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A History of The Malleus Maleficarum

Written and compiled by George Knowles

Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites 

First published in 1486, the Malleus Maleficarum was one of the most widely referenced and infamous books of its time.  Throughout the middle Ages and the entire period of the witchcraft hysteria, the Malleus Maleficarum was the most influential guide used for the persecution and torture of witches and heretics.  Montague Summers who translated it into English called it:  “One of the most important, wisest and weightiest books in the world”.  Due to the rapid spread of the Printing Press revolution in the late 1400's (generally attributed to Johann Gutenberg), it became widely available to the masses and for over two centuries was second only in sales to the Bible.  It was initially written to lend credibility to, then justify, support and enforce a Papal Bull issued by Pope Innocent VIII on December 5th 1484.

Pope Innocent VIII (1484 - 1492).

Giovanni Battista Cibo (1432 - July 1492). 

Innocent VIII (Pope - 1484/92) successor to Sixtus IV (Pope -1471/84), was born Giovanni Battista Cibo in Genoa (1432).  He was the son of Aran Cibo who under Calixtus III (Pope - 1455/58) had been a senator in Rome.  His wife Teodorina, was a lady of the house of de' Mari.  Cibo’s youth was spent at the Neapolitan court from were he gained a lascivious aptitude.  He was educated in Padua and Rome, studied Humanities and early gained a reputation as a Latinist.  He also fathered two illegitimate children, Franceschetto and Teodorina, a trait that would characterize his life.

While in Rome he was influenced by friends towards a career in the church, and later took up orders as a priest in the house of cardinal Calandnini, half-brother to Nicholas V (Pope - 1447/55).  In 1467 he obtained from Paul II (Pope - 1464/71) the bishopric of Savona, and in 1472 Sixtus IV (Pope - 1471/84) allowed him to transfer to the see of Molfetta.  A year later in 1473 he was created cardinal-priest of Balbina and entered the Sacred College.  After the death of Sixtus IV, Cibo succeeded him as pope on the 29th of August 1484 and assumed the name of Innocent VIII.

The Conclave of 1484

The papal conclave of 1484 is described by high catholic authority “as one of the saddest in papal history”.  Chief accounts of what went on come from diarist John Burchard, one of the officials present at that time, and historian Stefano Infessura who many believe was a 'bias papal rebel'.  Between them we get a glimpse into some of the smallest details and events of those times. 

After the death of Pope Sixtus IV on the 12th August 1484, the conclave in Rome was spilt by factions.  Cardinals clashed with cardinals leading to violence, feuds and riots in the streets, all in a bid to become or elect the next pope in power.  At the time of his death there were thirty-two surviving cardinals, a greater number than at any time since the close of the twelfth century, excepting perhaps for the divided College of the Great Schism (1378-1417).  Of the thirty-two, only three cardinals survived from before Paul II (1464/71), the cardinal-nephews of Calixtus III (1455/58), Rodrigo and Luis Borgia; and the cardinal-nephew of Pius II (1458/64), Francesco di Nanni Todeschini de' Piccolomini.  Six cardinals survived from Paul II:  Thomas Bourchier, Oliviero Caraffa, Marco Barbo, Jean Balue, Giovanni Battista Zeno and Giovanni Michiel.  The remaining twenty-three were made cardinals by Sixtus IV:  Giuliano della Rovere, Stefano Nardini, Pedro Gonsalvez de Mendoza, Giovanni Battista Cibo, Giovanni Arcimboldi, Philibert Hugonet, Giorgio da Costa, Charles de Bourbon l'Ancien, Pierre de Foix le Jeune, Girolamo Basso della Rovere, Gabriele Rangoni, Pietro Foscari, Giovanni d'Aragona, Raffaele Sansoni Riario, Domenico della Rovere, Paolo Fregoso, Giovanni Battista Savelli, Giovanni Colonna, Giovanni Conti, Juan Moles de Margarit, Giangiacomo Sclafenati, Giovanni Battista Orsini and Ascanio Maria Sforza-Visconti.

At the start of the conclave seven cardinals were absent:  Luis Juan del Mila y Borja was in retirement in Spain, Pedro Gonsalvez de Mendoza was acting as the first-minister of Ferdinand V and his wife Isabella in Spain; Pierre de Foix le Jeune and Charles de Bourbon l'Ancien were in France; as was Jean Balue acting as legate to Charles VIII.  Paolo Fregoso was serving a term as doge of Genoa and Thomas Bourchier remained in England.  This left twenty-five cardinals whose task it was to elect the next pope.

When the conclave began on the 25th of August 1484, a protocol was adopted called 'The Election Capitulation', and by solemn formula every cardinal promised to observe it if elected pope.  It stipulated that 100 ducats should be paid monthly to members of the Sacred College, those whose yearly income from benefices might not reach the sum of 4,000 ducats.  Then followed provisions for the continuance of the crusade against the Turks, the reform of the Roman curia including it's head and members, the appointment of no cardinal under the age of 30 years for whatever reason, the advancement of not more than one relative of the reigning pontiff to the sacred college and the restriction of its membership to 24.  All 25 cardinals swore to up hold the capitulation and negotiations favoring the election of the next pope began in earnest.

Of the 25 cardinals that made up this conclave, there were two main rivals for the title.  The first was Rodrigo de Lançol y Borgia, who began his campaign early in the vacancy.  To Giovanni d'Aragona he offered the office of vice-chancellor, which he himself had held since his uncle's time.  To Giovanni Colonna he offered the sum of 25,000 ducats and the abbey of Subiaco in commendam.  He also made a similar offer to Giovanni Battista Savelli while securing the votes of Ascanio Maria Sforza-Visconti and Raffaele Sansoni Riario.  The second main rival was Giuliano della Rovere, who numbered among his voters Giovanni Battista Savelli, Giovanni Colonna, Giovanni Battista Cibo, Domenico della Rovere and Girolamo Basso della Rovere.

As the negotiations became more protracted, bitter disputes erupted in the city of Rome.  The ongoing feud between the Roman cardinals Giovanni Colonna and Giovanni Battista Orsini, and a strong popular rejection of the family of Sixtus IV led to rioting in the streets and civil disturbancesThe conclave only came together with any sense of security due to the exertions of Marco Barbo from the Venetian faction, who succeeded in bringing about a truce among the Roman baronage.

After all the complex jockeying, deals and negotiations that preceded the actual balloting, on the morning of August 28th during the first scrutiny, Marco Barbo received at least ten, if not twelve of the 18 votes needed for accession, exceeding the votes of both Borgia and Rovere.  The reaction to this sudden development was sharp, and the cardinals retired to re-assess their positions.

The election of Marco Barbo was unthinkable to the other two powerful cardinals, and seeing his own candidature was obviously impossible, Borgia thought seriously about advancing Moles de Margarit, whose advanced age might mean another election in the near future and a better chance for himself in a subsequent conclave.

The candidate of Rovere was Giovanni Battista Cibo, and during the remainder of August 28th, Rovere worked at a feverish pace to obtain the required votes for him.  A turning point came when Giovanni Battista Orsini joined his party, of which Giovanni Colonna was already a member.  Ascanio Maria Sforza-Visconti and Raffaele Riario were then won over, followed by Giovanni Archimboldi.  Ascanio then discussed with Borgia the advisability of coming over to the cause of Cibo.  Borgia did so and brought with him Giovanni d'Aragona.  Other cardinals now began to join for reasons of political expediency and in search of favors from what was fast becoming the leading party.  Giovanni Conti sided with the other Romans and Juan Moles de Margarit followed the lead of Borgia.

