Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer,
"The Hammer of Witches" (Malleus Maleficarum), 1486
Part I, Question 6: Why it is that women are chiefly addicted
to evil superstitions
... Now the wickedness of women is spoken of in Ecclesiasticus
25: There is no head above the head of a serpent, and there is no wrath
above the wrath of a woman. I would rather dwell with a lion and
a dragon than to keep house with a wicked woman. And the writer concludes,
"All wickedness is but little [compared] to the wickedness of a woman.
Thus Saint John Chrysostom says, about the text "it is not good to marry"
[from Matthew 19], "what else is woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable
punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity,
a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with
fair colors!" Therefore if it is a sin to divorce her, it is indeed
a necessary torture, for either we commit adultery by divorcing her, or
we must endure daily strife. Cicero, in his second book of The
Rhetorics says, "The many lusts of men lead them into sin, but the
one lust of women leads them into all sins, for the root of all a woman's
vices is avarice." And Seneca says in his Tragedies, "a woman
either loves or hates; there is no third option. And the tears of
a woman are a deception, for they may spring from true grief or they may
be a trap. When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.
But for good women this is so much praise, that we read that have brought
beatitude to men, and have saved nations, lands, and cities; as is clear
in the case of Judith, Deborah, and Esther [three Old Testament heroines]....
Ecclesiasticus 26 [says], "Blessed is the man who has a virtuous wife,
for the number of his days shall be doubled." And throughout that
chapter much high praise is spoken of the excellence of good women, as
also in the last chapter of Proverbs concerning a virtuous woman....
Others again have given other reasons why there are more superstitious
women than men. And the first is, that they are more credulous; and
since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he attacks
them. See Ecclesiasticus 19: "He that is quick to believe is light-minded,
and shall be brought down." 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 badly they are very evil. The third reason is that
they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow-women
those things which they know through their evil arts. And since they
are weak, they find a secret and easy manner of vindicating themselves
by witchcraft.... Since they are feebler both in mind and body, it
is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft.
For as regards intellect, of the understanding of spiritual things, they
seem to be of a different nature than men... But the natural reason is
that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations.
And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the
first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the
breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man.
And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.
Part I, Question 11: on witch-midwives
Here is set forth the truth concerning four horrible crimes that devils
commit against infants, both in the mother's womb and afterwards.
And since the devils do these things through the medium of women and not
men, this form of homicide is associated rather with women than with men.
And the following are the methods by which it is done.
The Canonists [experts in Church law] say that it
is witchcraft not only when anyone is unable to perform the carnal act,
but also when a woman is prevented from conceiving, or is made to miscarry
after she has conceived. A third and fourth method of witchcraft
is when that have failed to procure an abortion, and then they either devour
the child or offer it to a devil.... Certain witches, against the instinct
of human nature and indeed against the nature of all beasts, are in the
habit of devouring and eating infant children. The Inquisitor of
Como has told us the following: that he was summoned by the inhabitants
of Barby County to hold an inquisition because a certain man had missed
his child from its cradle, and finding a meeting of women in the night-time,
he swore that he saw them kill his child and drink its blood and devour
it. Also, in the last year alone, he says that fourty-one witches
were burned. For confirmation of this, there are certain writings
of John Nider [author of an earlier manual regarding witches, called the
'Formicarius,' in the late 15th century], and the events that he recounts
are still fresh in men's minds, wherefore it is apparent that such things
are not unbelievable. We must add that in all these matters witch
midwives cause yet greater injuries, as penitent witches have often told
us, saying, 'No one ever does more harm to the Catholic Faith than midwives.
For when they do not kill children, then they take them out of the room
and, raising them up in the air, offer them to devils.'
Part II, Chapter 11: How they inflict infirmities
Witches can, with God's permission, cause all infirmities,
with no exception. For although one may feel greater difficulty in
believing that witches are able to cause leprosy or epilepsy, since these
diseases generally arise from some longstanding physical predisposition
or defect, nonetheless sometimes even these have been caused by witchcraft.
