In 1487, when the witch trials were just starting to take root in Europe, a Dominican priest published the Malleus Maleficarum, or The Witches' Hammer, a treatise on the prosecution of witches in a court of law. This text would be used over the next three centuries as the authority on the trial and torture of witches, laying out why women in particular were so susceptible to witchcraft. By the end of the witch craze in the 1720s, an estimated 80,000 had been tried and executed. In this extended episode, Gerhild Williams, a professor of comparative literature and Germanic literature and culture, breaks down the witch trial phenomenon into three parts: (1) defining the witch and the roots of these beliefs, (2) how the political landscape evolved and the contents of The Witches' Hammer, and (3) how and why the witch craze took hold and what we can learn from it today.
You can read more of Professor Williams' research on the topic in Defining Dominion: The Discourses of Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern France and Germany.
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