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'Where there are many women there are many witches': The Social and Intellectual Understanding of Femininity in the Malleus Maleficarum (1486)

Jessica O'Leary[1], Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Monash University

 

Abstract

This paper analyses the social and intellectual understanding of femininity contained in Question Six of the first part of the witchcraft treatise Malleus Maleficarum (1486). Despite the chapter's notoriety, a focused textual analysis of this section is infrequently attempted, especially outside of witchcraft studies. The chapter needs to be read in the context of Heinrich Kramer's life as an inquisitor and against his personal beliefs. Scrutinising Kramer's gendered approach to religious transgressions through his motivations, contextual clues, and textual sources will give further insight into the mind of one of pre-modern Europe's most famous misogynists, a polarising figure even in his own time, and offer a different interpretation of that most vexed question in witchcraft theory: why women?

Keywords: Witchcraft, Gender, Intellectual history, Early Modern Europe, Malleus Maleficarum, Misogyny

Introduction

In the four centuries from 1400 to 1800, several European and North American societies were troubled by the spectre of the witch (Levack, 1995). The persecution of accused witches in Europe resulted in the trial and sometimes torture and execution of tens of thousands of victims, about 80 per cent of whom were women (Levack, 1995: 21-26). This has left witchcraft scholars asking, 'why women?', a question to which there is still no answer, despite over forty years of witchcraft studies. The infamous witchcraft treatise Malleus Maleficarum (1486), written by Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer (alias Institoris), is often blamed for this startling figure (Brauner, 1995). The Malleus was published around thirty times between 1486 and 1669 and was, by contemporary standards, a bestseller in Germany and later in France (Behringer and Jerouschek, 2000: 9). Although not directly responsible for witchcraft trials, the Malleus had a significant impact on the intellectual history of witchcraft. Demonologists like Johannes Nider had already posited the susceptibility of women to witchcraft in the early fifteenth century, but the Malleus was the first text to argue this point so virulently and with reference to sources outside of typical scholastic arguments, such as popular belief and personal experience (Bailey, 2002). However, this text is deeply misunderstood outside of witchcraft studies, despite the treatise's approach to female religious transgression affecting contemporary understandings of femininity in Germanic and later Francophone parts of early modern Europe.

This article analyses Kramer's social and intellectual understanding of femininity as presented in Question Six of the first part of the Malleus Maleficarum. Question Six is a chapter of the text dedicated to explaining why women are predisposed to witchcraft based on their innate physical and intellectual limitations. Despite the chapter's notoriety, a focused textual analysis of this section is infrequently attempted, especially outside of witchcraft studies where the text is seen as misogynist with no concessions made to its literary and historical complexities. Yet, the treatise's view of female nature is not as simplistic as modern scholarship suggests. By grounding a close analysis of Question Six in its historical context, this article will offer a different interpretation of that most vexed question in witchcraft theory: why women?

Background: the Malleus Maleficarum, witchcraft, and Heinrich Kramer

The Malleus Maleficarum is a demonological treatise divided into three separate parts: the nature of witches, the harm they do, and the best way to prosecute them. It was written by Heinrich Kramer and composed in the scholastic tradition, a term used to refer to the methodology that characterised the pedagogy and argumentation used by scholars from about the twelfth century to the sixteenth century (Plitz, 1981).The issue of authorship is vexed, but Behringer and Jerouschek (2000) have provided a persuasive argument which demonstrates that the Malleus was wholly written by Kramer. According to Behringer and Jerouschek, Kramer claimed to have written the book after its publication and Sprenger too denied his authorship according to Servatius Frankel. Although Christopher Mackay (2006: 6) roundly declares these claims to be 'nugatory', prominent witchcraft historian Erik Midelfort (2011: 99) believes, on balance, that those who argue for Kramer's exclusive authorship have 'made the better case'. It is probable that a conservative figure within the Dominican movement like Sprenger would not have diverged as dramatically as Kramer did from accepted sources and correct scholastic disputation.

