by Edo Nyland
March 25, 1997
Much is known about the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th
centuries. In some countries, a great deal of the original
documentation has survived in archives such as the "Archivo
Historico National" in Madrid, and these records have been used
by a variety of scholars from different countries to describe the
What emerged from their independent and
unemotional assessments amounted to a terrible indictment of the
the church in Rome. Most of these
researchers concluded that the brutal burnings had been a terrible
mistake; but were they?
It was also clearly shown that among the
members of the Inquisition there were some very responsible, honest
and courageous people, who were, however, not always able to control
the excesses of some of their colleagues or of the local officials,
once the process was out of hand.
My translations of some of the
names, associated with this epidemic of burnings and hangings tell
their own tragic stories.
The church knew from the beginning that witchcraft did not exist.
The social anthropologist Evans-Pritchard wrote in 1935:
"Witchcraft is an
imaginary offense because it is impossible. A witch cannot do
what he/she is supposed to do and has in fact no real existence.
A sorcerer, on the other hand, may make magic to kill his
neighbours. The magic will not kill them, but he can and no
doubt, often does with that intention."
One of the bright lights
during the time of the witch craze, which had thrown a cloud of
death and despair over the beautiful Basque countryside, was the Bishop of Pamplona, the influential Antonio Venegas de Figueroa.
investigations had led him to believe that the witch craze was
almost entirely based on deceit and self-delusion, and he gave
expression to this view in a letter to the Inquisition in March
1610. After interrogating various people the bishop established that
there had been absolutely no mention or knowledge of witchcraft
before the persecutions had commenced.
Many of the inhabitants had
gone to the witch burnings in France and brought back the knowledge
from there. Before that time the people had known nothing about
witch sects or aquelarres or evil arts (Henningson p.127). The
bishop had learned that uneducated and lonely people or people who
deviated from the norm of their society, were the first to be
supposed to be members of this secret confederation, where all the
virtues of society were inverted.
Inquisitor Alonso de Salazar Frias, one of the Inquisition’s own
scholars, who was sent to report on the epidemic of witchcraft,
wrote in 1612:
"There were neither witches nor bewitched until they
were talked and written about"
So why did the
church unleash this most demonic of all holocausts? The church had
kept Salazar’s, the bishop’s and similar reports secret and it was
not until three centuries later that several of Salazar’s (mislabled)
submissions to the Inquisition were re-discovered by the American
historian Henry Charles Lea, who used them in his monumental book
"Inquisition of Spain" (p 211-237).
The question now is: was
there a reason for the church to continue the witch charade for so
many years (throughout the 16th, 17th and part of the 18th century)
when it knew very well that there never had been any witches or aquelarres? The word "aquelarre" comes from Basque
akela-arre, Akela (Priestess, witch) arremankor (social): "The
witches’ social (gathering)".
Our English word "witch" is taken
straight from the Basque language; the first three letters of the
verb itxuraldatu (to transform, to change shape) were used;
pronounced "itch" with a "w" stuck onto it to mask the Basque
origin. Changing shape was something some "witches" themselves had
admitted to during questioning, whether this was possible or not.
But first I must make clear that there is a great difference between
"witchcraft", also called the traditional distrust between people,
and the "witch-craze", also known as "demonical witchcraft" which is
the product of,
"syncretism of the witch beliefs of the common people
with those of the more specialized or educated classes"
The last type was spread by the preaching of the fanatical
Franciscan Zealots, telling fabricated and detailed witch stories
from the pulpits. The existence of witches, as a group or coven, was
therefore a fictitious product of the church’s propaganda.
In Spain the burning of heretics had been on the decline in the late
16th century and none had taken place since the auto-da-fe (act of
faith) at Logroño in 1593.
At that time, twenty-three cases had been
prepared: six for Judaism, one for Mohammedanism, one for
Lutheranism, one for bigamy, twelve for blasphemous or heretical
utterances, and two for impersonating agents of the Inquisition.
There were no witches around yet. The auto-da-fe’s had attracted
many people to witness the event, but nothing compared to what was
to come. The people who had been executed in 1593 had been punished
for offenses which mattered little to the local population. The
auto-da-fe of 1610 was very different.
Fifty three people were
to be sentenced, but eleven of the group were covered with figures
of devils and flames, because they were condemned to die for
witchcraft. In reality there were only six left alive, the other
five had "died" in prison and were represented by effigies
long poles. These eleven were their own local people, and they were
going to die for a non-existent offense; this was not justice, this
was a sacrifice.
The peoples’ response to the announcement had been astonishing to
The scene was described by the inquisitorial
commissioner at Vitoria, the treasurer Pedro Gamiz:
"I can assure your
Grace that never before have so many people been gathered
together in this town. It is estimated that over thirty thousand
souls have assembled here from France, Aragon, Navarra, Vizkaya
and parts of Castilla. The reason for such enthusiasm was the
publication of the announcement that the vile sect of the
witches was to be revealed at this auto-de-fe"
But Pedro Gamiz did not
realize what he had witnessed. The attraction had been something
The Tribunal sent another account of the
auto-da-fe to the Inquisition’s "La Suprema" on November 13:
The people observed
the deepest silence during the entire ceremony and paid the
greatest attention, and no untoward incidents of any kind
occurred. The auto-de-fe has been to the great edification of
the people. For all agree that never before have they
experienced anything more solemn, more strange, and more
authoritative" (Henningson p.194).
What these Inquisition
members had witnessed was the last of the human sacrifices of the
Goddess religion in western Europe, at least that is how the local
people had seen it.
