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History, Salem and the Malleus Maleficarum

Hanging of George Burroughs

The Inquisition was a way of exposing and punishing religious unorthodoxy. When Christianity became the religion & church of the Roman Empire, the new religion extended the intolerance to heretics and those deemed contrary to the Catholic faith as the Roman's did to Christianity prior to its acceptance. By 430 A.D., the civil code was ordering the death sentence for heretics, although such laws were not rigorously enforced until many centuries later. The procedure of the Inquisition's investigation of heresy was repeated in later trials for witchcraft, which came under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition when sorcery was deemed heresy.

The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches Hammer) was written by the Inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger in 1494 and was used by professional witch hunters as the guide to tracking down witches, obtaining confessions with and without torture and prosecuting and executing those individuals accused of witchcraft. This book was used for nearly three centuries for the express purpose of rooting out and destroying witchcraft and women were the primary targets.

Any way of life or activity deemed contradictory to the strict Christian dogma was suspect and individuals who were "socially undesirable", including the poor, the old, the outcast and nearly every woman lived in a constant state of fear. The authors went into great detail about the supposed rituals, behaviors, deeds and beliefs of witches and heretics and upon reading this book today one can not understand why people accepted, without question, the validity of the bizarre and impossible feats mentioned throughout the book.

Even when taken into the context of the day it is difficult to accept the unwavering beliefs and fears people held about these fantastical activities, such as: cooking infants to obtain their fat for ointments, how witches can make a man's member "disappear" before his very eyes and how a wise woman can raise a tempest by being suspended above the ground by her thumbs.

Without question, there was a severe mistrust of women and women were considered to be particularly prone to entering into a pact with Satan.

Starting with PART ONE, question vi, Kramer and Sprenger explain why women are more susceptible to becoming involved with witchcraft then men. It is an unsettling fact that many of the superstitions and beliefs from the Malleus Maleficarum are still perpetrated by the church today and are attributed to modern witchcraft practices.

These antiquated beliefs are still rampant in our society...Amazing, isn't it?

The Malleus Maleficarum

Why Superstition is chiefly found in Women


Paragraph 2
For some learned men propound this reason; that there are three things in nature, the tongue, and Ecclesiastic and a Woman which know no moderation in goodness or vice; and when they exceed the bounds of their condition they reach the greatest heights and the lowest depths of goodness and vice. When they are governed by a good spirit, they are most excellent in virtue; but when they are governed by an evil spirit, they indulge the worst possible vices.

Paragraph 9
Now the wickedness of women is spoken of in Ecclesiasticus XXV: There is no head above the head of a serpent: and there is no wrath above the wrath of a woman. I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than to keep house with a wicked woman. And among much which in that place precedes and follows about a wicked woman, he concludes: All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman.

Wherefore St. John Chrysostom says on the text,

"It is not good to marry"(S. Matthew xix): What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours! Therefore if it be a sin to divorce her when she ought to be kept, it is indeed a necessary torture; for either we commit adultery by divorcing her, or we must endure daily strife."

Cicero in his second book of The Rhetorics says:

"The many lusts of men lead them into one sin, but the one lust of a woman leads them into all sins; for the root of all woman's vices is avarice."

And Seneca says in his Tragedies:

"A woman either loves or hates; there is no third grade. And the tears of a woman are deception, for they may spring from true grief, or they may be a snare. When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil."

Paragraph 13, 14, 16 & 17 (excerpts)
The second reason is that women are naturally more impressionable and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit. (paragraph 13) The third reason is that they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow-women those things, which by evil arts they know; and since they are weak, they find an easy and secret manner of vindicating themselves by witchcraft. (paragraph 14) That since they are feebler both in mind and body, it is not suprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft. (paragraph 16)

Paragraph 18 (excerpts)
But the natural reason (as to why women are more inclined to be involved with witchcraft) 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 man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.