By the late evening Rovere could count on thirteen votes, and throughout the night Giovanni Battista Cibo sat awake in his cell signing petitions and making deals to favor other cardinals.  We can be fairly sure that Giangiacomo Sclafenati, Giovanni d'Aragona and Giorgio da Costa were among those who benefited by voting for Cibo in the last scrutiny.  All three were lifted from poor cardinalate titles to higher and better endowed titles shortly after Cibo became pope, and they would only have been able to do that with express papal permission.  Giovanni d'Aragona received the title of Santa Sabina on the 20th of September 1484, this in exchange for San Lorenzo in Lucina, which he retained in commendam.  Giorgio da Costa exchanged the title of Santi Marcellino e Pietro, a traditional Portuguese titled Church for that of Santa Maria in Trastevere on the 8th of November 1484.  The Santa Maria in Trastevere had become vacant with the death of Stefano Nardini on the 22nd of October 1484.  Giangiacomo Sclafenati received Cibo's own former titled church of Santa Cecilia on the 17th of November 1484, while retaining his old title of Santo Stefano al Monte Celio in commendam.  In each case the increased revenue in benefices would have been substantial.

By the following morning, Cibo had gained the support of Oliviero Caraffa and all the remaining cardinals created by Sixtus IV, except for Pietro Foscari who voted with the Venetians.  This give him seventeen of the eighteen votes needed for accession.  Against him were the Venetians:  Marco Barbo, Giovanni Battista Zeno, Giovanni Michiel and of course Pietro Foscari.  Of the three undecided cardinals:  Philibert Hugonet, Gabriele Rangoni and Francesco di Nanni Todeschini de' Piccolomini, we cannot be sure who in the final scrutiny voted for Cibo.  Thought is that Gabriele Rangoni is more likely to have done so than either Hugonet or Piccolomini, this because Rangoni's master, Matthias Corvinus was the son-in-law of Ferrante of Naples and an avid supporter of Neapolitan policy in Italian affairs.

The Reign of Innocent VIII

The first part of Innocent’s reign as pontiff was dominated by Giuliano della Rovere, but Innocent soon grow tired of power politics and allowed Lorenzo de' Medici to guide his policies during the latter part of his pontificate.  He made Lorenzo's teen-age nephew a Cardinal, but stipulated that he should not assume the robes and obligations of the cardinalate until he was eighteen.  This in direct conflict to the 'The Election Capitulation' all 25 cardinals had sworn to up-hold.

The chief concern of the new pope at that time was to promote peace among the Christian princes, and shortly after his ascension he addressed a summons to the rank and file of Christendom to unite in a crusade against the infidels, while at the same time he himself was having difficulties with King Ferrante of Naples.  The protracted conflict with Naples was one of the main obstacle of the crusade against the Turks, and while Innocent tried to unite Christendom against the common enemy, his own ulterior motives could be seen when in 1489, in consideration for an annual sum of 40,000 ducats and a gift of the Holy Lance (said to be the spearhead that had been used to pierced the Saviour's side), he consented to favour the sultan Bajazet II, by detaining his fugitive brother and pretender to the Turkish throne in prison in the Vatican. 

In 1486, Innocent VIII declared Henry VII of England to be the rightful holder of the English crown by the threefold right of conquest, inheritance and popular choice.  He also agreed to modifications affecting the privilege of sanctuary.  Next he issued an appeal for a crusade against the Waldenses (also known as Waldensians or Vaudois).  This was a Protestant religious sect founded in 1170 by Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons.  They were closely allied to the Albigenses, who lived in voluntary poverty, refused to take oaths or take part in war, and later rejected the doctrines of transubstantiation, purgatory and the invocation of saints.  Although subjected to persecution until the 17th century, their presence had spread through out France, Germany and Italy, and still today survives in Piedmont.

Innocent VIII was also actively opposed to the Hussite heresy in Bohemia (followers of John Huss who were opposed to both German and papal influence).  The Hussites waged a successful war against the Holy Roman Empire from 1419 through 1620.  With all this anti-Catholicism threatening the very foundations of the Catholic Church, Innocent VIII issued his most infamous proclamation, the papal bull of the 5th of December 1484.  In it, he gave free reign to the Inquisition and opened the floodgates for near-on three centuries of the most vicious persecution, mainly against Witchcraft, but including anyone who opposed the authority of the Catholic Church.  The principles he outlined in this bull where later embodied in the Malleus Maleficarum, and in 1487 he appointed Tomas de Torquemada as the Grand Inquisitor of Spain to enforce it.

In December of 1486, he forbade under penalty of excommunication, the reading of the nine hundred theses that Pico della Mirandola had publicly posted in Rome.  Pico della Mirandola, Count Giovanni (1463-1494) was a prominent Italian theologist and humanist who wrote Latin epistles, elegies and a series of florid Italian sonnets.  His philosophical writings included:  Heptaplus and De Hominis Dignitate, the themes of which are about free will.  Mirandola suffered persecution as a heretic until Alexander VI, Innocent’s successor in 1493, absolved him. 

Innocent’s wars with the Italian states and especially that of Naples constantly depleted the papal treasury, this he replenished by creating and selling new papal offices and granting them to the highest bidders.  Under his leadership and by example, insecurity reigned in Rome during his rule, owing mainly to his insufficient punishment of crime.  However, he dealt mercilessly with a band of unscrupulous officials who forged and sold papal Bulls for there own gain, and meted out capital punishment to two of the culprits in 1489.  Among their forgeries was the alleged permission granted to the Norwegians, enabling them to celebrate Mass without wine.

By 1492 at the age 60, Innocent was a feeble old man, he had become subject to lethargic or cataleptic trances, which several times had deceived those in his attendance to believing him dead.  As he grew weaker it became impossible to nourish him and he was kept alive by sucking milk from a woman’s breast.  Towards the end (according to Infessura), a Hebrew physician claimed to have a prescription by which he could save the Pope’s life.  For his infusion, he needed young human blood and to obtain it he took three boys of the age of ten, and gave them a ducat apiece for as much as he might require of them.  However, he took so much that the three boys incontinently died of his phlebotomy.  The Hebrew was obliged to take to flight to save his own life, for when the Pope was informed of what had taken place, he denounced the deed as detestable and ordered the physician’s arrest (“Judeus quidem aufugit, et Papa sanatus not est,” concludes Infessura).  

Pope Innocent VIII died on July 25, 1492, leaving behind him numerous children (Octo Nocens pueros genuit, totidemque puellas; Hunc merito poterit dicere Roma patrem - "Eight wicked boys born, and just as many girls, so this man could be entitled to be called Father of Rome"), towards whom his nepotism had been as lavish as it was shameless.  His successor was Alexander VI (Pope – 1492/1503).

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Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites


The Bull of Pope Innocent VIII  

Summis desiderantes, 5 December 1484

Desiring with supreme ardor as pastoral solicitude requires, that the catholic faith in our days everywhere grow and flourish as much as possible, and that all heretical pravity be put far from the territories of the faithful.  We freely declare and anew decree this by which our pious desire may be fulfilled, and all errors being rooted out by our toil as with the hoe of a wise laborer, zeal and devotion to this faith may take deeper hold on the hearts of the faithful themselves.

