I want to add a quick disclaimer to this episode. although this is still by far the tamest version of the European Witch Trials you'll ever find, I do mention genitals for oh, a solid minute and a half which is significantly more than I ever thought would happen in a book arts podcast. I swear it makes sense in context, and it is not explicit nor profane. But if you are listening to this with your grandparents or toddlers or in church or in a job interview, or anywhere else where if might make you feel weird to hear me say penis a half dozen times, I would recommend putting in some earbuds or saving this episode for later
Hello, welcome to Books in the Wild, the podcast about exploring books. I’m Keri Schroeder. Now that we are in October, I thought we would get into the Halloween spirit by talking about an infamous book called the Malleus Maleficarum, also known as the hammer of witches. A book responsible for fueling the heinous witch trials throughout Europe for oh, several hundred years.
As usual, we will delve into some book history and talk about the author and inquisitor Heinrich Kramer. Then we have a fantastic interview with rare books librarian Karen Wahl about her research on the printing developments of the Malleus Maleficarum, and a talk with writer and translator Valarie Williams about an 20th century supernatural scholar named Montague Summers.
For this episode, what I originally thought would be a fun witchy romp through book history, ended up being a little heavy, more than a little misogynistic, and a lot uncomfortable. So, I won't be getting into the gory details about the European witch trials on this podcast, but choosing to mainly focus on the Malleus Maleficarum itself and its author. There are plenty of gory details about the witch trials out there that you can easily find, trust me. Instead, I want to emphasize how powerful a book can be, for better or worse. The Malleus Maleficarum is after all, probably the most widely printed and bestselling book after the bible. It was the go-to witch hunting manual for centuries, and single-handedly altered the lore of witches forever. For example, much like prior to Bela Lugosi, the vampire trope didn't come with a strong Hungarian accent, but now the two are inseparable in due to Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula in 1931. Similarly, prior to the Malleus Maleficarum, witchcraft wasn't even primarily associated with women. Yet now the image of a witch being a single woman, with maybe some cats and hanging out with the devil is pretty ingrained in our minds even today.
So how did it all start? Please allow me to take you back on a journey to the year 1484 in Innsbruck, current day Austria. An overzealous Catholic clergyman named Heinrich Kramer has made it his personal duty to stamp out heresy wherever he finds it, to eradicate the sinful serpents in league with the devil, attempting to undermine and annihilate the Catholic church and with it all good and god-fearing mankind, evil which just so happens to usually manifest in the form of women. Now during this time period, there actually wasn't a strong belief in nor fear of witchcraft - for the most part, magic was seen as relatively harmless, perhaps outdated way of doing things. Before the late 1400’s, the general public did not yet associate magic as being in league with the devil, nor was it really considered to be a real threat against the church, nor was it primarily associated with women. Kramer however, believed whole-heartedly in the evils of witches...and women...and witch women. And he decided that witch-hunting to be his self-appointed life long mission.
In the town of Innsbruck, a knight named named Jorg Speiss comes down with a mysterious illness and dies. A young woman named Helena Scheuberin had been seen spending a little too much time with the nobleman, and doesn't seem overly cooperative in answering too many questions about their relationship. She is then accused of having an affair with the man, and later killing him with black magic. Heinrich Kramer, of course, is eager, one might say a little too eager to lead the trial. A trial that leads to six other women being accused of conspiring through sorcery alongside Scheuberin. But even the other members of the tribunal can't help but notice Kramer’s alarming obsession with Ms. Scheuberin’s sexual history and appalling disgust and disdain for women in general. His behavior is so unsettling, that the local bishop of Innsbruck subsequently dismisses Kramer from his position, and all seven women including Scheuberin are released with minor or no punishment. Let me repeat this point in case you aren't yet convinced of how unsettling this guy must have been: Heinrich Kramer was fired. by the Catholic church. for how he treated women. in medieval europe in 1484.
