Spain - Witchcraze! Persecution of Witches

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Witchcraze! Persecution of Witches

The Spanish Inquisition was established by Pope Sixtus IV in 1478, at the request of their Most Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, who were exceedingly distressed by the tolerance of faith and diversity then existing in Spain.

The Spanish Inquisition was a separate organization from the regular Inquisition (see page 806), which reported directly and only to the Pope. Although the Spanish Inquisition was created by papal order, ultimate control lay with a royal council (the Suprema) appointed by the reigning monarch, as were all officials of the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition would periodically descend on a town or village and conduct inquiries into the religious correctness of its citizens.

The Spanish Inquisition’s obsession was with uncovering secret Jews and so it paid comparatively little attention to witches. Providing witchcraft was not aimed directly at the Roman Catholic Church (not in an abstract way, as elsewhere in Europe) it was treated as simple heresy. Following repentance and penance, the witch or wizard was received back into the faith.

The worst witch-hunts occurred in Catalonia and the Basque region. Elsewhere, witches tended to be punished rather than killed. Punishments included the imposition of religious penances, confiscation of property, public flogging, imprisonment, fines or exile.

In the late fifteenth century, Grand Inquisitor Don Alfonso Manriquez issued an edict ordering good Christians to report any instances of fellow citizens practicing magic. The list of crimes to be reported includes:

Image Invoking spirits for purposes of divination

Image Reading or possessing grimoires or other magical manuscripts

Image Creation of mirrors, glass vials or other vessels for purposes of spirit communication

Image Astrology, geomancy, hydromancy, pyromancy, divining by dice or lots, palm reading, dream interpretation, necromancy, divining by smoke or ash, or “any other magic craft”

Gracia la Valle, the first woman burned to death as a witch by the Spanish Inquisition, was killed in Zaragoza in 1498, and in 1582 the Spanish Inquisition forbade the University of Salamanca from teaching astrology, as this was Fortune-telling and therefore heresy. Astrology books were added to the official Index of Forbidden Books.

In 1781 Maria Dolores Lopez, the last person killed as a witch by the Spanish Inquisition, was burned for laying eggs with Kabalistic designs.

The Spanish Colonies (New Spain)

New Spain was a vast territory, including what is now the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, parts of the Caribbean, Peru, and the Phillipines.

Papal bulls of 1521 and 1522 initially established the Inquisition in New Spain. In 1571, King Philip II formally established the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico and Peru.

During its initial years, the primary focus was on conversos (converted Jews and their descendants, always suspected of backsliding) and on suspected Protestants. The majority of Inquisition cases involved not witchcraft but priests who had broken their vows, Jewish conversos who had allegedly become Judaized again, Spanish heretics, and blasphemers. This was not that different from Spain. A new factor did exist in the Americas, however: indigenous American spiritual traditions and magical practices.

In 1571, those Indians newly converted to Christianity were exempt from the Inquisition, but a parallel institution was created just for them, the Proviserato.

Women traditionally held positions of prominence in indigenous spirituality healing, and magical practices. Spanish Inquisition documents as well as other colonial-era documents use the term mujeres de mal vivir (“women who live evil lives”) to identify witches, enchantresses healers, and spiritual leaders. Sometimes variations such as mujer-sillas de mal vivir (“worthless women who live evil lives”) were substituted.

In the 1600s the Spanish Inquisition targeted Andean Aymara and Quechua women who sought to maintain indigenous religions. The women are described as “witches” who challenge the authority of Church and state.

Both men and women worshipped the Corn Mother, Saramama, but women felt especially close to her and served as her priestesses. The Saramamas (a genre of deity rather than one exclusive Corn Mother) were the center of women’s spiritual activities.

In the early seventeenth century Bernardo de Noboa was sent by the Archbishop of Lima into the surrounding countryside to root out and terminate Pagan traditions. Noboa brought charges including witchcraft against five women. Isabel Yalpey, Francisca Quispe Tanta, Francisca Quillay Tanta, Francisca Nauim Carhua, and Maria Chaupis Tanta, a priestess of Saramama, were charged with witchcraft, leading and instructing women in idolatrous practices, and teaching ancestral traditions.

Maria Chaupis Tanta, the woman identified as a priestess and described in trial transcripts as a “witch confessor,” was convicted of exhorting Indian women not to adore Christ but their ancestral spirits instead. Her hair was shorn in punishment and she was forced to go out in the manner of a penitent with a rope around her throat, holding a cross in her hands. She was seated astride a llama and paraded through public streets while a town crier denounced her crimes, and she was given 100 lashes. She was then sent to the Church of Acas for ten years to serve at the disposition of its priest.

The other women were given similar sentences. All were sentenced to serve in the same church but were specifically forbidden to meet together in public or private. Directions were given for each woman to be isolated.

By the seventeenth century in the District of Peru, indigenous women were confessing to pacts with Satan and having sex with Satan. Ironically during witch-trial confession transcripts, indigenous women claim the devil appeared to them in the guise of a Spaniard. In Peru, the commonest punishment meted out to women accused of witchcraft was exile to the obrajes, sweatshops where women were forced to spin and weave.

In Guatemala, the maestras (female teachers and masters of magic) were accused of corrupting the masses. Colonial officials expressed less concern for men’s witchcraft societies, which also existed. Women were perceived as the cancerous force. The Inquisition aggressively pursued renowned maestras (or notorious mujeres de mal vivir) as an example and warning to other women. By the 1690s the Head of Guatemala’s Inquisition complained that they lacked sufficient jails to imprison all the mujeres de mal vivir.

Further Reading: Martha Few’s Women Who Live Evil Lives (University of Texas Press, 2002) and Irene Silverblatt’s Moon, Sun and Witches (Princeton University Press, 1987).