The most heinous of all crimes alleged to have been committed by witches in the Malleus is undoubtedly eating children. In addition to the universal horror of such an act, children are celebrated in Christianity for their purity (eg. the continuing popularity of Jesus depicted as an infant), and Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents is seen as a particularly lamentable atrocity. To accuse witches of child-cannibalism, Kramer was using the most potent weapon in his arsenal. The supposed danger of witches to children was particularly alarming at a time when infant mortality was high, doubtless increasing the Malleus‘s influence.
One convicted witch revealed how they killed and ate children: âwith our spells we kill them in their cradles or even when they are sleeping by their parents’ side, in such a way that they afterwards are thought to have been overlain or to have died some other natural death… then we secretly take them from their graves, and cook them in a cauldron, until the whole flesh comes away from the bones to make a soup which may easily be drunk’ (Malleus Part II Question 1 Chapter 2), the rest being used for the flying ointment (see above).
Kramer also reveals a wider conspiracy, of course amongst women. âWe must not omit to mention the injuries done to children by witch midwives, first by killing them, and secondly by blasphemously offering them to devils’ (Malleus Part II Question 1 Chapter 13). Untold numbers of infants were believed to have been killed by midwives: âin the diocese of Basel at the town of Dann, a witch who was burned confessed that she had killed more than forty children, by sticking a needle through the crowns of their heads into their brains, as they came out from the womb’ (Ibid.).
Midwives, with their unquestioned access to newly born (and hence unbaptised) children, at a time of high infant mortality, were an easy target for conspiracy theories. Kramer’s repulsive misogyny is also an important factor in this accusation. Men largely had no part in the birthing of children in this period, leaving a group of women unattended: clearly, they must be up to no good. With the unrelated statistics of stillborn children and those for whose condition at birth science had yet to find a remedy, to a misogynistic and witch-fearing mind no further proof was required of the midwife conspiracy.