Europe in the 15th Century. We see how the most calamitous book in world literature arose: the Hammer of the Witches, a book that was to spread dread and horror across Europe for centuries. Far in excess of 50,000 people burnt on Europe’s funeral pyre.

The year is 1484. Dominican monk Heinrich Kramer is summoned to Ravensburg as an Inquisitor to solve a problem of evil witches. The process ends with two women dying at the stake. From the confessions obtained through torture Kramer gains his first proof. Witches really do exist. In detailed film scenes the story traces a path from the Vatican and Innsbruck back to Kramer’s cloisters in Alsace where he ultimately writes the Hammer of the Witches (the Malleus Maleficarum). The book proliferates throughout Europe and becomes his legacy. Our film shows the two key eras of witch-hunting. At the end of the Middle Ages society loses its way.  It takes 200 years of enlightenment before people free themselves of the animistic, spiritual-religious mindset of a dark world full of ghosts and demons. This is how long it took from the first Witch Trial until the last woman was burnt as a witch in Germany. The first phase of the film focuses on those changes in the church and society that made witch hunts possible in the first place. The story then follows Heinrich Kramer who manages to temporarily take in the Pope in Rome with his conspiracy theories towards the end of the 15th century. The prevailing view in theological tradition was that Black Magic had no basis in truth since it did not stem from the hand of God. The image of witches in the public eye then took a sensational turn. Witches were no longer considered creatures of the superstitious mind but living accomplices of the devil. Despite publicly voiced criticism of Kramer’s work, fear of witches spread followed by hysteria that was to cost tens of thousands of people their lives. We trace the path of the perpetrators and victims alike – taking the audience through re-enactment scenes depicting the actions and fate of our protagonists showing them how good citizens became torturers, murderers and violent extremists. We open the archives and trace the life stories of these purported witches and quote from the judgements and protocols of the witch trials. We show the confessions of both educated and simple women, from different walks of life, some obtained by gruesome torture – with details of their alleged magic abilities, sorcery, ecstatic orgies and sexual links to the devil as well as their flights through the air to their witches’ covens.

History / Science
Film by Roland May
Length 45’/52’ HD
Co-production Lavafilm with SWR, with the support of Filmförderung des Landes Baden-Württemberg, 2018
Original Title Die  Hexenjagd