It has recently come to our ears, and not without great pain to us, that in some parts of upper Germany, as well as in the provinces, cities, territories, regions and dioceses of Mainz, Koln, Trier, Salzburg and Breman, many persons of both sexes, heedless of their own salvation and forsaking the catholic faith, give themselves to devils, male and female, and by their incantations, charms and conjurings, and by other abominable superstitions and sortileges, offences, crimes and misdeeds, ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal of animals, the products of the earth, the grapes of vines and the fruits of trees, as well a men and women, cattle and flocks, and herds and animals of every kind, and hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving, and prevent all consummation of marriage; that moreover they deny with sacrilegious lips the faith they received in holy baptism; and that at the instigation of the enemy of mankind, they do not fear to commit and perpetrate many other abominable offences and crimes, at the risk of their own souls, to the insult of the divine majesty and to the pernicious example and scandal of multitudes.  And although our beloved sons Henricus Institorus [Kramer] and Jacobus Sprenger of the order of Friars Preachers, professors of theology, have been and still are deputed by our apostolic letters as inquisitors of heretical pravity, the former in the aforesaid parts of upper Germany, including the provinces, cities, territories, dioceses and other places as above, and the latter throughout certain parts of the course of the Rhine; nevertheless certain of the clergy and of the laity of those parts, seeking to be wise above what is fitting, because in the said letter of deputation that aforesaid provinces, cities, dioceses, territories and other places, and the persons and offences in question were not individually and specifically named, do not blush obstinately to assert that these are not at all included in the said parts and that therefore it is illicit for the aforesaid inquisitors to exercise their office of inquisition in the provinces, cities, dioceses, territories and other places aforesaid, and that they ought not to be permitted to proceed to the punishment, imprisonment and correction of the aforesaid persons for the offences and crimes above named.  Wherefore in the provinces, cities, dioceses, territories and places aforesaid, such offences and crimes not without evident damage to their souls and risk of external salvation, go unpunished.

We therefore desiring, as is our duty, to remove all impediments by which in any way the said inquisitors are hindered in the exercise of their office, and to prevent the taint of heretical pravity and of other like evils from spreading their infection to the ruins of others who are innocent, the dioceses, territories and places aforesaid in the said parts of upper Germany may not be deprived of the office of the inquisition which is their due, to hereby decree by virtue of our apostolic authority, that it shall be permitted to the said inquisitors of these regions to exercise their office of inquisition and to proceed to the correction, imprisonment and punishment of the aforesaid persons for their said offences and crimes, in all respects and altogether precisely as if the provinces, cities, territories, places, persons and offences aforesaid were expressly named in the said letter.  And, for the greater sureness, extending the said letter and deputation to the provinces, cities, dioceses, territories, places, persons and crimes aforesaid, we grant to the said inquisitors that they or either of them, joining with them our beloved son Johannes Gremper, cleric of the diocese of Constance, master of arts, their present notary, or any other notary public who by them or by either of them shall have been temporarily delegated in the provinces, cities, dioceses, territories and places aforesaid, may exercise against all persons, of whatsoever condition and rank, and said office of the inquisition, correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising according to their deserts, those persons whom they shall find guilty as aforesaid.

And they shall also have full and entire liberty to propound and preach to the faithful the word of God, as often as it shall seem to them fitting and proper, in each and all the parish churches in the said provinces, and to do all things necessary and suitable under the aforesaid circumstances, and likewise freely and fully to carry them out.

And moreover we enjoin by apostolic writ on our venerable brother, the Bishop of Strasburg, that either in his own person or through some other or others solemnly publishing the foregoing wherever, whenever and how often so ever he may deem expedient or by these inquisitors or either of them may be legitimately required, he permit them not to be molested or hindered in any manner whatsoever by any authority whatsoever in the matter of the aforesaid and of this present letter, threatening all opposers, hinderers, contradictors and rebels of whatever rank, state, decree, eminence, nobility, excellence or condition they may be, and whatever privilege of exemption they may enjoy, with excommunication, suspension, interdict and other still more terrible sentences, censures and penalties as may be expedient, and this without appeal and with power after due process of law of aggravating and re-aggravating these penalties, by our authority as often as may be necessary, and to this end calling in aid if need be of the secular arm.

And this, all other apostolic decrees and earlier decisions to the contrary notwithstanding; or if to any, jointly or severally, there has been granted by this apostolic see, exemption from interdict, suspension or excommunication, by apostolic letters not making entire, express and literal mention of the said grant of exemption; or if there exist any other indulgence whatsoever, general or special, of whatsoever tenor, by failure to name which or to insert it bodily in the present letter the carrying out of this privilege could be hindered or in any way put off, or any of whose whole tenor special mention must be made in our letters.  Let no man, therefore, dare to infringe this page of our declaration, extension, grant and mandate, or with rash hardihood to contradict it.  If any presume to attempt this, let him know that he incurs the wrath of almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.

Given in Rome at St. Peter's in the year of Our Lord's incarnation 1484, on the month of December, in the first year of our pontificate.

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Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites


The Malleus Maleficarum 

 The Leiden edition of 1584:

The Malleus Maleficarum ("The Hammer of Witches") is the classic Catholic text on witchcraft and was first published in 1487.  The book was notorious for its use in the Witch-hunts initially started on a national scale across Europe and England in the later part of the 1400’s.

Two Dominican inquisitors Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer compiled it and submitted the book to the University of Cologne’s Faculty of Theology for their approbation on the 9th of May, 1487.  This is usually taken as the date of publication, although earlier editions may have been produced in 1485 or 1486.  It was published in a number of editions, thirteen times from 1487 to 1520 and revived another sixteen times from 1574 to 1669.  The book was popular throughout Europe with at least sixteen German editions, eleven French editions, two Italian editions and several English editions, the English editions however, did not appear until much later, e.g.:  1584, 1595, 1604, 1615, 1620 and 1669.  For its time, the Malleus was the lead authority available to the masses on the subject of witchcraft, and soon became accepted by both Catholics and Protestants, adding to there’re already religious favours.

The work was originally prefaced by the above papal bull ‘Summis desiderantes’, as issued by Pope Innocent VIII on the 5th of December 1484, and which remains the main Papal document on witchcraft.  It mentions Sprenger and Kramer by name and directs them to combat witchcraft in northern Germany.  The book itself was not specifically ordered by the Catholic Church, but was written to lend credence to and enforce the bull.  To help its credulity, the writers then attached the letter of approbation from the University of Cologne, signed by four of its professors.

The book itself is divided into three sections, the first proving witchcraft or sorcery existed, the second describing the forms of witchcraft and the third the detection, trial and destruction of witches.  The first two sections are thought to have been the work of Sprenger, who as a
distinguished theologian put together the theological and intellectual components of the book.  Section three and the practical components of the book is most likely is the work of Kramer, who had conducted a campaign in the Tirol during the early 1480’s and had gain much experience as a trial judge.  There is little original material in the book, being mainly a codification of existing beliefs and practices, with substantial parts taken from earlier works such as Johannes Nider's - Praeceptorium and Formicarius (1435).

The book begins with a discussion of the nature of witchcraft and the need for administrators to thoroughly comprehend its enormity.  This generally comprised of:  the renunciation of the Catholic faith, devotion and homage to the Devil, the offering of unbaptized children and carnal intercourse with incubi and or succubi.  A part also explains why women by their weaker nature and inferior intellect were naturally more prone to the lure of Satan.  It then goes on to declare that some things confessed by witches, such as animal transformations, were mere delusions induced by the devil to ensnare them; other acts were real, such as flight, causing storms and destroying crops.  The book dwells at length on the licentious acts of witches and to the question of whether demons could father children on witches.