For in the diocese of Basel (Switzerland), a certain honest laborer spoke
roughly to a certain quarrelsome woman and she angrily threatened him that
she would soon avenge herself on him. He took little notice of her,
but on that same night he felt a pustule grow upon his neck, and he rubbed
it a little, and found his whole face and neck puffed up and swollen and
a horrible form of leprosy appeared all over his body. He immediately
went to his friends for advice, and told them of the woman's threat, and
said he would stake his life on the suspicion that this had been done to
him by the magic art of that same witch. In short, the woman was
taken, questioned, and confessed her crime. But when the judge asked
her particularly about the reason for it and how she had done it, she answered,
"when that man used abusive words to me, I was angry and went home; and
my familiar began to ask the reason for my ill humor. I told him,
and begged him to avenge me on the man. And he asked what I wanted
to do to him, and I answered that I wished he would always have a swollen
face. And the devil went away and afflicted the man even beyond my
asking, for I had not hoped that he would infect him with such sore leprosy."
And so the woman was burned.
And in the diocese of Constance (Switzerland), there
is a leprous woman who used to tell many people how the same thing happened
to her by reason of a quarrel which took place between her and another
woman. For one night when she went out of the house to do something
in front of the door, a warm wind came from the house of the other woman,
which was opposite, and suddenly struck ehr face; and from that time she
had been afflicted with leprosy.
Part II, Chapter 12: [more on inflicting infirmities]
But if I were to tell all the instances that were found
in that one town (Innsbruck) I should need to make a book of them.
For countless men and women who were blind, or lame, or withered, or plagued
with various infirmities, took their oath that they had strong suspicions
that their illnesses, both in general and in particular, were caused by
witches, and that they were bound to endure those ills either for a period
of time or right up until their death. And all that they said and
testified was true. For that country abounds in henchmen and knights
who have leisure for vice, and seduce women, and then wish to cast them
off when they desire to marry an honest woman. But they can rarely
do this without incurring the vengeance of some witchcraft upon themselves
or their wives. For when those [seduced and abandoned] women see
themselves despised, they perists in tormenting not so much the husband
as the wife, in the fond hope that, if the wife should die, the husband
would return to his former mistress. (139)
Chapter 13: [how witch midwives commit most horrid crimes]
We must not admit to mention the injuries done to children
by witch midwives, first by killing them, and secondly by blasphemously
offering them to devils. In the diocese of Strasburg there is an
honest woman very devoted to the Virgin Mary, who tells the following experience
of hers to all the guests that come into the tavern that she keeps, called
the Black Eagle.
"I was," she says, "pregnant by my lawful husband,
and as my time approached a certain midwife asked me to engage her to assist
at the birth of my child. But I knew her bad reputation, and although
I had decided to engage another woman, I pretended with conciliatory words
to agree to her request. But when the pains came upon me, and I had
brought in another midwife, the first one was very angry, and hardly a
week later came into my room one night with two other women and approached
my bed. And when I tried to call to my husband, who was sleeping
in another room, all the use was taken away from my limbs and tongue so
that except for seeing and hearing I could not move a muscle. And
the witch said, 'See! This vile woman, who would not take me for her midwife,
shall not go unpunished.' The other two standing by her pleaded for me,
saying, 'she has never harmed any of us.' But the witch added, 'Because
she has offended me, I am going to put something in her entrails, but to
please you she shall not feel any pain for half a year.' So she came up
and touched my belly with her hands.... And when they had gone away and
I had recovered the power of speech, I called my husband. But he
put it down to pregnancy, and said, 'You pregnant women are always suffering
from fancies and delusions.' "
And what happened? When exactly six months
had passed, such a terrible pain came into this woman's belly that she
disturbed everyone with her cried day and night. But because she
was most devoted to the Virgin Mary, she fasted with bread and water every
Saturday, so that she believed she was saved by the Virgin's intercession.
For one day, when she was performing an act of nature, all those unclean
things [that the witch had placed magically in her belly] fell from her
body; and she called her husband and said, "Are those fancies? Didn't I
say that after half a year the truth would be known?"
Moreover, it was shown by the confession of a servant
who was tried in Briesach that the greatest injuries to the Faith as regards
the heresy of witches are done by midwives, and this is made clearer than
day by the confessions of some who were afterwards burnt. For instance,
in the diocese of Basel a witch was burned who confessed that she had killed
more than forty children, by sticking a needle through the crowns of their
heads into their brains, as they came out of the womb..... [And] when they
do not kill the child, they blasphemously offer it to the devil in this
manner. As soon as the child is born, the midwife, if the mother
herself is not a witch, carries it out of the room on the pretext of warming
it, raises it up, and offers it to the Prince of Devils, that is Lucifer,
and to all the devils.