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War and Witchcraft

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War and Witchcraft

War and Witchcraft

According to Midelfort, it “is the common claim that it was singularly responsible for the outburst of witch hunting that swept over Europe from the fifteenth through the early-eighteenth centuries” (Para 15). The Malleus Maleficarum is an ideal point in the study of early witch hunts. The Malleus was written by Heinrich Kramer, a Dominican monk, in 1486. That same year, Pope Innocent VII, issued the Bull Summis Desiderantes Affectibus. The Bull Summis literally meant “desiring with supreme ardour.” It was issued to combat “ecclesiastical officials” from hampering Kramer and his colleague Jakob Sprenger in their efforts to combat heresy. According to "" (2011), instigated severe measures against magicians and witches in Germany which had the immediate desired effect of making the population fearful they were overrun with witchcraft”, (para. 13). With the publication of Innocent’s Bull Summis on his side, Kramer arrested and charged around 50 women with witchcraft. Not only were these women denied any legal counsel, he had them tortures as well. Kramer’s acts were in complete violation of the inquisitorial rules, provoking many to oppose him in Brixen, eventually the trial of the women continued. When Kramer “questioned a defendant about her sexual practices and moral standing in her community, the judges found his query irrelevant and overruled him”, (Thurston). After accusations of the abuse of his authority, Kramer soon lost all credibility. After the trial, Kramer moved from city to city trying to regain his credibility by rewriting the Malleus and trying to pass is off as having been approved by Innocent VIII.

Even though it is difficult to determine the actual impact of the Malleus, later literature drew heavily from its ideas. Kramer’s belief that women were the main targets of the devil seems to hold its credibility through time, although many of his other ideas such as “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable”, (Thurston) began to change as time passed.

People in earlier centuries believed witches where typically women. This was due to the fact that women were the “weaker sex and that the Devil was definitely male”, (Thurston). Therefore “demonic copulation had to be overwhelmingly with females” (Thurston). During early centuries, one simply had to do to point a finger at a woman and accuse her of a devilish. This act could be anything from committing adultery to casting spells. This further illustrates the fact that women had a very small roll in early society. They were thought to be far inferior to men, typically thought only useful to bare children. Women were considered to be sexually weak, greatly increasing their chance of demonic possession and heresy.

The 17th century was full of religious, political, social, and cultural issues that led to wars across Europe and the new world. With the rise of protestant beliefs the catholic started to lose power and, with the rise of humanism kings were losing power to people run parliaments. The social structure began to change with the humanism as well, with the rise of personal power the peasants began to feel equal to the nobles in self-worth if not yet in a monitory sense. This led to further conflict in the Catholic Church as they became more radical in the search for heretics both of this world and from hell itself.

The seventeenth century was a time of war and growth in Europe. The century saw everything from the burning of witches to the expansion into the new world. The war between Britain and Spain came and went and the Catholic Church began radically changing in an attempt to keep power. The protestant movement was in full swing with enough momentum to be an unstoppable force in Europe and beyond.

The Catholic Church was steeped in traditional thinking in regards to religion as well as life. They felt that no one was above the church and that to say otherwise was blasphemy. It was for this view that the church stopped supporting humanism. They felt that it was putting too much emphasis on man and not enough on God.

The main problem of the 17th century was women were thought to be far inferior to men. This seems to be a very unfortunate stereo type for the women of early centuries. If a man were to dislike a woman for the slightest reason, he could falsely accuse her of heresy or witchcraft. More than likely a man’s word would be enough to convict a woman of witchcraft even if she was a god-fearing woman and had no connection with the devil. People like Heinrich Kramer made fallacies in books such as the Malleus merely to protect the church. Back in his time, in the minds of nearly everyone, the church was the focal point of society. Without the presence of evil or sin, the church had no purpose. At the same time people were beginning to second guess their faith and the power of the church. People like Kramer would write books such as the Malleus to give the perception of evil and illustrate the punishments for not putting the church before everything else. With the appearance of writings such as his, people would cling to their faith in order to escape the harsh accusations and punishments for heresy or witchcraft.


Denike, M. (2003). The Devil’s Insatiable Sex: A Genealogy of Evil Incarnat. Hypathia, 18(1).

10. (2011). Retrieved from

Midelfort, H. (2011). The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus

Maleficarum. Catholic Historical Review, 97 (1), 99.

Thurston, Robert W. The World, the Flesh and the Devil, History Today, Nov 2006 Issue

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