Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Forgery associated with the Malleus Maleficarum?

A reader contacted me about the Malleus Maleficarum, the witch hunter’s Bible mentioned in my novel The Witch’s Trinity. She wanted to be sure I knew that the pope’s endorsement of the Malleus Maleficarum was a forgery—but research shows something a little different.

Printed at the beginning of the Malleus is a papal bull from Innocent VIII, a reference letter of sorts for the authors, Kramer and Sprenger. The bull, known as the Summis Desiderantes Affectibus, says that the two inquisitors, “our dear sons,” were empowered to witch hunt and preach the word of God to the faithful. The bull dates to 1484. It is not a forgery, but its placement at the beginning of the book may be somewhat misleading, as if the pope endorsed the book and not simply the witch hunting activities of its authors.

There is difficulty dating the first edition of the Malleus, but certainly the bull predates it by a few years.

There is, however, a forgery (at least most scholars think it is a forgery)—a letter of endorsement for the Malleus Maleficarum purportedly written by the faculty of the University of Cologne. This too was inserted in some editions of the Malleus, but not in my Dover reprint of the Montague Summers’ 1928 translation so I didn’t know about it.

However, a little quick googling yields the information that at least one scholar is opening the case back up and asserting that the letter is not a forgery. This scholar recently translated the Malleus –actually there were two new translations in 2006 and 2007. Read this article for more information.

The Montague Summers translation is very strange because he believed in witches and in witch hunting. Rather than writing an introduction that reflected dolefully on how women and men of the past were persecuted, he calls the Malleus “one of the most important, wisest and weightiest books of the world.” More on this later.

1 comment:

Linda C. McCabe said...


Montague Summers was an interesting character.

Back in high school I took an advanced writing class and we were assigned to write a ten page research paper on any topic. It was strange, give teenagers the world and they have a difficult time figuring out what they want to write about.

Anyway, I chose to do my paper on vampires. I found several books based on vampire legends and many of them credited Rev. Summers as being the first vampirologist.

That made me want to read his books since he had made such an important contribution to this field.

He quoted liberally in Latin and Greek, which I am not versed in, and he also used multisyllabic words which were no longer found in modern dictionaries. All that meant that it was difficult reading his books, but they were a treasure trove of weird trivia.

I'll have to clue you in someday about all the strange vampire lore I learned from him. I will leave you with one oddity:

It was believed that a corpse would rise up as a vampire if a cat jumped over the coffin before burial.