Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Miscomceptions and the Malleus Maleficarum

The earliest appearance of night-flying, sabbat-attending "witches" is found in the Swiss canton of Valais in 1428 CE. The "confessions" of record resulted from extensive torture. Many women died under the torture by being literally torn apart on the rack. Now, though, the fanatics had a definition by which to judge women (and some men) as witches. In 1459 the city of Arras was the first peak of this new "knowledge" being applied wholesale to a city: Arras was brought almost to a standstill. The Parliament of Paris finally investigated the phenomenon and most of those who had been sentenced were officially rehabilitated. We may surmise that the fact mattered more to the survivors than to those who had perished. Most still in prison were released. In 1482 the new Pope, Innocent VIII (generally regarded as a person of very low moral character), appointed two monks, Krämer and Spengler, to write a work which could be used to ferret out witches. That work became the Malleus Maleficarum. The book dwelt heavily on the purported sexual habits of witches, who were supposedly able to cause both impotence and satyriasis. Krämer went back to his monastery and we don't hear of him again. Spengler was appointed accuser in a trial of a group of young women in Switzerland; but was dismissed because (again) he took an interest altogether too salacious in the sexual predilections he attributed to the accused. All the women were released. Every industry has its internal jargon. In the publishing trade the Malleus is today called a one-hander. Many copies of it were published through 1660; it was not, however, one of the books employed to murder women (and a few men) by defining them as witches. The Inquisition had at its disposal many books much better suited to the task. Probably chief among them was Bodin's Demonomania. In fact there were two inquisitor's handbooks: Bernard Gui's Practica officii inquisitoris heretice pravitatis (1324) and Nicholas Eymeric's Directorium Inquisitorum (1376). Both books remained in print until the late 1800s. The problem is that people who have not read the Malleus persist in ascribing to it things which it does not say. It is popularly mentioned by writers of fiction, especially those writers with apparently no valid, healthy knowledge of true relationships between men and women today. It is a woman-haters' manual--but it did not cause widespread deaths through its use as a witch-finders' handbook. It simply was not and did not. Titillating? Yes. Dangerous in the overblown imaginations of hard-breathing celibate clerics? Yes. Still, before quoting it we wish that people would take the time to read it (oh gasp), boring though it is. Honest scholarship has some merit even today. Blessed Be Gavin and Yvonne