This introduction to the Malleus Maleficarum was originally posted on the Malleus web site. It was removed and placed here because a few people took issue with my personal opinions in regard to the Malleus. I didn’t want that to distract from the text of the work itself. However, I still stand by my comments, and wanted to post them somewhere. ~ Wicasta]
The Malleus Maleficarum (“The Witch Hammer”), first published in 1486, is arguably one of the most infamous books ever written, due primarily to its position and regard during the Middle Ages. It served as a guidebook for Inquisitors during the Inquisition, and was designed to aid them in the identification, prosecution, and dispatching of Witches. It set forth, as well, many of the modern misconceptions and fears concerning witches and the influence of witchcraft. The questions, definitions, and accusations it set forth in regard to witches, which were reinforced by its use during the Inquisition, came to be widely regarded as irrefutable truth. Those beliefs are held even today by a majority of Christians in regard to practitioners of the modern “revived” religion of Witchcraft, or Wicca. And while the Malleus itself is largely unknown in modern times, its effects have proved long lasting.
At the time of the writing of The Malleus Maleficarum, there were many voices within the Christian community (scholars and theologians) who doubted the existence of witches and largely regarded such belief as mere superstition. The authors of the Malleus addressed those voices in no uncertain terms, stating: “Whether the Belief that there are such Beings as Witches is so Essential a Part of the Catholic Faith that Obstinacy to maintain the Opposite Opinion manifestly savours of Heresy.” The immediate, and lasting, popularity of the Malleus essentially silenced those voices. It made very real the threat of one being branded a heretic, simply by virtue of one’s questioning of the existence of witches and, thus, the validity of the Inquisition. It set into the general Christian consciousness, for all time, a belief in the existence of witches as a real and valid threat to the Christian world. It is a belief which is held to this day.