Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Women, Evil, Literature, People, Devil, Witch, Ethics, Europe

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/03/01

Staring from the 14th and 15th centuries, thousands of people were ruthlessly tortured and executed during the witch hunt craze. According to Nachman (1980), the Europeans excluding those who migrated to the colonies have killed 200,000 up to 500,000 people which generally composed of 85% women. Some scholars conducted their psychological analysis regarding this horrifying chapter in the human history. Zilboorg, a well-known scholar and critic of the Malleus Maleficarum dubbed the witch craze as a “reaction against the disquieting signs of growing instability of the order” (quoted from Schoeneman, 1997, 338). In the time when psychology and psychiatry blended with theology, anyone who does strange behavior can be accused as a witch. The history of witches as a Devil’s advocate started due to the publication of the Witches’ Hammer during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Nachman, 1980, 3). Before the start of Christianity, witches were known as ‘wicca.’ They are the people who share an equal status with a ‘shaman’ from Asia. Typically, the wiccas were often represented by older women whilst some younger ones may assist the elderly to perform ceremonial rituals. Witches organize the rituals, healed the sick, and served as a mediator between the humans and the spirits. The rise of Christianity in the medieval period and in the Renaissance led people to associate that witches are a symbol of the devil simply because their conduct and acts fell outside the traditional norms existent in the society. Reports of women who were allegedly caught in the act of communicating with the Devil, rode the broom, and harmed their neighbors dominated the records of the investigators. In fact, in order to conduct a successful witch hunt, two Dominicans wrote a book called the Malleus Maleficarum, also known as The Witch’s Hammer in 1486. The book became infamous because it contains stories relating with the author’s experiences seeing real witches, whilst some of the stories were either heard by the author from another people. This book became sensational and due to its popularity, every European court had a copy of the book as a reference for the trials. Kramer and Sprenger (1486) reiterated that the devil dwells within the bodies of the unchaste women. The Malleus Maleficarum was indeed misogynistic in terms of its treatment towards women; and most of the time, the authors mentioned the Devil’s great power. In fact, an excerpt from the second chapter of the first question of the book, Kramer and Sprenger details the story of a woman who gladly suffered a terrible death when the priests found her bewitching a man of cloth (priest). According to the story, the Inquisitors convinced her to admit her sins and suffer a terrible death rather than being possessed by the Devil. The argument concerning the religion worked in that century because people had little knowledge in the science and technology; and as a result, mental illness prevalent was often mistaken by the Inquisitors as witches due to their eccentric behavior.
“The witches are mentally sick people and the monks who torment and torture the poor creatures are the ones who should be punished” (quoted from Schoeneman, 1997, 339).
Some passages in the Bible especially in the Old Testament describe women as instruments of wickedness. The wide study of Christian theology in the medieval and Renaissance perhaps led to this argument found in the Malleus Maleficarum. Kramer and Sprenger (1486) argued that the Devil takes different forms; women are more prone to the Devil’s temptation (a reference to Eve’s sin) which makes them weak to resist the evil urges and thereby their weakness is granting the evil to spread its powers through procreation. It was also discussed in the Witches’ Hammer about the subject concerning the succubus and incubus. Women’s weakness makes them an easy target for the incubus devils (Kramer and Sprenger 1486). The methods of Inquisition were brutal, often employing torture devices with the approval of the Church. The accused woman will be interrogated under the presence of the priests as well as the witnesses who saw her act.
Fair trials never happened during the course of the interrogation. In order to make them confess, the Inquisitors subject the accused women under a great deal of pain using brutal torture devices to confess their evil plans, state their conspirators, and seek penance for the evil crimes they have committed. It was also stated in the Malleus Maleficarum that enemies of the accused witches may be called to become a witness if the action done by the accused resulted in death or if there was a vendetta held by the family due to the crimes of the accused (Kramer and Sprenger, 1486). The lack of understanding in psychology and psychiatry of the Inquisitors resulted to the brutal deaths of the accused women. Yehuda also supported Zilboorg’s argument that it was because of the lack of scientific methods to address the mentally ill was the reason behind the Inquisition. In the earlier period, old women were subjected to prosecution but eventually these were replaced by younger and married women (Nachman 1980). Furthermore, Pope Innocent VIII supported the eradication of the so-called witches because women have weaker natures and they are more prone to give themselves to the devils whether it is a male or a female. Furthernore, Zilboorg’s stated that the Malleus Maleficarum was a product of misogyny; textbook pornography and unfair treatment of the mentally disabled people (quoted from Schoeneman 1997, 339).


Kramer, H. and Sprenger, J. (1486). “The Malleus Maleficarum.” Malleus Maleficarum.org. http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/downloads/MalleusAcrobat.pdf. (Accessed 18 April 2015).
Nachman, B.Y. (1980). The European Witch Craze of the 14th to 17th centuries: A Sociologist’s Perspective. Chicago Journals 86(1) 1-31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2778849.
Schoeneman, T.J. (1977). The Role of Mental Illness in the European Witch Hunts of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: An Assessment. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 13. 337-351.

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