So newly jobless Kramer learns the error of his ways, understands that maybe the most effective way to spread his beliefs is through compassion and understanding, and spends the rest of his days humbly performing acts of charity and kindness across the globe. Nope, just kidding. Kramer loses his mind, convinced that witches were abound and conspiring against him and goes straight to Pope Innocent VIII to tell him all about it.
Now it might seem like the Catholic Church would have always been anti-witches, and for the most part they were, but there had been a hierarchy of magic, and a differentiation between white and black magic, and most transgressions could be absolved by simple confession. In 1080, Pope Gregory VII had written a papal bull, which is a public decree issued directly from the pope, that forbade the killing of witches, and that they shouldn't be blamed for things like crops failing or natural disasters.
It is 400 years after this decree that Kramer convinces Pope Innocent VIII that witches are area threat against the church. And so in late 1484, Kramer receives a papal bull, called Summis desiderantes affectibus basically declares that witchcraft is real, that it is a direct threat to the church in league with the devil, and that Kramer is the leading authority on witchcraft and that everyone should listen to what he says, sincerely the pope.
Here is an excerpt from that papal bull:
"[m]any persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals; these wretches furthermore afflict and torment men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, with terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases, both internal and external; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, ...they blasphemously renounce that Faith which is theirs by the Sacrament of Baptism, and at the instigation of the Enemy of Mankind they do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls, (...) the abominations and enormities in question remain unpunished not without open danger to the souls of many and peril of eternal damnation."
So now with this witch-hunting pope permission slip, Kramer sets to work writing one of the most ridiculous, misogynistic, fear-mongering, albeit comprehensive guide to witch hunting ever written - the Malleus Maleficarum. Now The Malleus Maleficarum is often attributed to two authors, Kramer and another man named Jacob Sprenger. However, the level of contribution from Sprenger (if any at all) is debatable, so I won’t talk much about him in this episode. But for the insatiably curious, Sprenger was a Dominican Friar who was named in the Papal Bull, but wasn't listed as a collaborator of the Malleus Maleficarum until 1519, 30 years after its first printing, and over 20 years after Sprenger’s death. It has been suggested that Sprenger actually didn’t care about witches and there is no evidence ever linking him to any witch trial. Rumor has it that that Sprenger and Kramer actually hated each other, and that Sprenger often went out of his way to make Kramer’s life and work as difficult as possible. It has been suggested that the addition of Sprenger’s name as a co-author could have been to give it a little more credibility, as Kramer himself wasn't really a likeable person even within the church.
The Malleus Maleficarum consists of 3 parts: one - what witches are and what they do, 2 - how to identify them, and: 3 - how to witch trial, aka properly punish and eradicate them. Kramer purports that there are many types of witches but what they all have in common is that they practice the carnal copulation with the devil, and are responsible for all sorts of evil deeds, including but not limited to hailstorms, drought, madness, poisoning men, making men insane, killing livestock, shapeshifting, sterility in men and animals; miscarriage and stillbirth, eating children, offering children to the devil, seducing men, creating mysterious illnesses, cannibalism, and stealing men’s semen so that they can bear demon babies. In fact, there are no less than 3 full paragraphs on demons and witches stealing semen, probably more, but I only made it through three. This includes a part about demons gathering spilled semen from the dirt to give to witches for their rituals, so be mindful of where you misplace your semen men….which is just….i have so many questions…
Kramer also includes an uncomfortably long section in the book about all the many ways that witches make men’s penises disappear. Sometimes the penis is gone completely, sometimes it just appears to be gone but isn't really, and sometimes the man is just bewitched into thinking that his penis is gone, sometimes the penis goes away in the middle of the night and comes back the next day. Sometimes it's in a box with a fox, sometimes it's with a mouse in a house. It's just a fun game we women like to do, go around hiding penises. Because you know, witches.