Kramer pushed for witchcraft to be seen not only as a manifestation of physical magic (so that it could be tried in secular courts), but also as a separate heresy (the adherence to a religious belief contrary to church dogma). Both of these elements had not previously been argued so forcefully, even in Nider's treatises. Kramer argued that magic was actually capable of causing physical damage, hence its need to be tried in the courts as a form of property damage, assault, and other misdemeanours. Kramer's novel arguments were not well received prior to the publication of the Malleus when he was an inquisitor, especially by local authorities (Behringer, 2001). From 1482-84 Kramer participated in local trials and surviving evidence suggests his intense questioning, which amongst other things often asked intimate details of the accused's sex life, caused consternation among local ecclesiasts who eventually resisted Kramer's attempts to charge women with malefica (Broedel, 2003: 3). Thus, Kramer sought out papal reassurance for his beliefs and received it in 1484; the Summis desiderantes affectibus (Desiring with Supreme Ardor).

The Summis is a papal bull issued by Innocent VIII which authorised formal inquisition against all witches in German church provinces (Wilson, 1996). Kramer relied on the Summis to ensure the co-operation of the bishopric of Innsbruck in his inquisition of 1485-86. Yet the inquisition of Innsbruck, which began in July 1485, was not successful despite Bishop Golser's initial agreement upon seeing the bull. Bishop Golser asked Kramer to leave several times, eventually involving the archduke in the process, following the uproar of the Tyrolean citizens over the intimidation, brutal force, and torture employed by Kramer. Eventually the bishop stopped the trial, nullified its results, and released all accused, much to the chagrin of Kramer (Wilson, 1996). The contrast in Kramer's exaggerated claims of success regarding these trials in the Malleus compared to actual trial records suggest that he was motivated in part by his personal experiences to write the Malleus, if at least to clear his name.

After the publication of the Malleus, details surrounding Kramer's career as inquisitor of witches are less clear. Although it appears he had success in 1488 in Trier and Metz, and again in Nuremberg in 1491, it appears that Jacob Sprenger silenced him, at least in Germany (Jerouschek, 1991). Sprenger obtained permission upon his promotion in 1487 to release the adversus m[agistrum] Henricum Institoris inquistorem (against Master Heinrich Kramer, inquisitor), defaming the inquisitor, and stopping his German career. Sprenger's denouncement did not quench Kramer's inquisitorial zeal as he eventually found other heresies to exterminate across Europe (Behringer, 2001). After Sprenger died in 1495, Kramer reappeared in the late 1490s and early 1500s documenting the miracles of Italian female mystics and toiling against the Bohemian Brethren heresy in Moravia before dying himself in 1505 (Herzig, 2010).

Literature review

Witchcraft studies generally

When witchcraft studies re-emerged as an important part of early-modern scholarship forty years ago, historians such as Hugh Trevor Roper (1967) concentrated on two major points: establishing when and where the mythology of diabolism originated, and examining how the legal process was manipulated in such a way as to make charges of diabolism credible (Midelfort, 1999). This top-down approach to history reached its apex in the mid-1970s in the work of Norman Cohn and Richard Kieckhefer, who demonstrated that witchcraft was mostly a learned fantasy driven by obsessive, misogynistic inquisitors. This view was dramatically revised by historians such as Alan MacFarlane (1970), H.C. Erik Midelfort (1972), E. William Monter (1976), and Wolfgang Behringer (1987) who applied a regional approach to the areas of Essex, south-western Germany, French-speaking Switzerland and Bavaria respectively to test how well these generalisations withstood geographically-focused scrutiny. These studies, inspired by anthropology, demonstrated that witchcraft trials were social forces controlled by the general populace, a thesis restated for the entire field by Robin Briggs in his seminal Witches and Neighbours (1996). Witchcraft scholars now generally agree that popular beliefs and localised fears played a critical role in encouraging the witchcraft trials, since no one has yet successfully proven that there was a single 'reason' for the witch trials, popular or elite.


The Malleus Maleficarum

The Malleus was once thought to be a crucial contributor to the gendering of witchcraft; historians such as Brian Levack (1987) and later Stuart Clark (1999) have debated its importance in this field. Recent scholarship, however, has re-established the contribution made by the Malleus to the concurrent diabolisation and feminisation of witchcraft in the fifteenth century. German scholars including Wolfgang Behringer, Günter Jerouschek and Peter Segl, in addition to the Lausanne group and Anglophone historians such as Tamar Herzig (2006, 2010) and Hans Peter Broedel (2003), agree that the Malleus followed Dominican theologian and reformer Johannes Nider in feminising witchcraft, but did so more insistently and with the benefit of the emerging printing press, the exploitation of popular belief, the perceived support of the Pope, the highly influential theology department of the University of Cologne (although allegedly forged (Behringer, 2001)), and Jacob Sprenger, a high-ranking Dominican. These studies have seen a return to the thesis that the Malleus, or rather Kramer, was focused on exposing the heresy of female witches, despite the inclusion of male witches in the text (c.f. Apps and Gow, 2003). Apps and Gow (2003) too have been at the forefront of male witchcraft studies, but that is not the focus of this article.

