The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger

malleuspdf1The Malleus Maleficarum, also known as The Witches’s Hammer or Hammer of the witches, was a non-fiction book published in 1487 by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. This book is in the top 5 important non-fiction books in western history. If you haven’t heard of it you most likely would have heard of the ramifications of this book, if you know about western history. This book can be described as «the professional manual for witch hunters».

The book is divided into three parts; 1. Proving that witches and witchcraft exist. 2. Identifying what a witch and witchcraft is. 3. How to prosecute accused witches.

As a non-fiction book it delves into three different genres of non-fiction. Part one draws it’s sources from a theological standpoint, but it also draws inspiration from natural science. In the middle-age natural science was getting a new foothold in Europe, especially regarding the discovery of the new worlds (Australia, North-, Latin-, and South-America). With people’s accounts, drawings and artefacts told about these far off lands. The witch hunters had a somewhat similar project, except they wanted to know about the devil.

trier_hexentanzplatz_1594
Hexentanzplatz in Trier (Flugblatt, 1594)

Witches who had seen, talked and dealt with the devil was proof of the devils existence. Having the witches describe how they did their act wasn’t just about heresy, but an exploration. Part two about identifying witches and witchcraft is similar to a humanist science. Here they use witness accounts to show what they are talking about. (Though I do doubt if there were any other people involved with this. From one of the story a woman whom is dying “Thus I die, because that woman, with God’s permission” (Part II. Qn. 1. Ch. 12). The Phrase ‘with God’s permission’ is referred to all the time in the general text as a precursior to witchcraft. It’s something the witch and devil does ‘with God’s permission’ due to God giving human free will and no-one being greater than God).

Don’t get me wrong. When I call it natural or humanistic science I don’t mean this is a sound scientific book. It’s more to show how the witch hunters was inspired by the new scientific trends.

The third part is more akin to a legal document with fixed speeches that the judge had to say. It was interesting to see that they admit people can give false witness, but that this isn’t that big of a deal.

hamburger_stadtrecht_1497
Hamburg stadtrecht (1497)

What I thought about while reading this book was both about the witch hunt trials (I studied it in school, which was why I wanted to read this in the first place), but also to role of the non-fiction book and how that genre has changed. This book wasn’t written the way I’m used to with non-fiction. It has a set of questions, presented the argument behind the question. The first question is “Whether the Belief that there are such Beings as Witches is so Essential a Part of the Catholic Faith that Obstinacy to maintain the Opposite Opinion manifestly savours of Heresy.”, where they present the arguments to people who claim witches aren’t real, that it’s just a glamour and not actual harm etc. Then the give answer to those questions. The positive way with doing this that you as a reader get to hear both sides, even if you are meant to side with one of them. Kramer and Sprenger also refer a lot to other writers and their writing. The the first two parts are written as if it’s a conversation. A conversation with other scientist and theologians, a conversation with the Bible and other writings and a conversation with you as the reader who doubt what they are saying. It’s a conversation you have no say in, but it was still interesting to see a non-fiction book written as a conversation and not a monologue.

 

I think this was how non-fiction books were written at the time, but I haven’t read enough non-fiction to say. I’ve tried to find an article or book talking about non-fiction books as a genre, but can’t find any. Which I think is sad. I’ve tried my hand at essays last year and it took a while before I got it. Before I realised how I was supposed to read that kind of non-fiction books. I think different non-fiction books needs different ways of reading them, but I’m not sure. Are you a big reader of non-fiction? What is your experience with the genre? History buffs has the book changed through time? I mean the way it’s written, not just the facts. Why don’t we talk about the non-fiction book as a genre?

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