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The Wide Woman: A Neglected Epithet in the Malleus Maleficarum

From: Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft
Volume 8, Number 2, Winter 2013
pp. 162-170 | 10.1353/mrw.2013.0020



According to the Malleus maleficarum, devils refer to the Virgin Mary as extensa mulier or “the distended woman.” Although this peculiar phrase finds no echo in western demonology or western witch-trial testimony before or after the Malleus, a very similar epithet is widely attested in Polish sources from the 16th-18th centuries, where both accused witches and the demon-possessed report that devils call Mary Szeroka or “the Wide Woman.” The present article explores two possibilities: that Polish folk demonology got its “Wide Woman” from the Malleus, or that the Malleus got ‘extensa mulier’ from Slavic folk demonology. It argues for the second option, suggesting thereby that the collective concept of the diabolical witch drew more widely from European folklores than is usually supposed.

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