Kramer's understanding of femininity in the Malleus has also benefited from the renewed interest in the treatise. The discussion of Question Six of the Malleus in particular gained significant notoriety among contemporaries and historians alike. Initially, historians such as Sidney Anglo (1977) believed it was simply the case of a chaste friar's fear of female sexuality, but this reading has been dismissed. Hans Peter Broedel (2003) asserts that the Malleus's gendering of witchcraft was less an attack on women, but more an attack on the debilitating power of their sexuality. Tamar Herzig's 2006 and 2010 studies argue that Kramer did not gender witchcraft, but heresy. Women, being carnal creatures, were prone to the physicality of witchcraft. Men, being rational, were susceptible to creating the complex thought of heresies like that of the Waldensians. Thus, Kramer was merely extending fifteenth-century gender tropes to religious transgressions. As Peter Segl (1988) has shown, the life of Heinrich Kramer was one of persecution. He pursued heretics his entire life and this singular focus motivated and permeated his writings.

 

Methodology

It has become increasingly important to analyse the key demonological texts of the witchcraft trials, not for their direct effect on trials, but for the way in which witchcraft theory was developed so as to legally and morally justify the persecution of witches (Ankarloo et al., 2002: 1). This article and many others have been stimulated by seeking to understand why the diabolisation of the female sex was considered to be a serious intellectual pursuit by early modern writers. Almost thirty years ago, Christina Larner (1984: 56) argued that witch-hunting was not women-hunting, but that certain women were believed to be witches. While this seems circular, there were particular aspects of womanhood that were predisposed to witchcraft accusations in the fifteenth century and beyond. Recent attempts to understand the evolution of 'witch', 'witchcraft', and how the idea of witchcraft functioned and fit into the learned discourse of fifteenth-century witchcraft has been driven by the ground-breaking methodology of Stuart Clark (1999). Clark (1999: 110-11) expanded Larner's reasoning and suggested that historians ask why conditions in late-medieval and early-modern Europe facilitated the association of women with the crime of witchcraft. Michael Bailey (2002) followed Clark and analysed both the social and intellectual context of theologian Johannes Nider's 1437 treatise, Formicarus (Ant Hill), to understand how Nider rationalised the association of women with witchcraft. I will use this same socio-literary methodology to analyse Kramer's understanding of femininity in the Malleus Maleficarum in order to understand why Kramer felt it essential to link women to witchcraft.

 

Textual analysis

Part One, Question Six of the Malleus Maleficarum explains why women are more prone to witchcraft than men. Kramer contends that the intrinsic characteristics of the female sex are inferior to those of their male counterparts, giving them motive to access diabolical magic in order to increase their power. This motive originates in the inherent carnality of women which, in addition to their credulity, makes them more susceptible to malevolent witchcraft. Any clarification of this notion of women requires close analysis of Kramer's text and his sources as well as the previous section's contextualisation of his life, in order to understand how Kramer considered women.

The previous misunderstanding of the Malleus may be attributed partly to its translation by Montague Summers, originally published in 1928. Summers' translation has been uniformly criticised for its Catholic bias and myriad inaccuracies. The 2000s saw a burst of excellent scholarly translations, the best of which is Behringer and Jerouschek's (2000) Der Hexenhammer, but English speakers have benefited immensely from Christopher Mackay's two-volume edition (2006) based on a first edition print run of the Malleus. P.G. Stuart (2007) also published a fine abridged translation, but excludes or summarises crucial sections – including Part One, Question Six on which this article is based – as well as using a sixteenth-century print. This article will use the Mackay edition, despite Behringer and Jerouschek's superior German translation, for ease of reference for English speakers.