Part II deals with the three types of maleficia and how these can be counteracted.  Here they sanction all the myths, fables and folklore about the doings of witches:  the compact with the Devil, sexual relations with devils, transvection, metamorphosis, ligature, injury to cattle and crops, and a whole range of subjects normally ascribed to sorcery.

The last section deals with the practical details of the detection, trial and destruction of witches (most likely Kramer’s contribution).  It covers the rules for initiating legal action against witches, securing a conviction and the passing of sentences.  It concludes with how much belief to place in witnesses' testimonies and the need to eliminate malicious accusations, but it also states that public rumour is sufficient to bring a person to trial and that a too vigorous defense is evidence that the defender is bewitched.  There are rules on how to prevent the authorities becoming bewitched and the reassurance, that as representatives of God, the witch can have no power over the investigators.  It covers details of how to elicit confessions, including the sequence of torture and questioning to be used, the use of a red-hot iron is recommended, as is the shaving of the entire body of the accused in search of tokens or marks of the Devil (see - Marks of a Witch).  Over all, the style of the book is totally serious and utterly humorless.

An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum:

The method of beginning an examination by torture is as follows:  First, the jailers prepare the implements of torture, then they strip the prisoner (if it be a woman, she has already been stripped by other women, upright and of good report).  This stripping is lest some means of witchcraft may have been sewed into the clothing-such as often, taught by the Devil, they prepare from the bodies of un-baptized infants, [murdered] that they may forfeit salvation.  And when the implements of torture have been prepared, the judge, both in person and through other good men zealous in the faith, tries to persuade the prisoner to confess the truth freely; but, if he will not confess, he bid attendants make the prisoner fast to the strappado or some other implement of torture.  The attendants obey forthwith, yet with feigned agitation.  Then, at the prayer of some of those present, the prisoner is loosed again and is taken aside and once more persuaded to confess, being led to believe that he will in that case not be put to death.

Here it may be asked whether the judge, in the case of a prisoner much defamed, convicted both by witnesses and by proofs, nothing being lacking but his own confession, can properly lead him to hope that his life will be spared when, even if he confess his crime, he will be punished with death.  It must be answered that opinions vary.  Some hold that even a witch of ill repute, against whom the evidence justifies violent suspicion, and who, as a ringleader of the witches, is accounted very dangerous, may be assured her life, and condemned instead to perpetual imprisonment on bread and water, in case she "give sure and convincing testimony against other witches; yet this penalty of perpetual imprisonment must not be announced to her, but only that her life will be spared, and that she will be punished in some other fashion, perhaps by exile.  And doubtless such notorious witches, especially those who prepare witch-potions or who by magical methods cure those bewitched, would be peculiarly suited to be thus preserved, in order to aid the bewitched or to accuse other witches, were it not that their accusations cannot be trusted, since the Devil is a liar, unless confirmed by proofs and witnesses.  Others hold, as to this point, that for a time the promise made to the witch sentenced to imprisonment is to be kept, but that after a time she should be burned.  A third view is, that the judge may safely promise witches to spare their lives, if only he will later excuse himself from pronouncing the sentence and will let another do this in his place....

But if, neither by threats nor by promises such as these, the witch can be induced to speak the truth, then the jailers must carry out the sentence, and torture the prisoner according to the accepted methods, with more or less of severity as the delinquent's crime may demand.  And, while he is being tortured, he must be questioned on the articles of accusation, and this frequently and persistently, beginning with the lighter charges-for he will more readily confess the lighter than the heavier.  And, while this is being done, the notary must write down everything in his record of the trial - how the prisoner is tortured, on what points he is questioned and how he answers.  And note that, if he confesses under the torture, he must afterward be conducted to another place, that he may confirm it and certify that it was not due alone to the force of the torture.  But, if the prisoner will not confess the truth satisfactorily, other sorts of tortures must be placed before him, with the statement that unless he will confess the truth, he must endure these also.  But, if not even thus he can be brought into terror and to the truth, then the next day or the next but one is to be set for a continuation of the tortures - not a repetition, for it must not be repeated unless new evidences produced.  The judge must then address to the prisoners the following sentence:  We, the judge, etc., do assign to you, such and such a day for the continuation of the tortures, that from your own mouth the truth may be heard, and that the whole may be recorded by the notary.  And during the interval, before the day assigned, the judge, in person or through approved men, must in the manner above described try to persuade the prisoner to confess, promising her (if there is aught to be gained by this promise) that her life shall be spared.  The judge shall see to it, moreover, that throughout this interval guards are constantly with the prisoner, so that she may not be alone; because she will be visited by the Devil and tempted into suicide.

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Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites


The Official Letter of Approbation from the Faculty of Theology of the Honourable University of Cologne

The official Document of Approbation of the treatise Malleus Maleficarum, and the subscription of the Doctors of the most honorable University of Cologne, duly set forth and recorded as a public document and deposition. 

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. Know all men by these presents, whosoever shall read, see or hear the tenor of this official and public document, that in the year of our Lord, 1487, upon a Saturday, being the nineteenth day of the month of May, at the fifth hour after noon, or thereabouts, in the third year of the Pontificate of our most Holy Father and Lord, the lord Innocent, by divine providence Pope, the eighth of that name, in the very and actual presence of me Arnold Kolich, public notary, and in the presence of the witnesses whose names are hereunder written and who were convened and especially summoned for this purpose, the Venerable and Very Reverend Father Henry Kramer, Professor of Sacred Theology, of the Order of Preachers, Inquisitor of heretical depravity, directly delegated thereto by the Holy See together with the Venerable and Very Reverend Father James Sprenger, Professor of Sacred Theology and Prior of the Dominican Convent at Cologne, being especially appointed as colleague of the said Father Henry Kramer, hath on behalf both of himself and his said colleague made known unto us and declared that the Supreme Pontiff now happily reigning, lord Innocent, Pope, as hath been set out above, hath committed and granted by a bull duly signed and sealed unto the aforesaid Inquisitors Henry and James, members of the Order of Preachers and Professors of Sacred Theology, by His Supreme Apostolic Authority, the power of making search and inquiry into all heresies, and most especially into the heresy of witches, an abomination that thrives and waxes strong in these our unhappy days, and he has bidden them diligently to perform this duty throughout the five Archdioceses of the five Metropolitan Churches, that is to say, Mainz, Cologne, Trèves, Salzburg and Bremen, granting them every faculty of judging and proceeding against such even with the power of putting malefactors to death, according to the tenor of the Apostolic bull, which they hold and possess and have exhibited unto us, a document which is whole, entire, untouched, and in no way lacerated or impaired, in fine whose integrity is above any suspicion. And the tenor of the said bull commences thus: “Innocent, Bishop, Servant of the servants of God, for an eternal remembrance. Desiring with the most heartfelt anxiety, even as Our Apostleship requires, that the Catholic Faith should be especially in this Our day increase and flourish everywhere, . . .” and it concludes thus: “Given at Rome, at S. Peter's, on the 9 December of the Year of the Incarnation of Our Lord one thousand, four hundred and eighty-four, in the first Year of Our Pontificate.”

