Malleus Maleficarum Part 3
How the Trial is to be Proceeded with and Continued. And how the Witnesses are to be Examined in the Presence of Four Other Persons, and how the Accused is to be Questioned in Two Ways
In considering the method of proceeding with a trial of a witch in the cause
of faith, it must first be noted that such cases must be conducted in the
simplest and most summary manner, without the arguments and contentions of
This is explained in the Canon as follows: It often happens that we institute
a criminal process, and order it to be conducted in a simple
manner without the legal quibbles and contentions which are introduced in
other cases. Now much doubt had been experienced as to the meaning of these
words, and as to exactly in what manner such cases should be conducted; but
we, desiring as far as possible to remove all doubt on the matter, sanction
the following procedure once and for all as valid: The Judge to whom we
commit such a case need not require any writ, or demand that the action
should be contested; he may conduct the case on holidays for the sake of
the convenience of the public, he should shorten the conduct of the case as
much as he can by disallowing all dilatory exceptions, appeals and
obstructions, the impertinent contentions of pleaders and advocates, and
the quarrels of witnesses, and by restraining the superflous number of
witnesses; but not in such a way as to neglect the necessary proofs; and we
do not mean by this that he should omit the citation of and swearing of
witnesses to tell and not to hide the truth.
And since, as we have shown, the process is to be conducted in a simple
manner, and it is initiated either at the instance of an accuser, or of an
informer actuated by zeal, or by reason of a general outcry and rumour;
therefore the Judge should try to avoid the first method of beginning the
action, namely, at the instance of an accusing party. For the deeds of
witches in conjunction with devils are done in secret, and the accuser
cannot in this case, as in others, have definite evidence by which he can
make his statements good; therefore the Judge ought to advise the accuser
to set aside his formal accusation and to speak rather as an informer,
because of the grave danger that is incurred by an accuser. And so he can
proceed in the second manner, which is commonly used, and likewise in the
third manner, in which the process is begun not at the instance of any
It is to be noted that we have already said that the Judge ought particularly
to ask the informer who shares or could share in his knowledge of the case.
Accordingly the Judge should call as witnesses those whom the informer
names, who seem to have most knowledge of the matter, and their names shall
be entered by the scribe. After this the Judge, having regard to the fact
that the aforesaid denunciation of heresy involves of its very nature such
a grave charge that it cannot and must not be lightly passed over, since to
do so would imply an offence to the Divine Majesty and an injury to the
Catholic Faith and to the State, shell proceed to inform himself and examine
the witnesses in the following manner.
The witness N., of such a place, was called, sworn, and questioned whether
he knew N. (naming the accused), and answered that he did. Asked how he knew
him, he answered that he had seen and spoken with him on several occasions,
or that they had been comrades (so explaining his reason for knowing him).
Asked for how long he had known him, he answered, for ten or for so many
years. Asked concerning his reputation, especially in matter concerning the
faith, he answered that in his morals he was a good (or bad) man, but with
regard to his faith, there was a report in such a place that he used certain
practices contrary to the Faith, as a witch. Asked what was the report, he
made answer. Asked whether he had seen or heard him doing such things, he
again answered accordingly. Asked where he had heard him use such words, he
answered, in such a place. Asked in whose presence, he answered, in the
presence of such and such.
Further, he was asked whether any of the accused's kindred had formerly
been burned as witches, or had been suspected, and he answered. Asked
whether he associated with suspected witches, he answered. Asked concerning
the manner and reason of the accused's alleged words, he answered, for such
a reason and in such a manner. Asked whether he thought that the prisoner
had used those words carelessly, unmeaningly and thoughtlessly, or rather
with deliberate intention, he answered that he had used them jokingly or in
temper, or without meaning or believing what he said, or else with deliberate
Asked further how he could distinguish the accused's motive, he answered
that he knew it because he had spoken with a laugh.
This is a matter which must be inquired into very diligently; for very often
people use words quoting someone else, or merely in temper, or as a test of
the opinions of other people; although sometimes they are used assertively
with definite intention.
He was further asked whether he made this deposition out of hatred or
rancour, or whether he had suppressed anything out of favour or love, and
he answered, etc. Following this, he as enjoined to preserve secrecy. This
was done at such a place on such a day in the presence of such witnesses
called and questioned, and of me the Notary or scribe.
Here it must always be noted that in such an examination at least five
persons must be present, namely, the presiding Judge, the witness of informer,
the respondent or accused, who appears afterwards, and the third is the
Notary or scribe: where there is no Notary the scribe shall co-opt another
honest man, and these two, as has been said, shall perform the duties of
the Notary; and this is provided for by Apostolic authority, as was shown
above, that in this kind of action two honest men should perform as it were
the duty of witnesses of the depositions.
Also it must be noted that when a witness is called he must also be sworn,
that is, he must take the oath in the manner we have shown; otherwise he
would falsely be described as called and sworn.
In the same way the other witnesses are to be examined. And after this the
Judge shall decide whether the fact is fully proven; and if not fully,
whether there are great indications and strong suspicions of its truth.
