What is the Malleus Maleficarum? This book, essentially a guide to finding, prosecuting, and destroying witches, was first published in 1487 in Germany and quickly spread throughout Europe. It was originally written by two individuals, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, both members of the Dominican Order.
The original book was written in Latin, but it was quickly translated into a number of languages. After they were finished writing it, the two authors presented it to the theology department at the University of Cologne on May 9, 1487. Instead of approving of the book, the faculty declared that it was illegal and unethical, but the two authors ignored this statement and instead wrote that the faculty had approved it. Similarly, the authors claimed that Pope Innocent VIII had endorsed of the book, but this claim was also false.
Once the book was released to the public, the Catholic Church banned it and placed it on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. In spite of the ban, the book was published numerous times over the next forty years and became rather popular. In 1490, the Catholic Spanish Inquisition also condemned the book.
Over time, the book became the standard reference book for numerous witchcraft trials conducted by both Catholics and Protestants. The book is divided into three major parts. The first part poses a series of questions about the existence of sorcery and witchcraft, which it answers, claiming that the devil and witches commit evil acts with the permission of God. The book claims that this behavior is allowed in order to prevent the devil from gaining total control over the Earth. The first section also explains why witchcraft is so common by claiming that the weaker nature of women and their inferior intellect make them more vulnerable to the power of Satan.
The second portion of the book actually describes the various types of witchcraft. There are details on the methods used by witches to cast spells as well as how their spells can be cured and overcome. The section also describes how witches perform sacrifices and copulate with the devil.
The final section provides guidelines for finding witches and getting them to confess. Should the witches fail to confess, the book encourages the usage of torture to extract a confession. The book also permits the prosecution to falsely promise mercy if the witch confesses. As far as grounds for prosecution, the book says that rumors of witchcraft were sufficient evidence to allow a trial to take place. The book also provides various methods for destroying convicted witches, since the death sentence was the typical result of a trial.