obsessive attentions to the sex lives of women

December 12, 2019

Heinrich Kramer, the author of the Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of Witches, the 1487 treatise on witchcraft, was not a man who thought highly of women. In the sixth of a series of questions, Kramer asks “Why is it that Women are chiefly addicted to Evil superstitions?” After all, he notes, most witches are women. His answers to his question are predictable and familiar: women are naturally inclined toward wickedness, their intellects are childish and weak, they gossip too much, they are feeble in mind and body, they are lustful, they are deceitful, they have weak memories, they need governance by men but resent and resist it, they tend toward hateful jealousy. Even in the Bible, Kramer reminds us, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of rape when he wouldn’t satisfy her sexual demands. Women: you just can’t trust them.

Heinrich Kramer wrote his treatise after he was kicked out of town for his obsessive attentions to the sex lives of the women of Innsbruck, particularly the sex lives of women who refused to attend his sermons. The Malleus Maleficarum is his justification for his behaviour, and he advances the claim that witchcraft, once viewed as a minor offense, is actually heresy, a much graver crime. The punishment for heresy was to be burned alive. His treatise, with the help of new technology, spread his ideas far and wide and helped kick off the witch hunts that took place in the early modern period throughout Europe and lands colonized by Europeans. The vast majority of convicted witches burned, hanged, or drowned over this several-hundred-year period were women, often older single women, and they were killed by the tens of thousands.

Kristen Hanley Cardozo
How Lolly Willowes Smashed the Patriarchy by Selling Her Soul to Satan

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