Composition and structure

The text of the Malleus Maleficarum was probably a hurried affair, composed in nine months and riddled with factual and logical inconsistencies (Behringer, 2001). Kramer contradicts himself on numerous occasions; the contents page lists 48 questions, but there are 86 chapters unevenly distributed over three parts, two of which are divided further. That said, Herzig (2010) shows that Kramer was equally careless with mistakes in his later tracts on heresy. It seems that he was more concerned with disseminating his ideas then ensuring their cohesiveness. Regardless, historians give many reasons for Kramer's haste: a lack of printing offers (the Malleus was first printed in the middle-sized town of Speyer as opposed to Augsburg or Strasbourg (Geldner 1962)), anticipating the enmity of Jacob Sprenger, and even a fear of the impending apocalypse (Behringer, 2001). Like other fundamentalist writers, Kramer used the Book of Revelation in his Apologia auctoris (Author's apology) to argue that he wrote the treatise because the emergence of the witches' sect was one sign of the imminent arrival of the Antichrist and this permitted any means necessary to eradicate the heresy (Kramer, 2006: 28-31).


Sources

The Apologia states that the Malleus is simply a collection of the work of previous authors, placed into a single volume (Kramer, 2006: 28-29). This was a common modesty trope expected of a humble Dominican friar because the work is much more than a simple anthology. The authorities invoked by Kramer vary: Scripture; Church Fathers; classical writers such as Aristotle, Seneca and Cicero; Jewish and Christian writers such as Augustine, Maimonides, Albert and Thomas. Yet, when it comes to arguing that women are indeed more likely to be witches, these weighty authorities are used only superficially. The foundation of Question Six is derived from contemporary fifteenth-century sources, a curious anomaly that reflects how radical Kramer's position was. The traditional sources he did use were all employed selectively, 'so that single observations, sentences, and even mere phrases, are ripped out of context and used as if they have universal validity' (Anglo, 1977: 18). Kramer's preference for fifteenth-century sources has not yet been noted as significant in the scholarship, but it is an important element of understanding the question of women. It demonstrates that Kramer had no traditional – and therefore more prestigious – theological doctrine to support his thesis that women were inherently predisposed for witchcraft. In essence, Kramer had to rely on relatively lesser sources (at least in comparison to figures such as Augustine and Thomas), while maintaining the façade of prestige (by superficially referencing ancient and Christian authors) in order to make his point authoritatively.

These fifteenth-century authors have been identified as theologian and reformer Johannes Nider and Florentine preacher Antoninus of Florence (Mackay, 2006: 36). Mackay specifically identifies Nider's Praceptorium (1.11.21) and Formicarius (5.8) as Kramer's inspiration for the theory of Question Six. Moreover, Bailey (2002: 127-28) suggests that Book Five of the Formicarius, entitled 'De maleficis et eorum deceptionibus' (On witches and their deceptions), was the basis of Kramer's understanding of the sect of witches. Certainly, Chene and Ostorero's (2000) comparison of the two treatises is highly suggestive of Nider's influence. Yet the witches Nider described at length were men, Hoppo and Scavius, because Nider thought that readers would react with astonishment to the notion of women as witches, or rather women exhibiting power (Bailey, 2002). This demonstrates that Nider believed his peers would not have expected women to be capable of witchcraft and a similar statement could be made with regard to Kramer's peers. With regard to Antoninus, André Schnyder (1993:128) observes that Kramer relied on the Florentine for many of the anti-female tropes in Question Six. They are lifted, often verbatim, from his Summa theologica, specifically the vicious litany, 'De diversis vitiis mulierum per alphabetum' (on the vices of women, in alphabetical order 3.1.25). For example, under F we find the (inaccurate) definition for femina, defined as false fides: foemina femeno id est minus fide (False Faith: female from femeno, that is, lacking faith) which Kramer copied without citation in probably his most quoted section discussed below (Kramer, 2006: 117).