So you can see how the church was a little alarmed by Kramer’s unsettling preoccupations, but thanks to Pope Innocent the VIII, he now had the support he needed to really spread his unsavory message. Kramer really cemented the connection between magic and devils and women. Prior to the Malleus Maleficarum, sure some people believed that sorcery and magic were real, but there were a lot of masculine incarnates like wizards and warlocks and werewolves and other w’s. Post Malleus Maleficarum however, all women were especially susceptible to devilish temptations and it was the job of men to stamp out this evil. It elevated witchcraft and sorcery to the crime of heresy, which was punishable by death. Even the name Maleficarum is feminine. The masculine form of the word would be Maleficorum, and it is also this masculine form that would have been used to include all genders. So by specifically choosing to use the word Maleficarum, the term can really only pertain to women
Kramer claims that “the natural reason that women are more susceptible to evil than men “is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.”
In the book Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews: The Construction of the Witch in Early Modern Germany, author Sigrid Brauner states,
“According to the Malleus, the only way a woman can avoid succumbing to her passions – and becoming a witch – is to embrace a life of devout chastity in religious retreat. But the monastic life is reserved to the spiritually gifted few. Therefore, most women are doomed to become witches, who cannot be redeemed; and the only recourse open to the authorities is to ferret out and exterminate all witches”.
Wow. I'm gonna guess dear listener that you're probably thinking that all this is beyond bananas, right? And that no one, short of an actual medieval child-eating demon monster, can support this inflammatory flimsy drivel, right? You would be incorrect dear listeners. Instead, The Malleus Maleficarum is an unfortunate example of just how powerful books can be.
Because what else happened in late 15 century Germany? That's right book trivia winners, the Gutenberg press and the european printing revolution. Right behind the bible in being the first books to ever be printed, and therefore one of the most widespread, and most purchased book in the western world is The Malleus Maleficarum. And then what happened in europe right after the mass publication of the Malleus Maleficarum in the late 15th century? Why, that's when the 16th century kicked off the only the most brutal mass witch trials and executions for, oh, on and off for the next few hundred years. Now I'm not saying that Kramer was solely responsible for the development of misogyny, fear of magic, or lethal punishments for heresy. But he did tie all these disparate elements together into one tidy package.
And now here to talk about some of her up close and personal research on the Malleus Maleficarum, I’d like to introduce Karen Wahl, a Reference/Legal History and Rare Books Librarian at the Jacob Burns Law Library, a library that has eight copies of the Malleus dated from the time of the witch trials in their collection. She is also the previous past chair of the American Association of Law Library’s Legal History and Rare Book Special Interest Section. I was lucky enough to attend APHA last year, which is the American Printing History Association conference, where I was able to see Karen’s talk about the printing developments of the Malleus Maleficarum. Her presentation was so thought - provoking and fun that when I decided to do an episode on the topic this year, I contacted her right away. And now here’s my conversation with Karen Wahl.
Keri: Hi Karen. Thanks so much talking with us today. To start off, do you mind talking a little bit about the collection at The Jacob Burns Library. Who usually uses the library, and what is the collection’s focus?
Karen: The Jacob Burns Law Library is the library for the George Washington University Law School. As such, we’re a closed library who caters specifically to the law students and faculty of the university. That said, we also have one of the largest collections of rare legal material in the United States, which is open for use by researchers upon an appointment. Our rare book collection focuses primarily on the development of law of continental europe. As such, we have large collection of French, German, and Dutch law, Roman, Canon, and International law, and materials on the separation of church and state.
Keri: that makes sense.. and so how and why did the library acquire so many copies of Malleus?
Karen: One of our more interesting subcollections is a collection on witchcraft trials. These fall under our church and state collection, as they were some of the trials that were batted back and forth between ecclesiastical courts and secular courts. As part of that, we began collecting the Malleus Maleficarum, as it is one of the foundational documents that defined how to run these witchcraft trials.
Keri: that sounds super fascinating. So what was it that inspired you to research the Malleus Maleficarum?