Paragraph 24
And indeed, just as through the first defect in their intelligence they are more prone to abjure the faith; so through their second defect of inordinate affections and passions they search for, brood over and inflict various vengeance's, either by witchcraft or by some other means. Wherefore it is no wonder that so great a number of witches exist in this sex.

...And it continues on about the various "weaknesses" and "defects" of the female sex, digging deeper the dank hole that all women will find themselves in during this period of time. PART TWO deals with "Treating of the methods by which witchcraft is inflicted, ands how it may be auspiciously removed". PART TWO goes into painstaking detail of how witches injure cattle, raise hailstorms and how midwives kill children and offer them to devils...among other nefarious activities.

The concept of "hereditary witchcraft " is discussed in detail:

"Finally, we know from experience that the daughters of witches are always suspected of similar practices, as imitators of their mother's crimes; and that indeed the whole of a witch's progeny is infected."

This is a very destructive concept, for it damns whole generations and the children of suspected witches, and their children, and so on, were destined to be outcast from society and were often times jailed and/or executed.

PART THREE deals with "Relating to the judicial proceeding in both the ecclesiastical and civil courts against all witches and indeed heretics" PART THREE establishes the following guidelines:

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Who are the fit and proper judges in the trial of witches?
The method of initiating a process
Of the number of witnesses

Of the quality and condition of witnesses... excerpt
"And it is clear from the same chapter of the Canon that the testimony of men of low repute and of servants against their masters, is admitted; for it says:

"So great is the plague of heresy that, in an action involving this crime, even servants are admitted as witnesses against their masters, and any criminal evildoer may give evidence against any person soever." (part three, question v)

Whether mortal enemies may be admitted as witnesses
How the trial is to be proceeded with and continued. And how the witnesses are to be examined in the presence of four other persons, and how the accused is to be questioned in two ways... excerpt

"In considering the method of proceeding with a trial of a witch in the cause of the faith, it must first be noted that such cases must be conducted in the simplest and most summary manner, without the arguments and contentions of advocates." (part three, question vi)

In which various doubts are set forth with regard to the foregoing questions and negative answers. Whether the accused is to be imprisoned, and when she is to be considered as manifestly taken in the foul heresy of witchcraft

Whether the witch is to be imprisoned, and of the method of taking her
What is to be done after the arrest, and whether the names of the witnesses should be made known to the accused
What kind of defense may be allowed, and of the appointment of an advocate...excerpt

"It should be noted that an advocate is not to be appointed at the desire of the accused, as if he may choose which advocate he will have."

What course the advocate should adopt when the names of the witnesses are not revealed to him
Of the same matter, declaring more particularly how the question of personal enmity is to be investigated
Of the points to be observed by the judge before the formal examination in the place of detention and torture

Of the method of sentencing the accused to be questioned, and how she must be questioned on the first day, and whether she may be promised her life...excerpt

"While the officers are preparing for the questioning, let the accused be stripped; or if she is a woman, let her first be led to the penal cells and there stripped by honest women of good reputation. And the reason for this is that they should search for any instrument of witchcraft sewn into her clothes; for they often make such instruments, at the instruction of devils, out of the limbs of unbaptized children. And when such instruments are disposed of, the Judge shall use his own persuasions and those of other honest men zealous for the faith to induce her to confess the truth voluntarily; and if she will not, let him order the officers to bind her with cords and apply her to some engine of torture; and then let them obey at once but not joyfully, rather appearing to be disturbed by their duty...And while she is being questioned about each several point, let her be often and frequently exposed to torture. (part three, question xiv)

Of the continuing of torture and of the devices and signs by which the judge can recognize a witch; and how he ought to protect himself from their spells. Also how they are to be shaved in those parts where they use to conceal their devil's masks and tokens together with the due setting forth of various means of overcoming their obstinacy in keeping silence and refusal to confess...excerpt

"If she be a witch she will not be able to weep: although she will assume a tearful aspect and smear her cheeks and eyes with spittle to make it appear that she is weeping...The hair should be shaved from every part of her body. The reason for this is the same as that for stripping her of her clothes, which we have already mentioned; for in order to preserve their power of silence they are in the habit of hiding some superstitious object in their clothes or in their hair, or even in the most secret parts of their bodies which must not be named. (part three, question xv)