Question Six

Kramer's dependence on these texts to drive both the structure and argument of Question Six highlights just how novel his views were in the context of both women and the physical manifestation of magic. Kramer needed to use Question Six to change the opinion of his peers. Presumably, the most effective method would be to engage with scholastic tradition and offer a well-argued treatise. Yet Kramer employed vitriol in preference to sound logic when it came to writing about witchcraft and this marked a significant turning point in demonological discourse. Kramer eschews the traditional question-and-answer process found in scholasticism by stating that 'it would certainly not be helpful to cite arguments to the contrary [why witches are mostly women]' (Kramer, 2006: 112). In contrast to Nider, who employed a traditional, if slightly diluted, scholastic argument to argue the existence of witches, Kramer ignores scholastic obligations of logic in favour of referring to personal experience. Kramer's reasoning is that 'experience itself makes such things believable more than do the testimony of words and trustworthy witnesses' (Kramer, 2006: 112). This is quite astounding, and not quite factual. We know from the context discussed above that Kramer's experience was not trustworthy testimony for Bishop Golser, the archduke, and all of Innsbruck. Kramer was forced to invent a new motley 'scholastic' structure to convince his audience based on experience and folk belief, not logic. As Sidney Anglo (1977: 19) puts it, 'despite appearances to the contrary, this work is not an argument but rather a series of assertions masked by an accumulation of authorities and exemplars assembled in disputational form.' Kramer was aware that he could not logically argue the existence of witches and their physically manifested magic because of the implications that would follow. Kramer instead urges his readership to rely on his personal experience over traditional methods of scholastic disputation. Whether such a disclaimer is an attempt either to absolve himself of his logical misdemeanours or to reveal his personal fear of demonic conspiracy (such that it must be communicated regardless of theological support) is moot. In either case, it shows Kramer's attitude towards women, despite his reliance on other texts, to be original for the reasons that follow.

The first sentence of the first question, 'why a larger number of sorcerers are found among the delicate female sex than among men', forcefully reminds the reader that the female sex is fragile and limited. While there would have been no need to remind a contemporary reader, as this concept was so socially ingrained, its inclusion is telling. The chapter's goal is to reinforce the late-medieval misogynist understanding of femininity, and connect it to contemporary women. For Kramer, women were the most logical practitioners of magic, because magic was innately physical, like women, and therefore women could easily wield it as opposed to the more intellectual heresies which required (male) reason and rationality. Female physicality was derived from female carnality, a legacy of Christian theology (Kramer, 2006: 117) as well as classical Greek sources. All other female characteristics stemmed from this physicality, such as changeability. Changeability (a result of women's variable complexions) rendered females perfidious and prone to apostasy. Female caprice could be an advantage, however, because a woman's variableness could be exploited by preachers to educate other women on these dangers and sway their loyalties toward the church (Kramer, 2006: 112). Such female characteristics were very common in medieval thought, but they had not yet been provided as reasons for female propensity toward witchcraft, at least in intellectual treatises. It was common in German folk belief to regard women as responsible for malevolent weather-magic and night-flight. Kramer, by linking diabolism to the local beliefs of witchcraft, created a new understanding of femininity for his readership (albeit pieced together using existing sources). This understanding could not be argued using traditional scholastic means, as it was logically fallible; hence Kramer's dogged persistence in presenting real-life experience as inescapable evidence for the existence of (female) witches.

The remainder of Question Six is an enumeration of women's common defects, linked to witchcraft, and rendered through the use and misuse of Kramer's mostly fifteenth-century sources. From woman's natural physical weakness, there is a mind prone to error, and a disposition susceptible to change and collaboration with evil to achieve the object of her lust. The basis of this 'defect' is in the 'original shaping of woman, since she was formed from a curved rib […] from this defect there also arises the fact she is an imperfect animal, she is always deceiving, and for this reason she is always deceptive' (Kramer, 2006: 117). Although the first part, female imperfectness, is probably taken from Thomas Aquinas, the latter half is an amalgamation of Nider's assertion that witches (both male and female) deceive (Nider, Formicarius: 5.8) and a garbled accusation made by Antoninus that women always think they are being deceived (Antoninus, Summa theologica: 3.1.25).

Antoninus's accusation probably arose on account of female changeability, and Kramer manipulated the quote to present women as actively deceiving other people, rather than being passively deceived. This was typical of how Kramer treated his sources. Kramer too argues that Cato saw women as capable of 'setting a trap with tears' and that 'while a woman cries, she is striving to deceive her man' (Kramer, 2006: 117). The irony being that Kramer is in fact deceiving his reader. Only the first quote can be attributed to Cato as the second was a common medieval adage. Kramer was attempting to justify popular belief with the prestige of ancient writers, and given past evidence of his forgery, it is unlikely that this was a mistake. Perhaps Kramer felt justified in twisting the words of his sources because of the imminent apocalyptic danger. Whatever his reasoning, the methodology of attributing something vicious to a prestigious author and grounding it in popular belief was very effective at generating the fear of the sorceresses Kramer desired.