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Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites



This is one of the earliest books that throw light on the methods of persecution.  Written by the Dominican scholar Johann Nider about 1436, the work consists of a dialogue between a theologian and a doubter on a variety of topics:

I will relate to you some examples, which I have gained in part from the teachers of our faculty, in part from the experience of a certain upright secular judges, worthy of all faith, who from the torture and confession of witches and from his experiences in public and private has learned many things of this sort-a man with whom I have often discussed this subject broadly and deeply.  Peter, a citizen of Bern, in the diocese of Lausanne, [Note: this is Peter of Gruyeres, Bernese castellan 1392-1406] who has burned many witches of both sexes and has driven others out of the territory of the Bernese.  I have moreover conferred with one Benedict, a monk of the Benedictine order, who although now a very devout cleric in a reformed monastery at Vienna, was a decade ago while still in the world, a necromancer, juggler, buffoon and strolling player, well known as an expert among the secular nobility.  I have likewise heard certain of the following things from the Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity (note: this was the official title of the representative of the Inquisition) at Autun, who was a devoted reformer of our order in the convent at Lyons and has convicted many of witchcraft in the diocese of Autun.

The same procedure was more clearly described by another young man arrested and burned as a witch, although as I believe, truly penitent, who had earlier together with his wife, a witch invincible to persuasion, escaped the clutches of the aforesaid judge Peter.  The aforesaid youth, being again indicted at Bern with his wife, and placed in a different prison from hers, declared:  "If I can obtain absolution for my sins, I will freely lay bare all I know about witchcraft, for I see that I have death to expect."  And when he had been assured by the scholars that if he should truly repent, he would certainly be able to gain absolution for his sins, then he gladly offered himself to death and disclosed the methods of the primeval infection.

The ceremony he said of my seduction was as follows:  First, on a Sunday before the holy water is consecrated, the future disciple with his masters must go into the church, and there in their presence must renounce Christ and his faith, baptism and the church universal.  Then he must do homage to the magisterulus, that is, to the little master (the Devil).  Afterward he drinks from the aforesaid flask and this done, he forthwith feels himself to conceive and hold within himself an image of our art and the chief rites of this sect.  After this fashion was I seduced; and my wife also, whom I believe of so great pertinacity that she will endure the flames rather than confess the least whit of the truth; but, alas, we are both guilty.  What the young man had said was found in all respects the truth.  For, after confession, the young man was seen to die in great contrition.  His wife, however, though convicted by the testimony of witnesses, would not confess the truth even under the torture or in death; but when the fire was prepared for her by the executioner, uttered in most evil words a curse upon him, and so was burned.

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Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites


Jacob Sprenger (1436 – 1494).

James Sprenger was born in Basel between 1436 and 1438.  He was admitted as a novice in the Dominican house of his town in 1452.  He became a zealous reformer within the Order.  Later he became a Master of Theology and then in 1480, he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Cologne.  His lecture room was thronged and the following year he was appointed Inquisitor Extraordinary for the provinces of Mainz, Trèves and Cologne.  His activities in this post demanded constant traveling through the very extensive districts.  It was said that his piety and learning impressed all who came in contact with him.  In 1486 he collaborated with Heinrich Kramer to write the Malleus Maleficarum.  Sprenger is believed to have died suddenly in 1495.  

Heinrich Kramer (1430? - 1505)

Heinrich Kramer (Henricus Institorus) was a member of the Dominican Order of Friars, known variously as Friar Preachers, Black Friars or Jacobins, a Roman Catholic religious order founded in 1214 by St Dominic de Guzman.  Kramer was also a noted demonologist who co-authored with a fellow Dominican preacher James Sprenger, the now infamous Malleus Maleficarum (referred to as “The Hammer of the Witches” or “Hexenhammer”).  The main purpose of the Malleus was to justify the suppression of alleged heretic’s, Witches and Pagan’s.  Sanctioned by the church, it was used to instruct inquisitors, judges and magistrates on how to identify, interrogate and convict Witches, leading to near 3 centuries of the most diabolical persecutions.

Kramer was born in Schlettstadt (then part of Germany under Austrian rule, which is now Sélestat in Alsace, France) around 1430.  He joined the Dominican Order of Friars at an early age and rapidly advanced through its ranks.  While still a young man he was appointed Prior of the Dominican house in his own native town.  Later he was made a Preacher General and Master of Sacred Theology (two high distinctions in the Dominican Order).  In 1474 he was appointed inquisitor for the districts of Tyrol, Salzburg, Bohemia and Moravia, and from there began his campaign of terror against witches during the early 1480s.  Due to his eloquence in the pulpit and tireless activity he soon received recognition in Rome and was made right-hand man to the Archbishop of Salzburg with a position as Spiritual Director of the Dominican church.

By the time of the papal bull ‘Summis desiderantes’ issued by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484, he was already associated with James Sprenger to make an inquisition against heritic’s, witches and sorcerers.  In 1485 he drew up a treatise on Witchcraft, which was incorporated in the Malleus Maleficarum.  Some claim that Kramer failed in his attempted endorsement for the work from theologians at the Faculty of Cologne, and that they condemned the book as recommending unethical and illegal procedures inconsistent with Catholic doctrines of demonology at that time.  Others were unconvinced that the work was inconsistent, noting that his co-author James Sprenger held very prestigious and influential positions in the Church, including that of Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Cologne.

In 1495 he was summoned to Venice to give public lectures, which were very popular.  In 1500 he was empowered to proceed against heretic’s, Witches and Pagan’s. 

Of his partnership with Jacob Sprenger, co-author of the Malleus, Sprenger was a distinguished theologian but had no real experience in prosecuting witches.  His alliance was based on their shared obsession with asserting papal supremacy over the secular authorities.  The book's claim to be based on a large caseload of witch trials must therefore have depended on the work of Kramer who had conducted a campaign in the Tirol during the early 1480s.  In the book, he claims to have tried nearly one hundred women, of whom half were sentenced to burn.

In 1484, eight women were executed at Ravensburg, near Constance.  When Kramer arrived in town, armed with papal bulls, he started to preach the dangers of witchcraft inciting the townspeople to accuse their neighbours.  Eight women were convicted and burned for fornication with the Devil, as the town officials explained to Archduke Sigismund of Tirol when he arrived to investigate.  While there were sympathetic officials and intellectuals in the area, such as the mayor of Constance, Conrad Schatz, a fervent enemy of witchcraft, the Archduke of Salzburg however was skeptical, as was the Bishop of Brixen (Bressanone), Georg Golser.  When Kramer moved his activities to Innsbruck in 1485, interrogating fifty women, the Bishop called him "a senile old fool" and expelled him from the town.

Since it was the Innsbruck trials and his failure to prosecute there that launched his career as an author, as well as his reputation amongst other demonologists and historians as an authority on Witchcraft, it is worth inquiring a little more closely into the case.

The women were accused of causing illness through love magic as a result of conflict between lovers and spouses or old feuds and envy.  Kramer turned this into diabolical witchcraft.  It was the absence of any diabolism in the original accusations that convinced the Bishop that Kramer was out of control.  In the case of Helena Scheuberin, he based his entire accusation of diabolism on her supposed promiscuity, asking such detailed questions about her sex life that the bishop's representative ordered him to stop.  The anger of the townsfolk and the threat of rioting forced the Bishop and the Archduke to take action, and Kramer's witch-hunting career came to an abrupt end.  

Kramer later resided for a period at the priory of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (X. Zanipolo), returning to Germany in 1497, where he lived at the convent of Rohr, near Regensburg.  On January 31, 1500, he was appointed nuncio and inquisitor of Bohemia and Moravia by Alexander VI and further empowered to proceed against heretics, Witches and Pagan’s.  He never gave up and died in Bohemia in 1505.

His Major works: include:

The Malleus Maleficarum

Several Discourses and Various Sermons upon the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, Nuremberg, 1496

A Tract Confuting the Errors of Master Antonio degli Roselli, Venice, 1499

The Shield of Defence of the Holy Roman Church Against the Picards and Waldenses, circa 1500


Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Crown Publishers, 1959.