Of the fit time and of the method of the second examination
Which is the last part of the work: how the process is to be concluded by the pronouncement of a definite and just sentence
Of common purgation and especially of the trial by red-hot iron, to which witches appeal...excerpt

"For in the territory of the Counts of Furstenburg and the Black Forest there was a notorious witch who had been the subject of much public complaint. At last, as the result of a general demand, she was seized by the Count and accused of various evil works of witchcraft. When she was being tortured and questioned, wishing to escape from their hands, she appealed to the trial by red-hot iron; and the Count, being young and inexperienced, allowed it. And she then carried the red-hot iron, not only for the stipulated three paces, but for six, and offered to carry it even farther. Then, although they ought to have taken this as manifest proof that she was a witch, she was released from her chains and lives to the present time, not without grave scandal to the Faith in those parts. (Part three, question xvii)

Of the manner of pronouncing a sentence which is final and definitive
Of the various degrees of overt suspicion which render the accused liable to be sentenced

And it continues on with methods for passing sentence in various circumstances. This book speaks for itself and offers a glimpse into Medieval Christianity.

The Inquisitorial method, which developed slowly, is summarized here:

1. The accused was presumed guilty until he proved his innocence. This was adopted by the Inquisition from Roman Imperial Law.

2. Suspicion, denunciation or gossip was a sufficient indication of guilt to hail a person before the Inquisition.

3. To justify the activities of the Inquisition, the offense, whatever it might have been, was correlated with heresy. For example, one who committed murder would be tried as a heretic and the crime would be heresy.

4. The defendant could not confront the witness, and the accusations were often times not known by the defendant.

5. Witnesses disallowed in other offenses were encouraged to testify in trials of heresy. Such individuals were: convicted perjurers, persons without civil rights, very young children and excommunicates (including condemned heretics). If a hostile witness retracted his testimony, he was charged with perjury but the testimony would still stand. However, if the retraction was less favorable to the accused, the judge could accept the hostile witnesses' second testimony.

6. No witness was allowed to testify on behalf of the accused; nor was his previous good reputation as a citizen or Christian taken into account.

7. The accused was permitted no council, since the lawyer would thereby be guilty of defending heresy.

8. The judges were inquisitors.

9. The judges were encouraged to manipulate the accused into confessing. Mind games, tricks and traps were all employed for this purpose.

10. Although technically allowed only as a last resort, in practice tortured was regularly used and could be inflicted upon any witness.

11. Legally, torture could not be repeated, but it could be, and was legally continued until the accused confessed whatever was demanded of him. Three sessions of torture were usual. The Instructio pro Formandis Processibus in Causis Strigum (1623) was widely circulated by the inquisition and revealed that over the preceding two centuries, its judges had employed torture, even prescribing death, without careful scrutiny of the evidence.

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12. Having confessed under torture, the accused, in sight of the torture chamber, had to repeat his confession "freely and spontaneously without the pressure of force or fear". Thus, he was considered, and the court records so stated, to have admitted his guilt without torture.

13. Every accused individual had to supply names or invent names of accomplices or those whom he suspected of heresy. In many cases, while the accused was under torture, the judges would "suggest" the names of "heretics" to the accused, and the accused would agree that the named were heretics, hoping that the torture would stop.

14. Generally, no appeal was allowed.

15. The property of the accused was confiscated by the Inquisition. All popes praised this practice as one of the strongest weapons against in the fight against heresy.

As a result of the above methods, and as all surviving records show, once accused, the chances of escaping death were nil.

The position of the Inquisition in the history of Europe is summarized by the nineteenth-century Roman Catholic historian, Lord Acton:
"The principle of the Inquisition is murderous...liberalism swept away that appalling edifice of intolerance, tyranny, cruelty, which believers in Christ built up to perpetuate their belief. There is much to deduct from the praise of the Church in protecting marriage, abolishing slavery and human sacrifice, preventing war and helping the poor. No deduction can be made from her evil-doing toward unbelievers, heretics, savages, and witches. Here her responsibility is more undivided: her initiative and achievement complete."

