7). Furthermore, those who deny the fact that sorceresses are real and perform their magic on the regular basis are considered to be heretics and enemies that deserve punishment.

A few notions are stated in The Hammer of Witches. Firstly, witches are real. Secondly, the defining thought is that witches are evil. The negative implications are emphasized by the fact that “the devil as, of course, still the power behind the witches magic..” (Broedel, 2003, p. 51). According to these two statements, a set of actions should be undertaken. It is clear that witches should be executed. The suspects are usually women and “…it is no matter for wonder that there are more women than men found infected with the heresy of witchcraft” because all witchcraft “comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable” (Mackay, 2009, p. 170).

In an effort to prove that a suspected woman is a witch investigative tortures are used. The instructions that a book provides are a concise manual for the inquisitor’s work. For example, tortures should be rational and applied without hurry: “and while she is being questioned about each several point, let her be often and frequently be exposed to torture, beginning with the more gentle of them: for the Judge should not be too hasty to proceed to the graver kind” (Mackay, 2009, p. 226). This process should be written and described by the notary in order to use these details later for a sentence (death sentences in most cases). To understand the cruelness of the book, it should be considered that if a woman does not confess and “she is not induced by terror to confess, the torture must be continued on the second or third day…” (Mackay, 2009, p. 226). If suspects did not survive this process, it was “simply explained that the tortured had died because the devil broke their necks” (Ellerbe, 1995, p. 83). Such a formulation presents the evidence that a woman is indeed a witch because the devil killed her to protect his secrets. Obviously, most victims confess after being mangled and broken. This confession is the major basis of execution and sometimes the only reason. In brief, The Hammer of Witches is a book of constant rereading for inquisitors who considered it to be an authorized source for their actions and a legal foundation.

The Authors of The Hammer of Witches

The creators of the book should be discussed. According to the author’s justification, The Hammer of Witches was written by two authors – Jacobus Spenger and the unnamed co-author. In the public declaration, another person’s name is indicated – Henricus Insitoris. The identity of the second man is considered to be the most important.

Henricus Insitoris (the Latinized form of the name Heinrich Kramer) was born around 1430 and became a professor of theology but pursued the aim of executing witches (Mackay, 2009, p. 3). Crammer was supported by Innocent VIII and appointed as an inquisitor. He and Spenger acted differently as inquisitors. Cramer enjoyed the trials to a great extent and often described his cases. There are the references to trials in The Hammer of Witches. In the book, Cramer claims that 48 women were condemned by him for the crime of sorcery, later the number raised to 200 women (Mackay, 2009, p. 4).

The question about the authors of the book is a matter of debates. In fact, a jointt composition may be a “falsehood prepared by Institoris, who … wrote the whole thing himself” (Mackay, 2009, p. 5). Institoris added a co-author because The Hammer of Witches lacked credibility. Spenger was a known scientist, and his support of the book gave it more credentials. The majority of scientists agree that the work was created by Cramer, who was thirsty for blood and killings.

However, even the famous names of the author and co-author do not explain why this book was so popular and affected people for such a long time. There were other books alike. For this reason, more factors regarding the significance of the book and its influence should be discussed.

The Significance of The Hammer of Witches

The Hammer of Witches is the work that was the main accepted and approved source of information for inquisitors. The popularity of the book and its authority may have several reasons. The connections the treatise implies matter most in understanding the phenomenon that the book inspired and the ways it contributed.

Kramer set a tone for his work by adding a quotation from the Bible at the beginning: “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18). This quote suggests that the book constitutes the will of God. Thus, it was studied and used for witch interrogations as an example of the divine will.

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Another important connection was established by the bulla that The Hammer of Witches contains. It is known as “Summis Desiderantes.” This bulla is an official document, signed by the Pope and sealed. The bulla was issued by Pope Innocent VIII in the year 1484 (Mackay, 2009, p.8). As it was mentioned above, the book was published in 1486, which is three years after the bulla was issued. For this reason, the document does not contain any mentioning about the The Hammer of Witches but gives the authority to Crammer and Spenger to persecute witches. By adding the bulla, the authors implied that everything written in the book was supported and approved by the Pope and none could argue against it.

People who read the bulla and words from the Bible comprehended the information presented in the book as a matter of pursuing heresy and promoting the catholic faith. These factors are believed to be the determining features that explain the popularity of The Hammer of Witches.


Malleus Maleficarum (also known as The Hammer of Witches) is an important work that is viewed as a guidebook for witch trials. It is by no means the only book on the matter of witchcraft, but it is the most influential one. Thus, Malleus Maleficarum is a significant historical document written by Jacobus Spenger and Heinrich Kramer and published in 1486. The general purpose of The Hammer of Witches is to present the view about the evil concentrated in witches and their craft and discuss effects of witchcraft along with the need to destroy it.

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