Karen: It was sort of serendipity. In 2012, a couple of colleagues and I spoke about researching the Salem Witchcraft Trials at the American Association of Law Libraries conference in Boston. That certainly piqued my interest in our witchcraft trial collection as a whole. When I saw the American Printing History Association conference on “The Black Art & Printer’s Devils,” I started out by thinking, “Oh man, I want to go to that conference and learn everything.” I kept thinking of different interesting topics I could imagine being discussed, and started realizing that I could actually take part in that discussion. I had three different ideas, (the Malleus, witchcraft trial documents publication formats, and printing forgeries), and the idea that showcased our collection the best was looking at the printing developments of the Malleus Maleficarum.
Keri: Is anything known about the previous owners of the books? Were they just book collectors, or were they actually once owned by witch hunters?
Karen: Each of our copies is inscribed by at least one former owner, but what their relationship to the book was is not exactly clear. In a couple of cases, it’s clearly some sort of collector (they’ve dated their signatures in the mid to late 19th centuries, when witch hunting was no longer in vogue). In others, you have either a contemporaneous signature, an undated signature, or clearly another owner that has not inscribed his copy (which you can tell from a different handwriting in the marginalia). In our 1614 copy, in addition to the owner’s signature, there also a page of names written in the same hand. While I could totally be wrong, my hunch is that these are people that the owner suspected of being witches, which is so creepy. There are 20 names on the list! Our 1495 copy did end up in a library, probably a Jesuit library, in Montilla, Spain at some point. Unfortunately we don’t know quite when or whether it would have been used in the Inquisition. Sadly, I’m terrible at paleography, and no one’s done much research into the previous owners of our books to find out exactly who they were and what their relationship to this book was. So anyone looking for a research project- there you go. Come visit us.
Keri: first off, that would be such an amazing research project. And also yeah the last thing you want to see in the inscription of a witch hunting book is a list of names. Have you come across any other interesting marginalia?
Karen: Again, my paleography skills are not great, but yes, there is some marginalia, and where that marginalia is found is pretty interesting. In our 1494 Koberger edition, there is a LOT of marginalia and a number of manicules, but it’s all limited to the first part of the work, this would lead me to believe that it was primarily being used by someone interested in learning about the existence of witchcraft, rather than actually dispensing justice. Our 1495 edition (the copy that ended up in Spain) also has a lot of marginalia. In this case, instead of just pointing out sections to come back to, there are many more notations, (including one about how Zoroaster first discovered magic), and are not just limited to the first section, and also makes notations in the second section. Meaning that, in addition to determining if witchcraft exists, this owner also appears to be interested in identifying witches. Meanwhile, the 1519 edition’s notations are primarily centered around the section of how to try these cases. So, if our marginalia examples are indicative of the times, it really seems like there’s movement from trying to prove that witchcraft exists and is bad, to acceptance of that, and a focus on identifying and trying witches. When we move into the 17th century, when the witch hunting furor is dying down, we also see way less marginalia.
Keri: so at the Jacob Burns Library you've been up and close and personal with at least eight copies of the malleus. Are there notable variations in the different editions or are they fairly consistent?
Karen: As far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s not a huge variation in language between the different editions, but there’s definitely a development in the layout. In the later half of the 16th century, it appears that the authority of the Malleus is starting to be called into question a bit- you start seeing a table of authorities added to lend weight and credence to what’s been written in the Malleus. You also start seeing an index, which might imply that it was being used more as a reference work than something you were expected to read cover to cover.
Keri: Right. That's an interesting point. So who, or rather what kind of person would have originally purchased the book? Who was it marketed to?
Karen: This was basically Kramer’s manifesto, so I think he wanted as many people to read it as possible. But if I were to guess, I imagine it would be market to those in religious communities, especially those who were in the positions of Inquisitors.
Keri: And speaking of Henreich Kramer, he was a real prize wasn’t he? Do you mind telling us a little bit about him?
