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Malleus Maleficarum: Hammer of Witches. Superstition obsession. Origin of the Malleus Maleficarum. Between 1227 and 1235, with a series of papal decrees established the Inquisition was against the “witches” and against “heretics”: the bubble ad extirpanda 1252, Pope Innocent IV authorized the use of torture to extract confessions of witchcraft by women suspected.

It must be stated that historically, the institution of the Inquisition came into being as early as the Council presided over in Verona in 1184 by Pope Lucius III and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, with the establishment For abolendam diversarum haeresum pravitatem. It was implemented with the aim, on the one hand, to suppress the newborn Cathar movement, a religious movement then, which spread in the southern and northern France, the other to control the different active and spiritual pauper movements.

From 1257 to 1816 the Inquisition tortured and burned at the stake millions of innocent people accused of witchcraft and heresy against religious dogmas and judge, often without trial and in secret, with the torture of terror. If they confessed they were found guilty, but if they did they were considered heretical, and then burned at the stake. Impossible to escape. The practice more “frequently” was one of the stone to the neck: the alleged culprit was thrown into the water tied to a stone if drowning was innocent, but if it remained afloat was a witch and therefore her body was burned, in any case died. It is estimated that in three centuries, from the mid ‘400 to the eighteenth century, were exterminated nine million witches, 80% of these were women and girls. Women were raped as well as tortured; their assets were confiscated at the time of the prosecution; the whole family, as a consequence, was dispossessed of all good; often the dead to burn the bones unearth. The witch hunt was a well-organized campaign, undertaken, financed and carried out by the Church and the State, in a reign of terror that lasted five centuries, under the blessing of at least 70 popes.

With the papal bull Summis desiring affectibus, promulgated December 5, 1484 by Innocent VIII was given the task to two Dominican theologians, Sprenger and insitor (more commonly known as Krämer) to “punish, imprison and correct” people infected by crime heretical perversion.

This is the historical origin of the Malleus Maleficarum, the “Hammer of Witches”, a treatise written by the two Dominicans and published in 1486, quickly became a best seller. The Malleus represented the ecclesiastical official text of the persecution of witches: the authors explain the Inquisition reasons, the procedure in each “case”, the search for what they consider and call “subversive monster,” offering examples of massacres women sent to the stake because they are considered representatives of the sexual knowledge, drug devour children, workers for abortions. Wipe out any link with sex, to which both religious betray a visceral fear, both for the practice itself, which the creature that puts in place: the woman.

The character that emerges from the text in a clear and precise is the redundant misogyny, a deep and natural adversity towards the female universe. A political delusion, an obsession with female sexuality that leads them to the nonsense up to make forget the main problem: God and the devil. The chief editor of the Malleus, that is, the writer, and he who personally wielded the inquisitor was Intistor activities; for the official book instead he earned Sprenger, superior of the Dominican reform and professor at the University of Cologne. It was with his mediation that the Faculty of Theology gave reluctantly academic authorization for publication, the Approbatio. Safe in the shadow of the papal permission and strong of the same words of the Bible, they created one of the greatest offensive tools.

Beyond all historical data, it is always necessary to understand the psychological, social, and above all the historical characterizing the evolution of any phenomenon, so you can analyze the elements in a reasonable manner. When speaking of “witch hunt”, the teachings that have been given during compulsory schooling make us immediately think of the Inquisition, the fires, the torture, the wheel and in a climate of general terror. Paradoxically, in the same sentence they cite the fearsome Spanish Inquisition, then convinced that the persecutions are daughters of the darkest Middle Ages. These “cultural constructions” are not surprising as the historian, instead, devoted to proper disclosure, you feel obligated to give necessary clarifications. Many unconsciously ignore that the time span within which evolves what we, minimizing call “witch hunt” is not the Middle Ages, but the Modern era. To be precise, the period of the witch-hunt true and proper is contained in those three hundred years, from the middle of the ‘400 to the middle of the’ 700, years that are ferrying the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, intellectual renaissance era.