Kramer relied on Antoninus for many pithy tropes designed to secure the reader's attention and agreement with his 'argument'. One frequently cited example, that women are faithless creatures by nature, is perhaps the most famous of the Malleus. Kramer argues that 'the word "femina" essentially is derived from the Latin for faithless' (Kramer, 2006: 117). Yet, as we have seen, Kramer's most famous quote is taken verbatim from Antoninus's Summa (Mackay, 2006: 117). Kramer uses this linguistic confirmation of female proclivity for apostasy to state that 'Woman, therefore, is evil as a result of nature because she doubts more quickly in the Faith. She also denies the Faith more quickly, this being the basis for acts of sorcery' (Kramer: 2006, 117). Kramer promptly asserts that it is women's very nature to become evil, and there is seemingly no way to avert such calamities.

What many scholars do not acknowledge, however, is that in between these two statements, Kramer praises the Virgin Mary for her grace which allowed her to remain full of faith when it had failed in 'all the men at the time of the Passion of Christ', thus nuancing Kramer's misogyny (Kramer, 2006: 117). This hints at Kramer's later involvement with female mystics and demonstrates that Kramer's understanding of femininity was based on the denial of the faith; women's abjuring of their God. Although it is inherent in the female sex to be deceitful, Kramer believes that if women resisted temptation, or sexual activity, they would be able to obtain the grace of the Virgin through their chastity. This was quite progressive in the fifteenth century as most theologians believed that Mary 'represented an unattainable ideal for all other women, for no other women could hope to give birth to the Messiah' (Wiesner, 2000: 19). Yet, when Kramer later praised the sanctity of four Italian mystics, he praised their chastity above all else, believing them to possess the grace of the Virgin (Herzig, 2006). It is critical in his defending women through Mary, that Kramer does not give her any special attribute that differentiates her from earthly women, other than her chastity. Moreover, Kramer asserts, through Jerome, that 'All the evil that the curse of Eva (Eve) brought in was removed by the blessing of Mary' (Kramer, 2006: 116). It was not unusual to see women condemned regardless of the efforts of Mary to redeem the female sex. However, Kramer allowed the possibility of women being redeemed through Mary's grace. While Kramer asserted women were capable of incredible evil, they were also capable of incredible good and, apparently, that good was enough to absolve the 'curse' that Eve brought to (wo)mankind.

Kramer finishes his little interlude by stating 'there are very many statements about women that should always be praised and preached' (Kramer, 2006: 116). Hence, Kramer's notion of a woman becoming a witch is centred in the resistance of evil (or sex). No praiseworthy statements about women are given, however, and his admiration for the female sex is short lived. Kramer's focus is contemporary women, and there were more women than ever failing their faith in the fifteenth century according to the Dominican. He states: 'in modern times, however, this kind of breach of the Faith is found more often in women than in men, as experience itself indicates' (Kramer, 2006: 116). There is no evidence given for this assertion, no scholastic disputation. Kramer justifies abandoning logic by appealing to the millennial fears of the 'modern times'. It appears in Kramer's framing of the world that humanity, and women in particular, have become more prone to sin.

Kramer appears to attribute the increase in female sin to the failure of the female sex to resist temptation, particularly sexual temptation, staining women with filth. Kramer states 'she is more carnal than a man, as is clear in connection with many filthy carnal acts' (Kramer 2006: 117). Associating these acts with 'filth' is a motif which frequently appears, usually followed by the appearance of an animal to secure the link between a female's carnality and the inevitable comparison with the base acts of an animal. The simultaneous assertions of woman's undeveloped intellect with her filthy, animalistic behaviours work in tandem to reduce women to creatures incapable of intellectual thought, because their carnality prevents them from 'settling or focusing on any one idea' (Kramer 2006: 117). Kramer (2006: 117) cites Terence in stating women are like children 'possessing trivial views', and through Lactantius Kramer asserts that no woman has ever known philosophy 'except Themiste', a mangling of the Greek goddess Themis, who represents order. Again, this is taken from Antoninus, but masked by ancient authors. This natural weakness of intellect will lead to a lack of self-restraint in her actions, which, when combined with deception, enables her to lead man, and by extension, mankind, to a dangerous and destructive end. This last statement is justified by the ensuing pages of female examples concerning the wicked queens and women of the Bible, queens like Jezebel, women like Delilah, who all 'deceived' (Kramer 2006, 118). Kramer too lists the women in the Bible wronged by other women 'Rachel against Leah […] Hannah against Peninnah […] Martha against Magdalene' (Kramer, 2006: 118). Their jealousy is more powerful than their mind and so women turn to sorcery to gain revenge. Finally, Kramer (2006: 122) ends on the image of Eve and the devil. Eve is worse than death (the devil), because although 'death is natural and kills only the body […] sin introduced by woman kills the soul as well as the body by depriving it of Grace as a penalty for sin' (Kramer, 2006: 122). Women, apparently, are a fate worse than death.