Karen: Hoooboy- where to start. He was an inquisitor during 15th century in Germany. We’re talking the period right before the Reformation when there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the church, and the church’s plan is to quash that dissatisfaction and calling it heresy. Kramer’s role as Inquisitor was to quash the heresies before they spread, and get people to recant and come back to the church. He takes it into his head that a major heresy that is rampant in Germany, and not being properly stamped out is witchcraft, which, at the time, is not really considered a big deal by…. Anyone else. There are a few differing viewpoints going on in this area of Germany at the time- 1) that magic doesn’t exist, and that those who “practice” are fooling themselves, and 2) that while people may practice magic, it is benign and can’t effect large changes, and isn’t a big deal. Kramer disagrees with both views, and says that 1) magic and witches are real, and 2) all practitioners of magic have made a pact with the devil, whether they realize it or not. His compatriots basically laugh at his ideas until he convinces the pope to agree with him, and the pope says, “You have to listen to him and aid him and in his desire to prosecute witches- it sounds like you guys have a big problem with that up there. Also, all of this applies to Jacob Sprenger as well.” (which is the main reason people associate Sprenger with Malleus as well) Kramer then writes the Malleus and as a preface, includes the this Papel Bull as sort of as a “SEE? I TOLD YOU SO.” to everyone who disagreed with him.
I really tried not to view this work from the point of view of a 21st century feminist, but it is really hard not to view this guy as a straight up misogynist. A fair amount of the first part all boils down to erectile disfunction and trying to find a way to blame it on women. And while sure, both men and women could both be witches and dabble in the dark arts, clearly women, being weak minded, would fall for the devil’s trickery more often. Come on, seriously?
Keri: I am so right there with you. You mentioned something interesting about the Polish translation of the Malleus. Can you talk a little bit about that, and why it’s of particular interest to you?
Karen: The existence of the 1614 Polish translation of the Malleus is fascinating to me. It’s the only time during the early modern period, when these witchcraft trials were actually taking place in Europe, when the Malleus was translated from Latin into a local language. You see a pretty drastic increase in witchcraft trials in Poland over the next 60 years after its publication. But one of the most interesting things is that the translation only includes the first two sections- the one set on proving the existence of witchcraft, and the one on how to identify a witch. The third section- the procedure for trying someone for witchcraft was left out of the translation. Now, don’t get me wrong, the procedures Kramer came up with weren’t particularly good or impartial or just. They allowed torture to be used to obtain evidence, and condoned pretty invasive searches to help identify witches. But there were at least SOME restrictions. In the Polish witchcraft trials, there WERE no restrictions. Torture of any and all types were able to be used not only to extract a confession but also to extract the identification of other witches.
Keri: That is truly frightening. Thank you so much Karen.
I'm sorry I keep repeating myself here, but it’s crazy to me that this book, on witch hunting, is one of the best selling, most widely printed books of all time. It was an imposing, hefty tome of a book. It was written in Latin, an authoritative holy language. Many renditions of the Malleus Maleficarum also set the text into 2 columns, reminiscent of the Gutenberg bible, perhaps to further emphasize it's holy importance. As was the style at the time, the book was original printed using blackletter, a heavy germanic typeface meant to mimic manuscript writing.
Then as Karen mentioned, just when the malleus started losing Steam, the papal bull was added in the preface, so just in case anyone tried to question Kramer’s bonkers theories, they would know they would be questioning the entire catholic church.
Kramer’s ideas of what constituted witches was so bizarre and so in depth, that really no one was safe from being accused of witch craft. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of it before - if you say you’re a witch, you’re a witch, if you deny being a witch, you’re a witch. Are you a single young woman with maybe too much male attention? Witch. And older woman who lives alone? Witch. Standing too close to a cat? Witch. If you get tossed in a river and float, you’re a witch, but if you’re tossed in a river and drown, maybe not a witch, but oops. It is estimated that between 40-60,000 women, men, and children were executed during the european witch trials in the 16th to mid-18th century.
