The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft

The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft

The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft

The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft

Synopsis

Shows the Malleus, a very well known and widely quoted medieval text, to be highly idiosyncratic, and unusual in its ideas, even among the texts of other contemporary witch-theorists. The first book to deal with the discourse of witchcraft among fifteenth-century theorists in its full complexity. Attempts to understand witchcraft as part of the Malleus' authors' wider intellectual world. Shows how contemporary scholars engaged in a lively debate over the nature of witchcraft. A further addition to MUP's highly regarded collection of books on witchcraft.

Excerpt

On the morning of October 29th, 1485, dignitaries began to assemble in the great meeting room of Innsbruck's town hall. They included Cristan Turner, licentiate in the decretals and the special representative of Georg Golser, bishop of Brixen, Master Paul Wann, doctor of theology and canon law, Sigismund Saumer, also a licentiate in the decretals, three brothers of the Dominican Order, a pair of notaries, and the inquisitor, Henry Institoris. They were there to witness the interrogation of Helena Scheuberin, who, along with thirteen others, was suspected of practicing witchcraft. Scheuberin would have been familiar to at least some of these men: an Innsbruck native, she had been married for eight years to Sebastian Scheuber, a prosperous burger. She was also an aggressive, independent woman who was not afraid to speak her mind, a trait which on this occasion had landed her in serious trouble. From the formal charges against her, we learn that not long after the inquisitor had first arrived in Innsbruck with the stated intention of bringing witches to justice, she had passed him in the street, spat, and said publicly, “Fie on you, you bad monk, may the falling evil take you.” Worse still, Scheuberin had also stayed away from Institoris' sermons and had encouraged others to do likewise, even going so far, as the next charge against her reveals, as to disrupt one sermon by loudly proclaiming that she believed Institoris to be an evil man in league with the devil—a man whose obsession with witchcraft amounted to heresy.

It is possible that Scheuberin was aware that she had a reputation for harmful sorcery, and that her fear of suspicion led her unwisely to take the offensive when the inquisitor appeared. If such were the case, her tactics were spectacularly ill-conceived. Institoris was a man who treasured his orthodoxy above all things, and we may well imagine that he was deeply offended by Scheuberin's slander; more seriously, though, her attack upon the work of the Papal Inquisition was manifest evidence that she was herself either a heretic or a witch. A searching investigation of Scheuberin's life and character ensued . . .

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