Kramer's conclusion is the oft-quoted line 'Everything is governed by carnal lusting which is insatiable in women' (Kramer, 2006: 122). Kramer suggests he could cite further evidence, but he is certain that for 'intelligent men it appears to be reasonably unsurprising that more women than men are found to be tainted with the Heresy of the Sorceresses' (Kramer, 2006: 122). Having made his case Kramer suggests that 'consequently, it should be called the Heresy not of Sorcerers but of Sorceresses, to name it after the predominant element.' This clearly demonstrates that for Kramer, witches were mostly women and any male witches would have to exhibit the defects that affected women in order to belong to this diabolical sect.

 

Conclusion

The sources used to create Kramer's understanding of femininity may not have been unique, but his binary configuration of woman as virgin/diabolist in the context of heresy was. Despite his rampant misogyny, Kramer's understanding of women was slightly nuanced. Kramer believed it was possible for women to resist their natural defects and attain grace if they remained chaste. This article demonstrates that it is important to piece together the context with the text, as most historians have missed a very important piece of context: what Kramer did after writing the Malleus. Kramer's later veneration of female mystics and defence of their virginity reveal his fear was not of women, but of the destructive power their sexuality possessed. Women were only one part of the problem Kramer saw facing the church; heretics in Bohemia and remnants of the Waldensian heresy also vexed the inquisitor.

This article serves to clarify the idea of woman in the Malleus for scholars of gender and society in the fifteenth century, as previous treatments of this question, and of Kramer, have asserted misogyny without close analysis. In some respects, particularly with regard to the relationship between Mary and earthly women, Kramer was ahead of many of his contemporaries. One would hope that, given the extraordinary amount of scholarly activity on witches and witchcraft in the medieval and early modern period, studies similar to this and to Bailey's 2003 study of Johannes Nider, Battling Demons, could be carried out for other female-centric treatises to provide a more nuanced idea of how demonologists conceived of women in relation to their own world, so that gender historians can make accurate statements concerning the misogyny and the intellectual and societal understanding of the female witch.


Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Carolyn James for her support in the conception of this paper when I was a third-year undergraduate. Without her continuing guidance and wisdom, this and other projects would not have been possible. I am also most grateful to Ernest Koh for his encouragement to submit this article for publication and for his invaluable insights and corrections. I would also like to acknowledge the financial, academic and technical support of Monash University and its staff.

Above all, I would like to thank my parents, brother and sister who have given me their unwavering support for which my mere expression of thanks does not suffice.

Notes

[1] Jessica O'Leary is a final-year Arts (Hons)/Law (Hons) student at Monash University. In 2012, Jessica completed her Honours dissertation in Renaissance History for which she won the Ian Turner Memorial Prize for best thesis and the J.D. Legge Prize for best fourth-year level student in History. She also won a Faculty of Arts Writing Up Fellowship to assist with publication in Reinvention. She hopes to pursue her interest in History at a postgraduate level in 2014, specialising in Renaissance and Early Modern History.

 

References

Primary sources

Antoninus, Florentinus, Summa theologica, Nürnberg, 1486, digital version available at http://dfg-viewer.de/show/?set%5Bmets%5D=http%3A%2F%2Fdaten.digitale-sammlungen.de%2F%7Edb%2Fmets%2Fbsb00040837_mets.xml

Blamires, Alcuin (ed.) (1992), Woman defamed and woman defended: an anthology of Medieval texts, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Institoris, Heinrich and Jacob Sprenger (1486), Malleus Maleficarum, ed. and trans. Christopher Mackay (2006), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Institoris, Heinrich (1588), Malleus Maleficarum, ed. and trans. P.G. Stuart (2007), Manchester: Manchester University Press

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To cite this paper please use the following details: O'Leary, J. (2013), ''Where there are many women there are many witches': The Social and Intellectual Understanding of Femininity in the Malleus Maleficarum (1486),' Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 6, Issue 1, www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume6issue1/oleary/ Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.