And there is a direct correlation between the printing of the Malleus Maleficarum, and the spread and voracity of the witch trials. After its first pressing in 1487, twenty more editions were printed by 1520. This is when the witch hunts really started to pick up in Western Europe. This was followed by somewhat of a lull for nearly 54 years, until it was reprinted by a Venetian printer in 1574. Another 16 editions were made between 1574 and 1669, this time not just in official Latin, but now included translations in German and polish - common languages. Not so coincidentally, the witch trials during this time in Germany and Poland are well-documented as being particularly heinous.
The latest early modern printing of the Malleus Maleficarum was done in Frankfurt in 1698 - I say latest early modern printing not to try and be confusing, but to say this was the last time it was printed as a guidebook, for the purpose of actually hunting witches. After this printing, the book lay dormant for about 200 years until scholars started studying the history of the European witch trials.
Which brings us to the first English translation of the malleus maleficarum in 1923, and a strange goblin of a man named Montague Summers. Summers was a scholar on demonology and witchcraft described as having a rotund body but with disproportionately slender legs, an unusually high pitched screechy voice, had an old-fashioned judge's hairstyle and wore long black capes and a sword cane. So when he says scholar and expert on demonology, im thinking you know, maybe just an actual demon.
Keri: “so, Mr. Summers, how did you come to know so much about demonology and witchcraft?”
High-pitched demon voice: “oh you know, just learned from a friend. Hehehehhe”
Up next, I have asked Valarie Williams to speak more on Montague Summers and translations of the Malleus Maleficarum. Valarie holds a master’s degree in literature with a special interest in Romanticism, Medievalism, and Rilke. I was eager to hear Valarie’s statements on Summers as a writer and German/English translator.
Valarie: Wedged between Victorian Medievalism and Spiritualism - two periods that riveted Western Europe - came the birth of Montague Summers. By all accounts an odd man, English-born Summers took his country’s fascination with the Medieval to an extreme. Consumed with the ghouls of decrepit gothic abbey’s, Summers, a clergyman first, literary critic second, wrote about witches, vampires, and werewolves. For him, this wasn’t pornography or social commentary disguised as bone-chilling horror pulp; Summers believed in the existence and presence of each.
A prominent man of letters, Summers studied and wrote extensive criticism on 17th century texts before turning his attention to supernatural matters. He covered all the greats of the period, the individuals who led the cannon before setting his sights on an ambitious little translation project: bringing the Malleus Maleficarum into English, a text that offers insight into the minds of early modern lawmakers. For a man who believed vampires and werewolves lived among society, the Hammer Against Witches wasn’t a matter of intrigue, Summers set out to warn society.
Much like the originators of the Hammer, Montague Summers had his concerns about who was who and what was what. Though the English are often accused of xenophobia, Summers seemed preoccupied with the presence of the supernatural rather than the foreign. This was betrayed by the word VAMPIRE written on white cloth on the side of his portfolio bag, which he carried along with his shovel - yes, ole Monty walked around with a shovel in hand, like an angry Eastern European villager chasing down Frankenstein.
Though his accoutrements might seem strange, and his real reasons for translating the Malleus Maleficarum into English from its original Latin are not precisely known, Montague Summers was not the first to do it, nor was he the first to reprint it. In fact, it became a necessity since the text was not always in regular production. The invention of the Gutenberg press and moveable type enabled the text to remain in circulation during its 300 year heyday, and the book remained a bestseller, after the bible. When witchcraft became suspect, a book could be printed, like an early form of print-on-demand. To ensure the Church and lawmakers, often one and the same, were able to access the information within the text, Kramer wrote it in Latin.
Conceptualized in Switzerland and published in Germany it begs the question why the Malleus Maleficarum was written in Latin rather than German. Kramer wrote the text while present in a German-speaking society, after all. If German had been the lingua franca of the 15th century, perhaps he would have, but, Latin was still regarded as the universal language. It would be years before Latin would be replaced by French, and eventually English, as the language of law, church, and business. Kramer’s conscious decision to pen the Malleus Maleficarum ensured that any learned man, a man who could also quite easily carry out justice in the name of God, State, or both, could access the text and utilize it to its full extent.
