There is an interesting article by Sandra Miesel on the blog EndrTimes which discusses the Inquisition, the “Burning Times” and the often exaggerated numbers of victims who perished during the “witch craze”. It provides a lot of historical context to the Inquisition and the Malleus’ roll in prosecuting those of accused of witchcraft. I highly recommend giving it a read.
What follows are excerpts from the text of that article;
Meanwhile, witch-hunters’ manuals multiplied, most notably the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches), published in 1486. Its authors, Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer, were experienced Dominican inquisitors who had burned 48 witches in one diocese alone and had obtained a papal bull approving their mission. Reversing the old principle of the Canon Episcopi, Sprenger and Kraemer proclaimed that not believing in the reality of witches was heresy. Witches regularly did physical as well as spiritual harm to others, they wrote, and allegiance to the devil defined witchcraft. Sprenger and Kraemer exhorted secular authorities to fight witches by any means necessary.
Malleus Maleficarum (notice the feminine possessive of “witches”) was a vicious misogynist tract. It depicted women as the sexual playmates of Satan, declaring: “All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.” Ironically, Sprenger also had a deep devotion to Mary. He helped to shape the modern rosary and founded the first rosary confraternity.
Malleus Maleficarum did not cover its ground completely, failing to discuss the actual pact that witches made with the devil, the sabbat, familiars (imps in animal form who aided witches), and night-flying. But those elements did not always appear in witchcraft cases. By itself, the Malleus started no new witch-panics, but it was freely used by later witchcraft writers, Protestant and Catholic alike. The Spanish inquisitors were nearly alone in scoffing at its lack of sophistication.
The demonologists who absorbed the Malleus were highly cultured men, such as the Protestant Jean Bodin, “the Aristotle of the 16th century,” and his contemporary, the Jesuit classicist Martin del Rio. Those theoreticians pounded home the principle of the crimen exceptum: Because witchcraft was so vile an offense, accused witches had no legal rights. “Not one witch in a million would be accused or punished,” Bodin boasted, “if the procedure were governed by ordinary rules.” Anyone who defended accused witches or denied their crimes deserved the same punishment as witches, Bodin wrote.