The Myth Of The Witch

Decent Essays

The image of the witch did not exist until the late fifteenth century. While the witch did exist in the popular imagination, the term “witch” was not yet synonymous with “female.” Although the witch craze was an early modern phenomenon, the stereotype of the female witch is rooted in several elements of late medieval witchcraft which antedate the witch hunts, and the time period that scholars recognize as most critical for the formation of the witch lies between the years 1430 and 1660. Before this time period, witchcraft, sorcery, and maleficium (magic) were dismissed as false superstition. Gradually, much of Medieval Europe began seriously believing that they were dealing with an omnipresent, uncontrollable threat of as many as “ten …show more content…

Arguably, the most important medieval work on witchcraft was the Malleus maleficarum, or the Hammer of Witches, written by Dominican inquisitor Heinrich Kramer in 1487. With 30,000 copies and over thirty different editions in circulation by the end of the seventeenth century, the Malleus can be considered an early modern “best seller”. Without the invention of the printing press forty years before, it is unlikely that the witch craze would have taken on such a large following. According to Eisenstein, the witch-craze was actually a by-product of Gutenberg’s invention. Kramer was a highly educated professor of theology at the University of Salzburg, Austria. After its publication, the Malleus was widely used as a handbook for the persecution of witches throughout Europe. In Part I, Kramer establishes the reality of witches and how the disbelief in witchcraft and demonology was heresy; Part II, Kramer describes stories of witchcraft; and finally, in Part III he provides instructions for the legal procedures to be followed in witch trials. The Malleus is most famous for its cementing of the female diabolical witch in Christendom. Two decades ago, historian Christina Larner warned that while studying the feminization of

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