By the time Montague Summers came into the world, French had replaced Latin, English replaced French and the Malleus Maleficarum was once again called to print. Since the sun had yet to set on the British Empire, perhaps there was no more logical place on Earth for the Hammer Against Witches to return to the hearts and minds of law, church, and business. The English believed witches were bad for business since King James I, a guy who regularly sought religious counsel, prayer, and publicly shared contempt for witches and witchcraft whenever his merchant ships took to the seas. Guess who got blamed when one of those ships sunk?
In ole’ Monty’s days society still had its preoccupation with the welfare of commerce, especially the British Empire and the Industrialists of America. The captains of industry on both sides of the Atlantic weren’t paying the church for prayer over their business affairs like a good Early Modern businessperson might. These folks were running to the new religion of the day: Spiritualism. A religion the not only asserts the existence of an afterlife but also the notion that the dead can be communicated with, and boy can they talk! Magician Houdini famously denounced Spiritualism while Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and practically every other author, artists, and interesting person alive in the early 20th century, gave it credence. After artists embraced it, industrialists soon followed, shelling out good money for advice from the other side and any other psychic predictions they could gather. The Western World couldn’t get enough of the supernatural. Enter Montague Summers, his shovel, and his English translation of the Malleus Maleficarum.
Latin hadn’t fallen out of favor completely, yet English traveled further in the early 20th century. A new translation brought new literary and social attention to the legal guide previously legitimized by the church. Though Latin was still used by the Church when Summers translated the Malleus Maleficarum, English superseded its importance in legal and cultural matters. Those with power and influence, those who could execute a hunt and a hearing would have done so in English, not Latin. Unfortunately for Montague Summers, no one was really hunting for witches during his day or looking to blame someone for impotence, failed shipments or crops dying. Not to be beat, ole Monty moved on to study, and warn against, vampires and werewolves.
Keri: Thank you Valarie. As Valarie mentioned, witchhunting lost much of its steam by the 19th and 20th century, though when you think about things like the Satanic Panic in the 1980’s and the West Memphis Three who were teenagers wrongfully accused of murder in 1994 because they listened to devil worshipping music, you can see some pretty contemporary after effects. Even Harry Potter has been banned on and off from libraries because it promotes witchcraft. Books can be pretty powerful things. Wars have been fought over books. Books have been stolen and forged, and not necessarily always for monetary reasons, but simply for power. Books have been banned and destroyed out of fear of how readers will react. And not just benign books like Harry Potter, but potentially dangerous books like Mein Kampf, The Turner Diaries, or Anarchist Cookbook. And even though there are a lot of questionable ideas and opinions available online, or through other unofficial channels, the book form itself is imbued with certain sense of authority, and can really add credibility for some otherwise pretty crazy ideas. So I guess the answer is to be mindful, and ask questions, and do your research. And especially this day and age, if someone is pushing some questionable source material on you, like maybe how all women are witches and eat babies and hide penises, just make sure that they’re not their own source.
If you're curious about reading the Malleus Maleficarum, you can easily find free e-versions online, it is very much in the public domain. If you would like to read more ABOUT the Malleus Maleficarum and the european witch trials, my recommended reading list is as follows
The book that Karen Wahl really needs to write.
Sigrid Brauner’s book Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews: The Construction of the Witch in Early Modern Germany
The "Malleus Maleficarum" and the construction of witchcraft: Theology and popular belief by Hans Peter Broedel
Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History by Alan Charles Kors
For listening recommendations, Historical Blindness is a great podcast that covers obscure and mysterious history, and right now they have a two-parter episode about the rise of the Satanic Panic in the 1980’s starting all the way back in the medieval period. You can check that out at historicalblindness.com
Another podcast that I enjoy is Monster Talk, a paranormal podcast released by Skeptic Magazine. In episode 110, they interview author Brian Regal about his research on Montague Summers and it is fascinating. You can find Monster Talk at skeptic.com/podcasts
Again, I would like to thank Karen Wahl and Valarie Williams for being so generous with their time, knowledge, and expertise.
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