Malleus Maleficarum Part 1
Concerning Witches who copulate with Devils. Why is it that Women are chiefly addicted to Evil superstitions?
There is also, concerning witches who copulate with devils, much difficulty
in considering the methods by which such abominations are consummated. On
the part of the devil: first, of what element the body is made that he
assumes; secondly, whether the act is always accompanied by the injection
of semen received from another; thirdly, as to time and place, whether he
commits this act more frequently at one time than at another; fourthly,
whether the act is invisible to any who may be standing by. And on the part
of the women, it has to be inquired whether only they who were themselves
conceived in this filthy manner are often visited by devils; or secondly,
whether it is those who were offered to devils by midwives at the time of
their birth; and thirdly, whether the actual venereal delectation of such is
of a weaker sort. But we cannot here reply to all these questions, both
because we are only engaged in a general study, and because in the second
part of this work they are all singly explained by their operations, as will
appear in the fourth chapter, where mention is made of each separate method.
Therefore, let us now chiefly consider women; and first, why this kind of
perfidy is found more in so fragile a sex than in men. And our inquiry will
first be general, as to the general conditions of women; secondly, particular,
as to which sort of women are found to be given to superstition and
witchcraft; and thirdly, specifically with regard to midwives, who surpass
all others in wickedness.
Why Superstition is chiefly found in Women.
As for the first question, why a greater number of witches is found in the
fragile feminine sex than among men; it is indeed a fact that it were idle
to contradict, since it is accredited by actual experience, apart from the
verbal testimony of credibly witnesses. And without in any way detracting
from a sex in which God has always taken great glory that His might should
be spread abroad, let us say that various men have assigned various reasons
for this fact, which nevertheless agree in principle. Wherefore it is good,
for the admonition of women, to speak of this matter; and it has often been
proved by experience that they are eager to hear of it, so long as it is set
forth with discretion.
For some learned men propound this reason; that there are three things in
nature, the Tongue, an Ecclesiastic, and a Woman, which know no moderation
in goodness or vice; and when they exceed the bounds of their condition they
reach the greatest heights and the lowest depths of goodness and vice. When
they are governed by a good spirit, they are most excellent in virtue; but
when they are governed by an evil spirit, they indulge the worst possible
This is clear in the case of the tongue, since by its ministry most of the
kingdoms have been brought into the faith of Christ; and the Holy Ghost
appeared over the Apostles of Christ in tongues of fire. Other learned
preachers also have had as it were the tongues of dogs, licking wounds and
sores of the dying Lazarus. As it is said: With the tongues of dogs ye save
your souls from the enemy.
For this reason S. Dominic, the leader and
father of the Order of Preachers, is represented in the figure of a barking to
dog with a lighted torch in his mouth, that even to this day he may by his
barking keep off the heretic wolves from the flock of Christ's sheep.
It is also a matter of common experience that the tongue of one prudent man
can subdue the wrangling of a multitude; wherefore not unjustly Solomon
sings much in their praise, in Proverbs x.: In the lips of him that
hath understanding wisdom is found. And again, The tongue of the just is as
choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth. And again, The lips
of the righteous feed many; but fools die for want of wisdom. For this
cause he adds in chapter xvi, The preparations of the heart belong to man;
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
But concerning an evil tongue you will find in Ecclesiasticus xxviii:
A backbiting tongue hath disquieted many, and driven them from nation to
nation: strong cities hath it pulled down, and overthrown the houses of
great men. And by a backbiting tongue it means a third party who rashly or
spitefully interferes between two contending parties.
Secondly, concerning Ecclesiastics, that is to say, clerics and religious of
either sex, S. John Chrysostom speaks on the
text, He cast out them that bought and sold from the temple. From the
priesthood arises everything good, and everything evil. S. Jerome in his
epistle to Nepotian says: Avoid as you would the plague a trading priest,
who has risen from poverty to riches, from a low to a high estate. And
Blessed Bernard in his 23rd Homily On the Psalms says of clerics: If
one should arise as an open heretic, let him be cast out and put to silence;
if he is a violent enemy, let all good men flee from him. But how are we to
know which ones to cast out or to flee from? For they are confusedly friendly
and hostile, peaceable and quarrelsome, neighbourly and utterly selfish.
And in another place: Our bishops are become spearmen, and our pastors
shearers. And by bishops here is meant those proud Abbots who impose heavy
labours on their inferiors, which they would not themselves touch with their
little finger. And S. Gregory says concerning pastors: No one does more harm
in the Church than he who, having the name or order of sanctity, lives in
sin; for no one dares to accuse him of sin, and therefore the sin is widely
spread, since the sinner is honoured for the sanctity of his order. Blessed
Augustine also speaks of monks to Vincent the Donatist: I freely confess to
your charity before the Lord our God, which is the witness of my soul from
the time I began to serve God, what great difficulty I have experienced in
the fact that it is impossible to find either worse of better men than those
who grace or disgrace the monasteries.
Now the wickedness of women is spoken of in Ecclesiasticus xxv: There
is no head above the head of a serpent: and there is no wrath above the
wrath of a woman. I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than to keep
house with a wicked woman. And among much which in that place precedes and
follows about a wicked woman, he concludes: All wickedness is but little to
the wickedness of a woman. Wherefore S. John Chrysostom says on the text,
It is not good to marry (S. Matthew xix):
What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a
necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic
danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours!
