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The Flying Phallus and the Laughing Inquisitor: Penis Theft in the "Malleus Maleficarum"

Moira Smith
Journal of Folklore Research
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan. - Apr., 2002), pp. 85-117
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814832
Page Count: 33
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The Flying Phallus and the Laughing Inquisitor: Penis Theft in the
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Abstract

Kramer and Sprenger's Malleus Maleficarum [Hammer of Witches], written in the fifteenth century as a guide to prosecuting alleged witches, was a central source for the European witch craze. This article examines a narrative included in this work, one that relates how witches steal men's penises and keep them alive in birds' nests. In one case, Kramer and Sprenger record that a victim tried to choose a big penis to replace the one he had lost, but was told that it belonged to a village priest. This narrative has been derided often by scholars as a sign of the authors' instability, but in fact the story expresses several levels of traditional lore. This paper explores three of these: penis theft in traditional love magic; the representations of penis-as-bird in art, slang, and jokelore; and the image of the hypersexual priest in anti-clerical jokes from the Middle Ages to the present. Although Kramer and Sprenger believed that penis theft was a genuine psycho-medical phenomenon, the evidence shows that they recognized this story as a bawdy joke and meant their readers to do the same.

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