Plus so many other web pages ...

Stefano Infessura

Born at Rome about 1435; died about 1500.  He devoted himself to the study of law, took the degree of Doctor of Laws and acquired a solid legal knowledge.  He was for a while a judge in Orte, then later went on to the Roman University as professor of Roman law.  Under Sixtus IV (Pope - 1471-84) his office was affected by financial measures.  The pope frequently withheld their incomes for other uses, and reduced the professor’s salaries.

Infessura was also for a longtime secretary of the Roman Senate.  He was entangled in the conspiracy of Stefano Porcaro against Nicholas of Cusa  (1401-1464), a German cardinal and philosopher who took a prominent part in the Council of Basel, insisting that the pope was subordinate to councils, promoted the union of Eastern and Western churches and taught that the earth went round the sun.  His over all aim was to overturn the papal Government and make Rome a republic.

Infessura also belonged to the antipapal faction, formed among the paganizing Humanists of the Roman Academy under Pomponio Leto.  He is particularly well known as the author of a work, partly Latin and partly Italian, called the Diarium urbis Romae (Diario della Città di Roma).  This is a chronicle of the city from 1294 to 1494.  The historical information was not of especial value until the time of Martin V (Born - Oddone Colonna 1368-1431, a member of the Roman family of Colonna.  Made pope in 1417 having been elected during the Council of Constance, and responsible for ending the Great Schism between the rival popes of Rome and Avignon), and Eugene IV, or rather until the pontificates of Paul II (1484/92), Sixtus IV (1471/84), Innocent VIII (1484/92), and the first part of the reign of Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia 1492-1503). 

The antipapal and republican temper of the author, also his partisan devotion to the Colonna’s and his personal animosity, led him to indulge in very severe charges and violent accusations of the popes, especially that of Sixtus IV.  He put down in his chronicle every fragment of the most preposterous and malevent gossip current in Roman society.  Pro-papal historians do therefore not consider him a reliable chronicler.  However, he was there at the time and his record remains.

The Diarium was first edited by Eccard (Corpus historicum medii aevi, II, 1863-2016); afterwards, with omission of the most scandalous parts by Muratori (Scriptores rerum Italicarum, III, ii, 1111-1252); a critical edition of the text is owing to Tommasini, Diario della Città di Roma di Stefano Infessura scribasenato (Fonti per la storia d'Italia, VI, Rome, 1890).

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Montague Summers

And The Malleus Maleficarum

Montague Summers was brought up an Anglican, and went to Oxford University between 1899 and 1903.  He took Anglican orders but left his curacy in 1908 after being prosecuted for pederasty, in a case involving choirboys, although he was acquitted.   He initially made a living partly from his family inheritance and partly from teaching, an activity he disliked:  "One of the most difficult and depressing of trades, and so in some measure it must have been even well-nigh three hundred years ago when boys were not nearly so stupid as they are today."  Although he is often said to have taken Roman Catholic orders, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Ulric Vernon Herford, known as Mar Jacobus, Regionary Bishop of Mercia and Middlesex.  Herford was consecrated to the episcopacy in 1902 by Mar Basilius (Luis Mariano Soares) of the Syro-Chaldean Church in India, which broke away from the Holy See in the 1860s.  Herford was a wandering bishop quite apart from Rome, so Summer’s orders were therefore "valid but illicit", according to the Roman Catholic theology of orders.  He called himself "the Reverend Dr. Alphonsus Joseph Mary Augustus Montague Summers".

By about 1926, his success with his pen, writing about the Restoration stage and many other topics, freed him to write full-time.  His real obsession was demonology.  Starting in the late 1920s, he was preoccupied with the study of demons, vampires, werewolves and witchcraft.  Indeed, there were persistent rumours that he had dabbled in Black Magic during his youth.  He was one of the first to produce what purported to be definitive tracts on such subjects.  He believed every word in the trials and demonological tracts that he edited and translated for publication.

Throughout his life, Summers was described by acquaintances as kind, courteous, generous and outrageously witty; but those who knew him well sensed an underlying discomfort and mystery.  In appearance, he was plump, round cheeked and generally smiling.  His dress resembled that of an eighteenth-century cleric, with a few added flourishes such as a silver-topped cane depicting Leda being ravished by Zeus in the form of a swan.  He wore sweeping black capes crowned by a curious hairstyle of his own devising which led many to assume he wore a wig.  His voice was high-pitched, comical and often in complete contrast to the macabre tales he habitually told.  He was buried in Richmond Cemetery on August 13, 1948, in full priestly garb with his breviary and a rosary.

Neo-pagans and the more polemical feminists have often taken Summers to be the voice of Catholic orthodoxy, asserting that he was a Jesuit or a Dominican.  Although he was deeply religious, his was the religion of a former age, and he had a tendency to take anything said by an ecclesiastical authority at face value, however outrageous it might appear to a modern reader.  There are serious problems with his translation of the Malleus, and a new version is projected.  As yet, however, this is the only translation into English that has ever been made, so it is generally used and cited (see his bio as I presently have it: Montague Summers).

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The Waldenses

A heretical sect that appeared in the second half of the twelfth century and, in a considerably modified form, has survived to the present day.

Name and Origin

The name was derived from Waldes their founder and occurs also in the variations of Valdesii, Vallenses.  Numerous other designations were applied to them.  To their profession of extreme poverty they owed the named of ‘the Poor’, and from their place of origin Lyons, they were called ‘Leonistae’, frequently the two ideas were combined in the title ‘Poor Men of Lyons’.  Their practice of wearing sandals or wooden shoes (sabots) caused them to be called ‘Sandaliati’, ‘Insabbatati’, ‘Sabbatati’, ‘Sabotiers’.

Anxious to surround their own history and doctrine with the halo of antiquity, some Waldenses claimed for their churches an apostolic origin.  The first Waldensian congregations it was maintained were established by St. Paul who on his journey to Spain visited the valleys of Piedmont.  The history of these foundations was identified with that of primitive Christendom as long as the Church remained lowly and poor.  But in the beginning of the fourth century Pope Sylvester was raised by Constantine, whom he had cured of leprosy, to a position of power and wealth, and the Papacy became unfaithful to its mission.  Some Christians however, remained true to the Faith and practice of the early days, and in the twelfth century a certain Peter appeared who, from the valleys of the Alps, was called "Waldes".  He was not the founder of a new sect, but a missionary among these faithful observers of the genuine Christian law, and he gained numerous adherents.  This account was indeed far from being universally accredited among the Waldenses, many of them however, for a considerable period accepted as founded on fact the assertion that they originated in the time of Constantine.  Others among them considered Claudius of Turin (died 840), Berengarius of Tours (died 1088), or other such men who had preceded Waldes, the first representatives of the sect.  The claim of its Constantinian origin was for a long time credulously accepted as valid by Protestant historians.  In the nineteenth century however, it became evident to critics that the Waldensian documents had been tampered with.  As a result the pretentious claims of the Waldenses to high antiquity were relegated to the realm of fable.

The real founder of the sect was a wealthy merchant of Lyons who in the early documents is called Waldes (Waldo).  To this name is added from 1368 the designation of Peter, assumed by him at his ‘conversion’, or more likely attributed to him by his followers.  Few details concerning his personal history are known, however, two important accounts of the complete change in his religious life, one written about 1220 by a Premonstratensian monk, usually designated as the ‘anonymous chronicler of Laon’, the other by a Dominican Friar and Inquisitor Stephen of Bourbon (died about 1262) and dates back to about the middle of the thirteenth century.  The former writer assigns a prominent place to the influence exercised on Waldes by the history of St. Alexius, while the latter makes no mention of it but speaks of his acquaintance with the contents of the Bible through translations. 