Therefore if it be a sin to divorce her when she ought to be kept, it is
indeed a necessary torture; for either we commit adultery by divorcing her,
or we must endure daily strife. Cicero in his second book of The
Rhetorics says: The many lusts of men lead them into one sin, but the
lust of women leads them into all sins; for the root of all woman's vices
is avarice. And Seneca says in his Tragedies: A woman either loves
or hates; there is no third grade. And the tears of woman are a deception,
for they may spring from true grief, or they may be a snare. When a woman
thinks alone, she thinks evil.
But for good women there is so much praise, that we read that they have
brought beatitude to men, and have saved nations, lands, and cities; as is
clear in the case of Judith, Debbora, and Esther. See also I Corinthians
vii: If a woman hath a husband that believeth not, let her not leave him. For
the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. And
Ecclesiasticus xxvi: Blessed is the man who has a virtuous wife, for
the number of his days shell be doubled. And throughout that chapter much
high praise is spoken of the excellence of good women; as also in the last
chapter of Proverbs concerning a virtuous woman.
And all this is made clear also in the New Testament concerning women and
virgins and other holy women who have by faith led nations and kingdoms
away from the worship of idols to the Christian religion. Anyone who looks
at Vincent of Beauvais (in Spe. Histo., XXVI. 9) will find
marvellous things of the conversion of Hungary by the most Christian
Gilia, and of the Franks by
Clotilda, the wife of Clovis. Wherefore in
many vituperations that we read against women, the word woman is used to
mean the lust of the flesh. As it is said: I have found a woman more bitter
than death, and good woman subject to carnal lust.
Other again have propounded other reasons why there are more superstitious
women found than men. And the first is, that they are more credulous; and
since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he rather
attacks them. See Ecclesiasticus xix: He that is quick to believe is
light-minded, and shall be diminished. The second reason is, that women are
naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of
a disembodied spirit; and that when they use this quality well they are
very good, but when they use it ill they are very evil.
The third reason is that they have slippery tongues, and are unable to
conceal from the fellow-women those things which by evil arts they know; and,
since they are weak, they find an easy and secret manner of vindicating
themselves by witchcraft. See Ecclesiasticus as quoted above: I had
rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than to keep house with a wicked
woman. All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. And to
this may be added that, as they are very impressionable, they act
There are also others who bring forward yet other reasons, of which preachers
should be very careful how they make use. For it is true that in the Old
Testament the Scriptures have much that is evil to say about women, and this
because of the first temptress, Eve, and her imitators; yet afterwards in
the New Testament we find a change of name, as from Eva to Ave (as S.
Jerome says), and the whole sin of Eve taken away by the benediction of
Mary. Therefore preachers should always say as much praise of them as
But because in these times this perfidy is more often found in women than
in men, as we learn by actual experience, if anyone is curious as to the
reason, we may add to what has already been said the following: that since
they are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they
should come more under the spell of witchcraft.
For as regards intellect, or the understanding of spiritual things, they
seem to be of a different nature from men; a fact which is vouched for by
the logic of the authorities, backed by various examples from the Scriptures.
Terence says: Women are intellectually like
children. And Lactantius (Institutiones, III): No woman understood
philosophy except Temeste. And Proverbs
xi, as it were describing a woman, says: As a jewel of gold in a swine's
snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.
But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear
from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a
defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a
bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a
contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an
imperfect animal, she always deceives. For Cato says: When a woman weeps
she weaves snares. And again: When a woman weeps, she labours to deceive a
man. And this is shown by Samson's wife, who coaxed him to tell her the
riddle he had propounded to the Philistines, and told them the answer, and
so deceived him. And it is clear in the case of the first woman that she
had little faith; for when the serpent asked why they did not eat of every
tree in Paradise, she answered: Of every tree, etc. - lest perchance we
die. Thereby she showed that she doubted, and had little in the word of God.
And all this is indicated by the etymology of the word; for Femina
comes from Fe and Minus, since she is ever weaker to hold and
preserve the faith. And this as regards faith is of her very nature;
although both by grace and nature faith never failed in the Blessed Virgin,
even at the time of Christ's Passion, when it failed in all men.
Therefore a wicked woman is by her nature quicker to waver in her faith, and
consequently quicker to abjure the faith, which is the root of witchcraft.
And as to her other mental quality, that is, her natural will; when she hates
someone whom she formerly loved, then she seethes with anger and impatience
in her whole soul, just as the tides of the sea are always heaving and
boiling. Many authorities allude to this cause. Ecclesiasticus xxv:
There is no wrath above the wrath of a woman. And Seneca (Tragedies,
VIII): No might of the flames or the swollen
winds, no deadly weapon, is so much to be feared as the lust and hatred of
a woman who has been divorced from the marriage bed.
This is shown too in the woman who falsely accused Joseph, and caused him to
be imprisoned because he would not consent to the crime of adultery with
her (Genesis xxx). And truly the most powerful cause which contributes
to the increase of witches is the woeful rivalry between married folk and
unmarried women and men. This is so even among holy women, so what must it
be among the others? For you see in Genesis xxi. how impatient and
envious Sarah was of Hagar when she conceived: How jealous Rachel was of
Leah because she had no children (Genesis xxx): and Hannah, who was
barren, of the fruitful Peninnah (I. Kings i): and how Miriam
(Numbers xii) murmured and spoke ill of Moses, and was therefore
stricken with leprosy: and how Martha was jealous of Mary Magdalen, because
she was busy and Mary was sitting down (S. Luke x). To this point is
Ecclesiasticus xxxvii: Neither consult with a woman touching her of
whom she is jealous. Meaning that it is useless to consult with her, since
there is always jealousy, that is, envy, in a wicked woman. And if women
behave thus to each other, how much more will they do so to men.
Next: Question VII
Whether Witches can Sway the Minds of Men to Love or Hatred.