CATS AND WITCHCRAFT (Part 3-Malleus Maleficarum)

MALLEUS MALEFICARUM OR THE HAMMER OF WITCHES:

Unfortunately, in 1484, the fate of women and cats took a dire turn for the worse when the Dominican inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger complained to Pope Innocent VIII that witchcraft and heresy were consuming all of Germany and nothing was being done about it.  The Pope thus issued a Papal Bull Summis Desiderantes Affectibus stating that all witches and their cats were to be burned at the stake.  For the next three hundred years more than nine million people would be executed, the majority marginalized women and children (Gage, 1893).

Three years later, in 1487, the Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, written by both Kramer and Sprenger was published.  Divided into 3 parts, the first outlines the belief in witches as heresy and explains why women are more apt to be witches than men.  The second part explains the investigation of witchcraft and the third describes the legal proceedings that are required for those accused of witchcraft.

cats and witches Chelmsford, Malleus Maleficarum

Hanging 3 Chelmsford Witches 1566 English Pamphlet 1589 Source: Encyclopedia of Witches Witchraft Rosemary Ellen Guiley

Women were more likely than men to be suspected of having relations with the devil because they were considered mentally and physically weak.  In fact, through men’s interpretation of the Bible, women were defective because they were created from Adam’s bent rib.  According to Ecclesiasticus XXV women were evil.  Who could argue with the quote from the bible, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”?  Seen as deceivers and feeble minded, women and their cats were the prime suspects of practicing witchcraft. Even the word femina  (woman) meant lacking in faith. The fe prefix means faith and mina(us) means less (Gage, 1893 p.224).  “A witch was held to be a woman who had deliberately sold herself to the evil one; who delighted in injuring others, and who, for the purpose of enhancing the enormity of her evil acts chose the Sabbath day for the performance of her impious rites, and to whom all black animals had special relationship.” (Gage, 1893, p. 217) A poem from the Middle Ages states:

“Woman is a snake to be venomous.

Woman is a lion for imperiousness.

Woman is a leopard to devour.

Woman is a fox to deceive.

Woman is a bear to be combative.

Woman is a dog to have sharp senses.

Woman is a cat to bite with teeth.

Woman is a rat to destroy.

Woman is a mouse to be sneaky.” (Fiero et al., 1989, p.124)

Flatly, men in the Middle Ages feared women, feared their pagan powers, and feared their ability to create life.  So intimidating were women that the Malleus Maleficarum even addressed their ability to emasculate a man by removing his “virile member.” (Summers, 1928) 

REFERENCES

Fiero, Gloria, Pfeffer, Wendy, Alain, Mathé.(1989). Three medieval views of women. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gage, Matilda Joslyn. (1893). Woman, church and state. New York: The Truth Seeker Company.

Summers, Montague trans. (1486/1928/2009). Malleus maleficarum. Bibliobazaar.

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