The witch hunt, although born, although with different assumptions, in the medieval period, is but one of the aspects that qualify for better or for worse those centuries, like the phenomenon of feudalism, of battlements, of simony, the fight investiture, the age of the municipalities or religious fervor. So many aspects and this allows us to state that the medieval millennium, the “dark millennium” as erroneously believe is not so dark. Rather. The practice of the fire was an ancient custom in Roman times they burned the martyrs, in the Middle Ages were used as ritual purification; the first stake for heresy, for religious reasons, then, it was ordered by King Robert II of France, secular authorities, in 1022. In 1184 the Synod of Verona decided that the fire became the official death sentence for heresy before that the religious authorities, who by the time of the Carolingian Empire had to do with heresies, had proved to be “soft” in the fight against heretics, usually members of the clergy, preferring other alternatives to the death sentence, which the recantation under torture.

Between High and Late Middle Ages, from the eleventh century onwards, we see the “turning point”, to change the very concept of witchcraft. In the Carolingian period sorcerers, fortune-tellers, those who caused the storms, the healers were all manipulated the devil; funeral rites and masquerades, the negromanzie were practiced intensively and considered subversive activities, in contrast to the established order that the Church and the secular power were trying hard to impress. Throughout the Middle Ages witchcraft was a different phenomenon, enclosed in a “private” area and was reduced in casting the evil eye to close, to his harvest, his physicality and his animals; this without ever talking to the devil, but only maleficium: the ability, but above all the will to harm. These sins were punished more frequently with death by stoning that with the burning. From the thirteenth century, things changed: witches, warlocks and wizards acted big, hitting both individuals and communities, clutching an explicit pact with the devil, Satan, they became active accomplices.

We can see that between the two periods, the socio-cultural approach to the phenomenon of changes: from the simple “witch” woman / witch becomes a member of a sect, a well-organized community where she practiced voluntarily an evil witchcraft. These actions will certainly produced negative consequences, but we also discover that, subjectively, everything was amplified by superstition that permeated the consciousness of medieval society. The Middle Ages were always considered “superstitious”, this is because there was an ecclesiastical institution, the Church, which sanctioned without the possibility of exceptions the limits of his own universe, since I believe the internal organization (just think of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD), by time and space, characters and iconography. Anyone living outside of these “borders” was considered a sinner and among these there were many superstitious. The term superstitio same means, in ancient times before and medieval then, a deteriorated form of religio, in opposition to concepts of religious scruples. According to the great theoretical Christian and father of the church Sant Agostino, superstition was only a living survival of the number one enemy of Christianity: paganism. It was the dictates of the latter to create the close link between demonology and superstitions, with serious consequences: between the High Middle Ages and the fifteenth diabolical seduction was considered as one cause of the fall of man into sin. It was Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261) in order to take an interest not only pure religious heresy (that of Waldensian and Cathar), but also to witchcraft and divination. Such a decision superstitions rose up to the “upper room” of crimes against the faith and as such had to be confessed and purified by torture.

Before the Malleus Maleficarum, which in itself distinguished between “old witch” and new, meaning those that formed as mentioned seven demonic, there were provisions in various inquisitors manuals: that of 1270, the Office Summa Inquisition, and what the grand inquisitor Bernard Gui, a fervent French Dominican accuser Cathars, Waldensians, Jews, sorcerers, soothsayers and conjurers of devils. In the fourteenth century the continuous change of the political historical scenario helped the phenomenon to evolve: changing the cultural context (rural – villages – city) changed the nature of the persecutors. Sinners were not only judged by the Inquisition, but they could also appear before a secular or episcopal courts. Indeed, the bishop’s courts and the Inquisition had the sole task of judging the guilty, putting the sentence to the secular power. The years between 1350 and ‘400 were fundamental: intensified the processes and all the issues that concerned the witchcraft separately created a unique witch stereotype. It was named to the activities and excesses of evil witches Sabbath, not just deceptive dream inspired by the devil, but very specific reality, which sees the witches roam the streets of Aere, pay homage to Satan and have it away with him . These interpretations took root in the inquisitors, in the Church and in the writers. In the Middle Ages the devils are the lords of the dream, and looked on with infinite suspicion; creatures who did not act directly, they did not create and not destroy, causing man to sin by means of the imagination manipulation.

Relive it, more effectively than any explanation, the climate of suspicion, fear and blind superstition that is established with the eclipse of reason.



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Malleus Maleficarum Hammer of Witches.