Observe that we do not speak of a light suspicion, arising from slight
conjectures, but of a persistent report that the accused has worked
witchcraft upon children or animals, etc. Then, if the Judge fears the
escape of the accused, he shall cause him or her to be placed in custody;
but if he does not fear his escape, he shall have him called for
examination. But whether or not he places him in custody, he shall first
cause his house to be searched unexpectedly, and all chests to be opened
and all boxes in the corners, and all implements of witchcraft which are
found to be taken away. And having done this, the Judge shall compare
together everything of which he has been convicted or suspected by the
evidence of witnesses, and conduct an interrogatory on them, having with him
a Notary, etc., as above, and having caused the accused to swear by the four
Gospels of God to speak the truth concerning both himself and others. And
they shall all be written down in this following manner.
The accused N. of such a place was sworn by personally touching the four
Gospels of God to speak the truth concerning both himself and others, and
was then asked whence he was and from where he originated. And he answered,
from such a place in such a Diocese. Asked who were his parents, and whether
they were alive or dead, he answered that they were alive in such a place,
or dead in such a place.
Asked whether they died a natural death, or were burned, he answered in such
a way. (Here note that this question is put because, as was shown in the
Second Part of this work, witches generally offer or devote their own
children to devils, and commonly their whole progeny is infected; and when
the informer has deposed to this effect, and the witch herself has denied
it, it lays her open to suspicion).
Asked where he was brought up, and where he chiefly lived, he answered, in
such or such a place. And if it appears that he has changed abode because,
perhaps, his mother or any of his kindred was not suspected, and had lived
in foreign districts, especially in such places as are most frequented by
witches, he shall be questioned accordingly.
Asked why he had moved from his birthplace and gone to live in such or such
a place, he answered, for such a reason. Asked whether in those said places
or elsewhere he had heard any talk of witches, as, for example, the stirring
up of tempests, the bewitching of cattle, the depriving of cows of their
milk, or any such matter of which he was accused; if he should answer that
he had, he must be asked what he had heard, and all that he says must be
written down. But if he denies it, and says that he has heard nothing, then
he must be asked whether he believes that there are such things as witches,
and that such things as were mentioned could be done, as that tempests could
be raised or men and animals bewitched.
Not that for the most part witches deny this at first; and therefore this
engenders a greater suspicion than if they were to answer that they left
it to a superior judgement to say whether there were such or not. So if they
deny it, they must be questioned as follows: Then are they innocently
condemned when they are burned? And he or she must answer.
Let the Judge take care not to delay the following questions, but to
proceed at once with them. Let he be asked why the common people fear her,
and whether she knows that she is defamed and hated, and why she had
threatened such a person, saying, You shall not cross me with
impunity, and let her answers be noted.
Then let he be asked what harm that person had done her, that she should
have used such words to threaten him with injury. And note that this question
is necessary in order to arrive at the cause of their enmity, for in the end
the accused will allege that the informer has spoken out of enmity; but when
this is not mortal, but only a womanish quarrel, it is no impediment. For
this is a common custom of witches, to stir up enmity against themselves by
some word or action, as, for example, to ask someone to lend them something
or else they will damage his garden, or something of that sort, in order to
make an occasion for deeds of witchcraft; and they manifest themselves
either in word or in action, since they are compelled to do so at the
instance of the devils, so that in this way the sins of Judges are
aggravated while the witch remains unpunished.
For note that they do not do such things in the presence of others, so that
if the informer wishes to produce witnesses he cannot do so. Note again that
they are spurred on by the devils, as we have learned from many witches who
have afterwards been burned; so that often they have to work witchcraft
against their own wills.
Further, she was asked how the effect could follow from those threats, as
that a child or animal should so quickly be bewitched, and she answered.
Asked, Why did you say that he would never know a day of health, and
it was so? she answered. And if she denies everything, let her be
asked concerning other bewitchments, alleged by other witnesses, upon cattle
or children. Asked why she was seen in the fields or in the stable with the
cattle, and touching them, as is sometimes their custom, she answered.
Asked why she touched a child, and afterwards it fell sick, she answered.
Also she was asked what she did in the fields at the time of a tempest, and
so with many other matters. Again, why, having one or two cows, she had
more milk than her neighbours who had four or six. Again, let her be asked
why she persists in a state of adultery or concubinage; for although this is
beside the point, yet such questions engender more suspicion than would the
case with a chaste and honest woman who stood accused.
And not that she is to be continually questioned as to the depositions which
have been laid against her, to see whether she always returns the same
answers or not. And when this examination has been completed, whether her
answers have been negative, or affirmative, or ambiguous, let them be written
down: Executed in such a place, etc., as above.
Next: Question VII
In Which Various Doubts are Set Forth with Regard to the Foregoing Questions and Negative Answers. Whether the Accused is to be Imprisoned, and when she is to be considered Manifestly Taken in the Foul Heresy of Witchcraft. This is the Second Action