Facts & History of the Witch-hunter Manual Compendium Maleficarum

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The Compendium Maleficarum is a treatise on demonology and witchcraft, divided into three volumes written by Francesco Maria Guazzo, published in 1608.

The Compendium Maleficarum, also known as the “Hammer of Witches,” is a famous treatise on witchcraft and demonology that was published in Italy in the late 17th century. It was written by Francesco Maria Guazzo and it quickly became one of the most widely-read and influential books on the subject of witchcraft. It includes quotes from numerous experts including the great inquisitor Nicolas Remy.

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Wood Engraving from the Compendium Maleficarum, 1608

Francesco Maria Guaccio, known as Guazzo, was born in Milan around 1570. He was a friar first of the Order of St. Barnabas and then of the Order of St. Ambrose ad Nemus, after their union in 1589. Guaccio wrote in three volumes in 1605 in the town of Cleve, where he had been invited to attend a trial initiated by the Inquisition against an old priest suspected of witchcraft. There he is reported to have met the prosecutor of Lorraine, Nicolas Rémy, who encouraged and assisted him in writing the Compendium, which contains several allusions to Remy’s cases, which he compiled in Daemonolatreiae libri tres, published in 1595. The book was first printed in Milan in 1608.


The Compendium Maleficarum is divided into five main sections. The first section provides a general overview of the nature of witchcraft, including a discussion of the different types of witches and their powers. The second section discusses the various methods of detecting witches, including the use of torture and other forms of interrogation. The third section provides detailed accounts of various witch trials and the methods used to prosecute the accused. The fourth section offers practical advice for dealing with witches, including exorcism and other methods of banishing evil spirits. The final section is a collection of case studies and stories of real-life encounters with witches.


Guazzo also included a hierarchical classification of demons, based on an earlier work by Michael Psello. Early categories were based on St. Paul’s writings. Three hierarchies, each of which was further split into a particular number of categories, were thought to make up the angelic court in the fourth century. Demons were categorized in the same way. The classification of demons into five groups plus a sixth class known as the shadow did not occur until the works of Michael Psellus in the eleventh century. The rise of all-European witchcraft during the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance necessitated the creation of more structured hierarchical systems that defined the precise place and characteristics of every potential demon. The most well-known list was published by the English physician and magician Johann Weyer in his “Pseudomonarchia daemonum” (1563), which stated that there were 7,409,127 demons under the control of 79 princes, with descriptions of each demon’s characteristics and appearance.


Little new information was added to the study of demonology and witchcraft-related occurrences by the Compendium Maleficarum. The author himself regarded it nothing more than a meticulous compilation. Guazzo’s bibliography mostly references Remy, Del Rio’s 1600 book Disquisitiones magicae, and the notorious Malleus maleficarum from 1487.


One of the most striking things about the Compendium Maleficarum is its emphasis on the evil and malevolent nature of witches. The authors portray witches as being in league with the devil, and they believe that witches have the power to cause great harm to individuals and communities. They also argue that witches are able to transform themselves into animals, fly through the air, and cast spells and curses on their victims.


The Compendium Maleficarum was widely read and cited by judges and other officials who were involved in witch trials. It was also used as a reference by exorcists and other practitioners who were called upon to deal with cases of witchcraft and demonic possession. However, the book was also heavily criticized by many scholars and theologians, who argued that its ideas were based on superstition and ignorance.


Despite its controversial nature, the Compendium Maleficarum remains a fascinating and important work in the history of witchcraft and demonology. Its vivid and detailed accounts of witch trials and exorcisms offer a glimpse into the minds of those who believed in the reality of witchcraft, and its lasting impact on popular attitudes towards witchcraft continues to be felt today.


Sources: 1 , 2


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