The history of Waldes's conversion may perhaps be reconstructed in the following manner.  Desirous of acquiring knowledge of biblical teaching, Waldes requested two priests to translate for him the four Gospels.  In a similar manner he subsequently obtained translations of other Biblical books and of some writings of the Fathers.  Through the reading of these works he was attracted to the practice of Christian perfection, his fervor increased when one day he heard from an itinerant singer (ioculator) the history of St. Alexius.  He then consulted a master of theology on the best and surest way to salvation.  In answer the words of Christ to the rich young man were cited to him:  "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor” (Matt., xix, 21).

Waldes immediately put into effect the counsel of the Divine Master.  He made over part of his wealth to his wife, part to those from whom he had acquired it, left some to the nuns of Fontevrault in whose monastery he placed his two little daughters, and distributed the greatest part to the poor.  On the feast of the Assumption 1176, he disposed of the last of his earthly possessions and shortly after took the vow of poverty.  His example created a great stir in Lyons and soon found imitators, particularly among the lower and uneducated classes.  A special confraternity was established for the practice of apostolic poverty.  Its members almost immediately began to preach in the streets and public places and gained more adherents.  Their preaching however was not unmixed with doctrinal error and was consequently prohibited by the Archbishop of Lyons, and according to Walter Map who was present at the assembly, by the Third General Lateran Council (1179).

The Waldenses, instead of heeding the prohibition, continued to preach on the streets and plead that obedience is due rather to God than to man.  Pope Lucius III consequently included them among the heretics against whom he issued a Bull of excommunication at Verona in 1184.


The organization of the Waldenses was a reaction against the great splendor and outward display existing in the medieval Church.  It was a practical protest against the worldly lives of some contemporary churchmen.  Amid such ecclesiastical conditions the Waldenses made the profession of extreme poverty a prominent feature in their own lives, and emphasized by their practice the need for the much-neglected task of preaching.  As they were mainly recruited among circles not only devoid of theological training, but also lacking generally in education, it was inevitable that error should mar their teaching, and just as inevitable that in consequence; ecclesiastical authorities should put a stop to their evangelistic work.

Among the doctrinal errors that they propagated was the denial of purgatory, and of indulgences and prayers for the dead.  They denounced all lying as a grievous sin, refused to take oaths and considered the shedding of human blood unlawful.  They consequently condemned war and the infliction of the death penalty.  Some points in this teaching so strikingly resemble the Cathari that the borrowing of the Waldenses from them may be looked upon as a certainty.  Both sects also had a similar organization, being divided into two classes, the Perfect (perfecti) and the Friends or Believers (amici or credentes).

Among the Waldenses the perfect, bound by the vow of poverty, wandered about from place to place preaching.  Such an itinerant life was ill suited for the married state, and to the profession of poverty they added the vow of chastity.  Married persons who desired to join them were permitted to dissolve their union without the consent of their consort.  Orderly government was secured by the additional vow of obedience to superiors.  The perfect were not allowed to perform manual labour, but were to depend for their subsistence on the members of the sect known as the friends.  These continued to live in the world, married, owned property and engaged in secular pursuits.  Their generosity and alms were to provide for the material needs of the perfect.  The friends remained in union with the Catholic Church and continued to receive its sacraments with the exception of penance, for which they sought out, whenever possible, one of their own ministers.

The name Waldenses was at first exclusively reserved to the perfect; but in the course of the thirteenth century the friends were also included in the designation.  The perfect were divided into the three classes of bishops, priests and deacons.  The bishops, called ‘major’ or ‘majoralis’, preached and administered the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and order.  The celebration of the Eucharist, frequent perhaps in the early period, soon took place only on Holy Thursday.  The priest preached and enjoyed limited faculties for the hearing of confessions.  The deacon, named ‘junior’ or ‘minor’, acted as assistant to the higher orders and by the collection of alms relieved them of all material care.  A joint meeting of priests and deacons elected the bishop.  In his consecration as well as in the ordination of the other members of the clergy, the laying-on of hands was the principal element, but the recitation of the Our Father, so important in the Waldensian liturgy, was also a prominent feature.

The power of jurisdiction seems to have been exercised exclusively by one bishop, known as the ‘rector’, who was the highest executive officer.  Supreme legislative power was vested in the general convention or general chapter, which met once or twice a year and was originally composed of the perfect, but at a later date only of the senior members among them.  It considered the general situation of the sect, examined the religious condition of the individual districts, admitted to the episcopate, priesthood, or deaconate, and pronounced upon the admission of new members and the expulsion of unworthy ones.

The Lombard communities were in several respects more radical than the French.  Holding that the validity of the sacraments depends on the worthiness of the minister and viewing the Catholic Church as the community of Satan, they rejected its entire organization in so far as it was not based on the Scriptures.  In regard to the reception of the sacraments, their practice was less radical than their theory.  Although they looked upon the Catholic priests as unworthy ministers, they not infrequently received communion at their hands and justified this course on the grounds that God nullifies the defect of the minister and directly grants his grace to the worthy recipient.  The present Waldensian Church may be regarded as a Protestant sect of the Calvinistic type.  It recognizes as its doctrinal standard the confession of faith published in 1655, and based on the Reformed confession of 1559.  It admits only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper.  Supreme authority in the body is exercised by an annual synod, and the affairs of the individual congregations are administered by a consistory under the presidency of the pastor.

History - The Waldenses in France and Spain

The preaching of Waldes and his disciples obtained immediate success not only in France, but also in Italy and Spain.  The Italian adherents at a very early date constituted themselves independently.  In France the movement gained ground particularly in the South, whence it spread to Northern Spain.  The Church sought to avert by persuasion the danger of numerous defections.  As early as 1191 a religious conference was held between Catholics and Waldenses at a place that has not been recorded, it was followed by a second held at Pamiers in 1207.  The latter meeting brought about a return to the Church of Duran of Huesca and several other Waldenses.  With the authorization of Innocent III they organized themselves into the special religious order of the Poor Catholics for the conversion of Waldenses.  This purpose was attained only in a very small degree; but force soon checked the heretical movement.  In 1192 Bishop Otto of Toul ordered all Waldenses to be put in chains and delivered up to the Episcopal tribunal.  Two years later King Alphonso II of Aragon banished them from his dominions and forbade anyone to furnish them with shelter or food.  These provisions were renewed by Pedro II at the Council of Gerona (1197), and death by burning was decreed against the heretics.

The French authorities seem to have proceeded with less severity for a time.  The Albigensian wars however, also reacted on the policy towards the Waldenses, and in 1214 seven of these suffered the death penalty at Maurillac.  But it was only toward the middle of the thirteenth century that the heresy lost ground in Provence and Languedoc.  It did not disappear in these provinces until it was merged in the Protestant Reformation movement, while Spain and Lorraine were freed from it in the course of the thirteenth century.  The most conspicuous centre of Waldensian activity in France during the later middle ages was Dauphiné and the western slope of the Cottian Alps.  The sect seems to have been introduced in to this territory from Lombardy.  From Dauphiné and the valleys of the Alps it carried on missionary work in all Southern France to the Atlantic seaboard.  In 1403 a determined effort was made to win back the Waldenses of the valleys of Louise, Argentière and Freissinièeres, but the apostolic labours of even a St. Vincent Ferrer were powerless.  The Inquisition was equally unsuccessful, as were also the stern measures of the local civil authorities.  The policy of repression was temporarily abandoned under King Louis XI, who believing them to be orthodox extended to the Waldenses of the above-mentioned valleys his royal protection in an ordinance of 1478.

