Malleus Maleficarum

This book was mentioned in Margaret Alice Murray’s The God of the Witches, and I was surprised to find a copy sitting on the university stacks. P.G. Maxwell-Stuart’s translation is excellent, though it did take me a while to get used to the format, much in the same way my long-ago readings of Inferno and The Iliad went. There is no plot, nor satisfying conclusion; this is not a book that one would sit down and read for pleasure. It’s a witch hunter’s manual, and all the more fascinating because it was really used on our timeline to determine if actual people were burned at stakes in town squares.

The Malleus was originally written in Latin by Institoris, a rather zealous inquisitor who I like to picture as a medieval master of misinformation. Here, hundreds of years after the fact, is a prime example of a man who was overeducated in a narrow discipline without perspective. He often misquotes and mis-cites his sources, and twists scripture to best fit the execution of his duties. Though beneath all the delusion and self-righteous justification, I can’t help but wonder how much actual witchcraft was occurring at that time (or nowadays, for that matter). Between this and Murray’s book it’s not hard to think that there must have been some basis in fact for the rise of inquisitorial action against (alleged) sorcerous heretics.

Maxwell-Stuart is a far superior researcher to Institoris. There are eighty-six primary sources listed in the select bibliography for this edition of the Malleus—a lifetime of study should one be so inclined. I think it’s enough for me to know that the materials exist. Perhaps someday I’ll revisit this corner of history with a pickaxe in one hand and a crucifix in the other…

A closing note here: this read, of all the books I’ve read in my near half-century, was the first to bring home the true value of reading for the sake of reading, as a writer. As I read through Institoris’s ramblings I was presciently aware that I would likely never directly use any of the material that I was consuming, but I also knew that on some level, on some archival sub-basement of my brain, everything was being stored just in case.

What a thing to realize. I’m just sorry it took this long.


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