I’ve been groping for a suitably pithy phrase to describe the Malleus Maleficarum. “Vile Epic?” “Tribute to psychosexual projection?” “Classic Hate Screed?” “Grim grimoire?” I admit defeat on this point.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches), was written by two Dominican monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, sometime between 1485 and 1487. Kramer and Sprenger had been named as witch hunters in a Papal decree in 1484 and they seem to have made a job of it. However, their work was not without controversy, and the Malleus itself was first condemned by the University of Cologne, then later put on the Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the banned book index. Despite this (or possibly because of it), the Malleus became an early bestseller, and served as a bible for witch hunters in Europe for the next several centuries. It should be noted that, because of the Church’s condemnation of it, the book was used more by Protestant witch hunters than Catholics.
I doubt that there is any reading of “cultural relativism” that would concede that the Malleus can be taken at face value—as an objective portrayal of the habits and practices of witches. On the other hand, there are probably at least 20% of the inhabitants of the U.S. who would declare that the Malleus is true (and I shudder to think of the degree to which the 20% may be an underestimate).
However, I’m obviously not writing anything for that fraction of the populace, so we’ll begin with the observation that most of the text is just made up. So here we bring to bear the notions of projective psychology. Invented text (including fiction by me and thee) is projective in nature, and so displays a great deal about the interior landscape of those who are inventing it, by whatever means.
In the case of Kramer and Sprenger, the analysis is complicated by the manner in which they produced the text. Much of it was reportedly the result of their inquisition and the methods used. To put it bluntly, a good part of it was probably produced by persons under duress, torture in other words. So here you have an unusual collaborative process. Those who are tortured attempt to tell the torturers what they want to hear, but that in itself adds yet another projective layer into the process.
Jung seldom writes of the “collective unconscious” as the product of torture, but there it is. Indeed, the folk process in all its forms requires more psychic energy than is required to merely dream or view an inkblot. Communication must occur and the impetus for communication is often more violent than we’d like to think.
The book itself is ugly and humorless, a compendium of misogynistic sadomasochistic projection. It is also a record of tales of the witch inquisition itself, and, given our own beliefs that people cannot actually raise hailstorms by pissing into a trench or fly through the air on demonic power, the record of persons being burned at the stake for these activities does cause revulsion. In such cases, one tends to cling to the hope that the entire matter was entirely fictional.
Generally speaking, witches in the Malleus seem to spend an ungodly amount of time raising hailstorms, roasting and eating babies, and copulating with the devil or his incubi and succubae. Interestingly, there don’t seem to have been many homosexual witches; Lucifer apparently didn’t tumble to that bit of fun until modern times, or maybe the monks didn’t consider it to be as essentially sinful as women.
In any case, the Malleus virtually demands the classic Freudian interpretation of repressed sexuality getting all gnarly, then escaping in all sorts of projective behavior. Our recent dance with “repressed memory” and “Satanic Ritual abuse” contains practically all of the important parts of the fantasies contained in the Malleus, right on down to the baby eating. It’s worth noting that such fantasies play a big role in the psychopathology of anti-Semitism as well, and Protocols of the Elders of Zion makes an interesting companion piece to the Malleus Maleficarum. If I wanted to write a really sick and twisted horror novel, those two are where I’d start.