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Malleus Malificarum (Der Hexenhammer) :: History 229: The Age of the Witch Hunts

Malleus Malificarum (Der Hexenhammer)

The Malleus Malificarum or Der Hexenhammer in German, was a fifteenth century treatise written by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman.  Many additions also cite the work of Jacob Sprenger as a co-author, although it is heavily argued that he was only added to gain credibility.  The work was published in Speyer, Germany was spread throughout continental Europe.

Malleus Malificarum represents Kramer’s views on witchcraft, denying arguments that witchcraft does not exist and pronouncing women as the primary suspects in cases of suspected witchcraft.  Most importantly, the work describes Kramer’s idea for the accusation and prosecution of the witch craft trials and was taken to be a sort of handbook by local magistrates.

For the purposes of my argument, the Malleus Malificarum represents a consolidated, verbalized sign of the patriarchal structure present in pre-modern Europe.  Although Kramer’s writing and views  are undoubtedly slightly extreme, they did not vary so far from popular thought, because the book was widely spread and used by the populace. The work explains the reasons that witches were nearly always female, or the work of female accomplices.  Kramer followed the perception that women were the “weaker sex” very strictly. This is because women were considered closer to the natural world and human origin,  which was linked to the reality of original sin.  Women were more likely to be tempted by the devil because of their inclination towards sin and sexuality.  This was the over arching patriarchal structure that women were forced to act within.  I argue that the structure that Malleus Malificarum and other ideas like it did not allow women to make headway in challenging the male order.  Rather, they could only act and make their voices known through challenging the supremacy of other women.

Kramer did not create this order, but his text is representative of contemporary feelings.  Although today it has been discounted that the Malleus Malificarum directly caused the witch hunts and “killed a thousand women,” it definitely contributed to the idea that women were more likely than men to participate in such crimes and announced ways to prosecute such supernatural crimes.


Levack, Brian. “Heinrich Kramer: Malleus Maleficarum” The Witchcraft Sourcebook.  (New York: Routledge, 2010) 57-68.

Oldridge, Darren and H.C. Erik Midelfort. “Heartland of the Witchcraze,” The Witchcraft Reader. (New York: Routledge, 2008) 99-106.

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