This period of peace was followed in 1488 by a crusade summoned by Innocent VIII against the Waldenses.  The war did not succeed in stamping them out.  But soon after the Reformation profoundly modified the sect's history and doctrinal development.  A deputation composed of G. Morel and P. Masson was sent in 1530 to Switzerland for information concerning the new religious ideas.  On their return journey Masson was arrested at Dijon and executed, Morel alone safely accomplished his mission.  The report of this journey led to the assembly of a general convention to which Morel and other Swiss Reformers were invited.  The meeting was held at Chanforans in the valley of Angrogne and the Reformed teaching substantially adopted (1532).  A minority opposed this course and vainly sought to stem the tied of radicalism by an appeal for assistance to the Bohemian Brethren.  A new convention held in the valley of St. Martin in 1533, confirmed the decisions of Chanforans.  The open adoption of Protestantism soon led to the persecution in which Waldensianism disappeared from Provence in 1545.  The history of the communities in other districts became henceforth identified with that of Protestantism in France.

The Waldenses in Italy and Other Countries

Italy became a more permanent home of Waldensianism and more active in missionary work than France.  During the very first years of Waldes's preaching, converts to his views are mentioned in Lombardy.  They increased rapidly in number and were joined by some members of the Order of Humiliati.  But dissensions soon arose between the Waldensians in France and in Lombardy.  The latter organized guilds of craftsmen, desired leaders of their own and refused admission among the perfect to married persons without the consent of their consort.  On Waldes's refusal to sanction these points, his followers in Italy seceded during the first decade of the thirteenth century.  After his death a vain attempt at reunion was made at Bergamo in 1218.  The Italian branch after some time not only prospered in the valleys of western Piedmont, but also established important colonies in Calabria and Apulia.  In the fifteenth century communities hardly less important are mentioned in the Papal States and other parts of Central Italy.

The appearance of the Waldenses in the Diocese of Strasburg is recorded in 1211 and the years 1231-1233 were marked in Germany by resolute efforts to stamp out their errors.  But soon adherents of the sect were found in Bavaria, Austria and other sections.  They spread in the north to the shores of the Baltic Sea, and in the east to Bohemia, Poland and Hungary.  With the appearance of new heresies they at times partly lost their distinctive character.  In Bohemia they amalgamated with the Hussites and the Bohemian Brethren without losing all their peculiarities.

Protestantism was still more readily accepted.  Not only were its teachings universally adopted, but also numerous Waldensian communities were merged in the Protestant churches, the Italian congregations alone retaining an independent existence and the original name.  Those in the Piedmont valleys enjoyed religious peace from 1536-1559, owing to the political dependence of the districts upon France.  A contrary policy was pursued by the Dukes of Savoy, but the Waldenses at the very outset successfully resisted, and in 1561 were granted in certain districts the free exercise of their religion.

In 1655 violence was again fruitlessly resorted to.  Later in the same century (1686, 1699) some of them, under stress of renewed persecution, emigrated to Switzerland and Germany.  In Piedmont, civil equality was granted them in 1799 when the French occupied the country.  They enjoyed this peace until the downfall of Napoleon I, but again lost it at the return of the house of Savoy.  From 1816 onwards, gradual concessions were made to the Waldenses and in 1848 Charles Albert granted them complete and permanent liberty.

Since then renewed activity has marked their history.  They founded in 1855 a school of theology at Torre Pellice and transferred it to Florence in 1860.  Through emigration they have spread to several cities of Southern France and also to North and South America.  There are five congregations in Uruguay and two in Argentina.  Three colonies have settled in the United States, at Wolfe Ridge in Texas, Valdese in North Carolina and Monett in Missouri.  The communities that in the seventeenth century settled in Germany have since severed their connection with the church and abandoned their original language.  In Hesse-Darmstadt they were prohibited the use of French in 1820-21, and in Würtemberg they joined the Lutheran State Church in 1823.  Later on they began receiving financial support from the American Waldensian Aid Society, founded in 1906, and from a similar organization in Great Britain.

Back to Top

Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites


 The Albigenses

A heretical sect of Christians (also known as the Cathars) who flourished in France near Albi and Toulouse during the 11th-13th centuries.  They adopted the Manichean belief in the duality of good and evil and pictured Jesus as being a rebel against the cruelty of an omnipotent God.

The Albigenses showed a consistently anti-Catholic attitude with distinctive sacraments, especially the consolamentum, or baptism of the spirit.  Pope Lucius III initiated an inquisition against the Albigenses in 1184 and in 1208; a crusade was launched against them under the elder Simon de Montfort.  Thousands were killed before the movement was crushed in 1244.


The Hussites

Members of the Bohemian religious and nationalist movement led by John Huss (Czech Jan).  They became known as the Hussites and were opposed to both German and papal influences in Bohemia.  They waged a successful war against the Holy Roman Empire from 1419, but Roman Catholicism was finally re-established 1620.

The burning of John Huss

The burning of the Bohemian religious reformer John Huss, taken from the 15th-century Chronicle of Ulrich Richtental, University Library of Prague.  An outspoken critic of church abuses, John Huss was seized at the Council of Constance, found guilty of heresy, and condemned to death.  His execution led his many supporters in Bohemia and Moravia to launch bloody wars in support of his principles.

Back to Top

Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites




Yet to be worked out, I’ve been all over the place with this one :-)

Best wishes and Blessed Be


Site Contents - Links to all Pages


Home Page


A Universal Message:


Let there be peace in the world  -   Where have all the flowers gone?


About me:

My Personal PageMy Place in England / My Family Tree (Ancestry)


Wicca & Witchcraft


Wicca/Witchcraft /  What is Wicca What is Magick


Traditional Writings:


The Wiccan Rede Charge of the Goddess Charge of the God  /  The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) /  The Witches Chant The Witches Creed Descent of the Goddess Drawing Down the Moon The Great Rite Invocation Invocation of the Horned GodThe 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief /  The Witches Rede of Chivalry A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality


Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /


Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /


Other things of interest:


Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /   


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansUnicornWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat /  Rats /  Unicorn




In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark


Old Masters of Academia:


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras





A "Who's Who" of Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


Abramelin the Mage /  Agrippa Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /   Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda MetteyyaAllan Kardec (Spiritism) /  Alphonsus de SpinaAmber KAnn Moura /  Anna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman SpareBalthasar Bekker /  Biddy EarlyBarbara Vickers /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristopher PenczakChristina Oakley Harrington Cornelius Loos /  Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-NowickiDonald Michael Kraig Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edain McCoy /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen Duncan /   Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Heinrich KramerIsaac Bonewits Israel RegardieIvo Domínguez Jr. /  Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJean Bodin Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johann Weyer  / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /   Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim  -  the “Hexenbrenner” (witch burner) /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John Score /  Joseph “Bearwalker” Wilson /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /   Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceLodovico Maria Sinistrari Ludwig LavaterMadeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMichael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" /  Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” /  Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMartin Antoine Del Rio Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /   Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsus /  Patricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPaul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school /  Peter Binsfeld /  Philip HeseltonRaven GrimassiRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Richard BaxterRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Rossell Hope Robbins /   Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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