Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Malleus Mallifacarum

Rare books are a thing I've added to my H+I campaign. One of the very first adventures was the acquisition and delivery of the Da Vinci Codex a book that was thought lost until a copy was found in a Spanish library. Rare books and weird tomes are an important element of Call of Cthulhu and I found that players seemed to enjoy...and dread...the acquisition of Mythos Tomes. And if you haven't ever seen an actual rare book you should. Just the experience of going to a special collections section of a library is inspiring for GM or player alike. My first experience doing that was at Indiana University. At that time what I was interested in was out of print Shadow stories. Not exactly sanity blasting, but still fun to request your book, wait until the archivist assistant brought it out to you...I think the assistant wore white gloves but that may be an embellishment of memory...and then to sit in the rare book reading room to enjoy your prize. 

Later I had the privelege of seeing an original 1580 edition of the Mallevs Maleficarvm in Tres Divisvs Partes by Institoris, Heinrich, 1430-1505; Published: 1580; 818 Pages. For that book the  special collections librarian (not just an assistant) brought the book out and she wore gloves and turned the pages for me. Here's the long version of the title.

In quibus Concurrentia ad maleficia, Maleficiorum effectus, Remedia aduersus maleficia, Et modus deniq; procedendi, ac puniendi Maleficos abundè continentur, præcipuè autem omnibus Inquisitoribus, et diuini verbi Concionatoribus vtilis, ac necessarius. Auctore Iacobo Sprengero Ordinis Prædicatorum, olim Inquisitore. His nunc primùm adiecimus, M. Bernhardi Basin opusculum de artibus magicis, ac Magorum, maleficijs. Item. D. Vlrici Molitoris Constantiensis, de Lamijs et Pythonicis mulieribus Dialogum. Item. D. Ioannis de Gerson. Olim Cancellarij Parisi[Illegible word], de probatione Spirituum, libellum. Item. D. Thomæ Murner ordinis Minorum, libellum, de Pythonico contractu. Omnia

Which more or less says

Malleus Mallificarum divided into three parts, in which the concurrence of the purpose of sorcery and an abundance about the injuries and the effect of, remedy against the sorcerers, and against the method of denying;  procedures, and punishing a sorceress are contained, especially in all the inquisitors, and to church the word of God of no use, and necessary for him. The author James Sprengero the Order of Preachers, formerly inquisitore. Have inserted the first of these now, M. Bernhardi Basin work of the study of magic arts, and of the Magi, maleficijs. Again. D. Vlrici Molitoris Constance, the Lamijs and Pythonicis women dialogue. Again. John D. Gershon. In former chancellor of the Parisi [illegible word], of the proof of spirits, the little book. Again. D. Thomas Murner of the order of Friars Minor, the little book, of the Pythonico contract. All

The Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for “The Hammer of Witches”, or “Hexenhammer” in German) is one of the most famous medieval treatises on witches. It was written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, and was first published in Germany in 1487. Its main purpose was to challenge all arguments against the existence of witchcraft and to instruct magistrates on how to identify, interrogate and convict witches.

You can see the original of the Malleus at Cornell University Library (among other places) and Cornell's Witchcraft Collection is open to the public. They have even made some of the 3000 volumes in their collection available online. Is this a good thing? Should we be concerned or comforted that this knowledge is widely available to investigators and others who aren't accredited researchers?

And for those of you who want the sensation of holding an actual book in your hands and smelling the paper, binding, and ink Barnes and Noble still  has a translated copy for sale.


  1. Christopher Mackay was one of my history professors at university. I can't recommend his translation enough. It's got a dry, scathing humour you rarely find in academic translations. He dissects every misquotation, misinterpretation, and lie the authors spun. It's like getting the "Malleus Mallificarum" handed back to you... graded. With notes.

    As a worldbuilding text, it's well worth the read, but if you're expecting otherworldly knowledge, it's not to be found here. There are plenty of spelling errors and misquotations though. The book's name and effects mask a text that's more sad and irritating than frightening.

  2. Ha! I enjoyed your post. Mackay's version sounds like a lot of fun.

    Good point on the disappointing lack of otherworldly knowledge in "Malleus Mallificarum". At least we still have the Necronomicon as a source of otherworldly knowledge that doesn't disappoint. ;-)

    1. True enough. The "Malleus Mallificarum" is a much more petty, human evil. A cannibal cookbook sounds horrifying, but in the end, it's just a cookbook. But if your players find a cannibal cookbook, 5th edition... questions will be raised.

      The "Malleus Mallificarum" is a perfect example of human pettiness, greed, ambition, and fear. It's a very human evil text. No gibbering monsters or actual witches are required.