In June of 1692, the special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) sat in Salem to hear the cases of witchcraft. Presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton, the court was made up of magistrates and jurors. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop of Salem who was found guilty and was hanged on June 10. Thirteen women and five men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows on three successive hanging days before the court was disbanded by Governor William Phipps in October of that year. The Superior Court of Judicature, formed to replace the "witchcraft" court, did not allow spectral evidence. This belief in the power of the accused to use their invisible shapes or spectres to torture their victims had sealed the fates of those tried by the Court of Oyer and Terminer.
The new court released those awaiting trial and pardoned those awaiting execution. In effect, the Salem witch trials were over.

As years passed, apologies were offered and restitution was made to the victims' families. Historians and sociologists have examined this most complex episode in our history so that we may understand the issues of that era and view subsequent events with heightened awareness. The parallels between the Salem witch trials and more modern examples of "witch hunting" like the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's, are remarkable.


The Salem witch hysteria of 1692 was one of the most tragic events in history.
To study this event, we must consider the social, religious and political influences of that time. The Puritans from England settled in Massachusetts to escape religious persecution in their home land. The Puritans had a strict moral code and their way of living was fashioned around their religious beliefs.

There was a political division between the first Minister appointed to Salem Village in 1679, James Bayley and Samuel Parris, elected as minister in 1689. When the first accusations of witchcraft were voiced by the adolescent girls and throughout the entire event, the ministers exploited the bizarre behavior of the girls to bolster their waning leadership.

The accusations of witchcraft and the subsequent executions were an extreme expression of deeply felt moral divisions. The negative references to witchcraft in the Bible and the belief that witchcraft was Satan's work created a paralyzing fear of witchcraft which made it a natural vehicle for the hostility of the community.

Personal enemies and "socially undesirable" individuals were transformed into enemies of the community and an enemy of the community was therefore a servant of Satan.
Between the years of 1690-92, several events occurred which were the immediate causes of the hysteria. Samuel Parris had a West Indian slave named Tituba who was steeped in magical lore.

Several adolescent girls became fascinated by Tituba's stories of natural magic and island culture. Two of the girls were related to Samuel Parris while others were children of his supporters. When the girls became "afflicted" and subsequently named the "witches", the supporters of James Bayley took the outrageous accusations of the hysterical girls as confirmation of what they already suspected, that their opponents were in league with Satan.

From the first arrest warrants on February 29, 1692 to the last executions on September 22, 1692 over 150 people were accused and jailed on suspicion of witchcraft, 4 people plus 1 infant died in prison, 18 people were executed by hanging, 1 person was pressed to death and 2 dogs were also hanged.

On October 29th, 1692, Governor Phipps officially closed the court of Oyer and Terminer.
The Supreme court of Massachusetts was to convene in January 1697 to try the remaining cases. On December 29, 1692, Governor Phipps called for a day of fasting and prayers for the townsfolk. In January 1693, the Superior court met to begin the remaining trials.

By order of Governor Phipps, spectral evidence could not be used against the defendants. Of the 52 persons tried, 49 were cleared of the accusations and 3 were found guilty. The last sitting of the court was held in Boston in May, 1693 and by this time Governor Phipps revived a letter from England which convinced him that there was no need to continue with the trials.

The Governor issued a proclamation that pardoned everyone and granted amnesty to those who fled to escape persecution. By the end of the trials, some of the most important citizens of Massachusetts would be accused of witchcraft including Governor Phipps wife.
A few years later, the girls who started the hysteria as well as many of the accusers who took part in the accusations asked for forgiveness for their actions.

On October 17, 1711, an Act of the colonial legislature returned all property taken from the victims and their families and were paid compensation for their losses. This Act officially ended all government actions relating to the trials of 1692. However, in Salem, accusations and resentment would be felt for years to come.

Never Again!!!!

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