The Malleus Maleficarum is one of the best-known treatises dealing with the problem of what to do with witches. It was written in 1487 by a Dominican inquisitor, Heinrich Institoris, following his failure to prosecute a number of women for witchcraft, it is in many ways a highly personal document, full of frustration at official complacency in the face of a spiritual threat, as well as being a practical guide for law-officers who have to deal with a cunning, dangerous enemy. Combining theological discussion, illustrative anecdotes, and useful advice for those involved in suppressing witchcraft, its influence on witchcraft studies has been extensive. The only previous translation into English, that by Montague Summers produced in 1928, is full of inaccuracies. It is written in a style almost unreadable nowadays, and is unfortunately coloured by his personal agenda. This new edited translation, with an introductory essay setting witchcraft, Institoris, and the Malleus into clear, readable English, corrects Summers’ mistakes and offers a lean, unvarnished version of what Institoris actually wrote. It will undoubtedly become the standard translation of this important and controversial late-medieval text.
towards some kind of mutual understanding of the offences alleged and eventually tried.
Heinrich Institoris and JakobSprenger
It is generally assumed that Institoris was born in c.1430 and that his native town was Schlettstadt in the diocese of Strassburg. 39 He probably became a Dominican in his mid-teens, but the first significant fact we know about him is that he was confessor to a Waldensian heretic, Friedrich Reiser, in 1458 during the time Reiser was waiting to be executed in Strassburg. The Waldensians, as we have seen, may have contributed to the clerical
Dominikaners JakobSprenger am Hexenhammer nach einem alten Abdinghofer
Brief’, Paderbornensis Ecclesia: Beiträge zur Geschichte
des Erzbistums Paderborn, Festschrift für Lorenz Kardinal Jaeger
zum 80. Geburtstag am 23. September 1972 , ed. Paul-Werner Scheele
(Munich: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1972), 197-205; and Peter Segl,
‘Heinrich Institoris: Persönlichkeit und literarisches
Werk’, Der Hexenhammer
abbot who was visited by an angel, and ‘after that (forsooth)
was as chaste as though he had had never a stone in his breech’,
Scot’s derisive, bracketed ‘forsooth’ and clever punning ridicule the
story simply by telling it.48 Proponents of witchcraft, in their texts,
prefer to keep things as serious as possible. Scot, while making
disingenuous apologies for the filthiness of the stories he is sadly
46 Scot, iv.5, p. 79.
47 Scot, iv.4, pp. 77–78; Heinrich Institoris and JakobSprenger, The Hammer
of Witches, translated by Christopher S. Mackay (Cambridge: Cambridge
says, ‘He wrote it himself, but to lend the treatise greater authority, he named Master JakobSprenger as his co-author.’
158 Institoris has referred to this already. St Germain and another man watched a woman to see whether, under the influence of the witches’ ointment, she was able to fly or not.
159 Se subiiciunt , “place themselves underneath, subject themselves to”. The verb is also used of putting a mare to a stallion.
160 De praecedentibus maleficis . The context suggests that it is female rather than male workers of harmful magic who are being