Similar huge crowds had, centuries before, travelled to the north half of the Isle of Hinba (from hinbasio
meaning invasion) when the northern Tammuz was sacrificed in the
whirlpool of Corryvreckan, 50 miles west of Glasgow.
People from as
far away as Norway, the Baltic states and even Russia had annually
attended that sacrifice. No wonder the church in Rome quickly
changed the name of the island from Hinba to Jura (meaning cursed),
when they gained the upper hand.
Speaking at such a holy sacrament
would have jeopardized a quick reincarnation for Tammuz into a
newborn body, so the entire service was conducted in absolute
silence. It is likely that something very similar was happening at
The names of five church organizations come up regularly in the
reports of the inquisitioners:
1) the Benedictines, by far the
oldest order (582)
2) the Franciscans (1209)
3) the Dominicans
4) the Inquisition (1231)
the Jesuits (1540)
They all had different functions to perform, as the translations of
the names of the organizations show. There had been three main
enemies of the church,
1) the Priestess and her clergy representing
the ancient Goddess religion and civilization
Waldensians, Albigencians etc., representing the Heretics
witches, who formed the gathering basket for all other unfortunates
who had drawn the ire of the church in Rome
Benedict started his new order in 528 A.D. and gathered a large
number of highly educated Christian men around him. The name
Benedict urges people to come and join him:
.be abe abe
ene ene ene come to me
edi edi ediren
ik. ika ikasgintza learning
.t. ate ateratu
to take along with you
"Come to me (under) the cross and find learning to take
along with you".
The Benedictines had
been the first monastic order created by the church of Rome. For
1000 years prior to the witch craze they had laboured, often
under great duress, to bring Judeo-Christianity to western and
central Europe. In the process they created new countries out of
many tribal regions and invented a new language for each such
They were pioneer scholars who worked towards a
continental goal but were never very involved in the
nitty-gritty business of eliminating out-of-the-way pockets of
people who had either been missed in the overall effort, or of
searching out people who insisted on maintaining their own
ancient religion and language. Putting the finishing touches on
the evangelization effort required a different type of training
and mentality among the monks.
Benedictine Order’s name appears in many documents relating to
the witch trials, this was only because of their historical and
omnipresent role in bringing Judeo-Christianity to all of
western Europe. Their main opposition had come from the
Priestess (Akela) and male clergy (Druids) of the Goddess
religion and to a lesser degree from the Gnostic Irish
evangelists, but certainly not from the witches, who had not
been invented yet. To their eternal credit, the Benedictines
decided to have nothing to do with the later witch-craze; that
task was assigned to the Dominicans and Franciscans.
Franciscan friars were a ragtag group of urban wandering lay
preachers and looked their part as unkempt and threadbare
They appeared little different from the wild-eyed
prophets who had roamed the countryside of France for many
years. The fact that they expanded into a continent-wide
organization is nothing short of amazing. Their evangelical zeal
and simple education made them ideally suited for being
brainwashed against the perceived threat posed by witchcraft and
the terrible witch aquelarres which persisted in inverting all
of the virtues of society.
Again, their task is written in the
.f. fe fedehausketa heresy
.ra era errausketa destruction
an. ane anega measure
.ki eki ekinaz persevering
is. isi isil quiet
.ka ika ikaskintza instruction
an. ana anaitasun brotherhood
Destruction of the
heresy (requires) persevering measures and quiet instruction by
It is clear that St. Francis was given his name after the Order
was formed and named. History books tell us that Pope Innocent
III gave St. Francis of Assisi approval in 1209 to create an
Order whose goal was a life of preaching and penance.
analysis of the name of the Order tells a different story. The
various popes named Innocent were not as innocent as their name
would make us believe. The subsequent endorsement of the hated "Malleus
Maleficarum" and its ruthless instructions made
Innocent VIII possibly the most brutal of all popes.
There were three types of Franciscans:
Zealots, insisting on observance of the primitive rule of
total poverty. One of their reform groups became the
2) the Laxists who favoured many mitigations.
3) the Moderates, wanting a structure that permitted
some form of communal possessions. Their friars’ houses in
Paris and Oxford became schools of theology.
It appears that the
Franciscans participated in the witch trials in a supporting or
facilitating function by gathering or manufacturing evidence
such as for the Logroño witch tribunal (in Spain), for which
they interrupted their preaching crusade to present a "dressed
toad" and pots of "witches’ salve" as evidence of witchcraft (Henningson
They were deeply involved in spying out potential
witches and reporting them to the authorities. The Franciscans
were not beyond forcibly extracting false confessions such as
done by the monk Fray Juan de Ladron. He took part in the
witch-hunt in Alava in the capacity of one of the Inquisition’s
Three women were
reported by him after the priest at Larrea, Martin Lopez de Lazarraga, had tied them by the hands and neck, assisted by de
Ladron, who then threatened to take the women to the Logroño
showcase witch-trial if they did not confess. They did confess
but later told Salazar what happened. Lazarraga had been
appointed inquisitorial commissioner and put into the head of
one of the women the idea of accusing six uncooperative locals
priests of witchcraft. At Logroño many people were tortured into
admitting anything the monks told them to say. One of the women.
Mariquita de Atauri,
felt so terribly distressed after denouncing so many innocent
people under torture that she drowned herself in the river near
her house. The main culprit in extracting the confessions was
identified as the Franciscan Fray de Ladron. (Henningson p.292).
The still existing records tell of many such cases where the
Franciscans were instrumental in extracting confessions and
reporting all to the witch-tribunals, complete with samples of
witches’ ointments and toads.
Their involvement in the witch
burnings can only be called revolting.
was a Castilian priest of aristocratic birth who became involved
in preaching against the Catharist Christians. The task of
countering the Albigencian Christians had been the
responsibility of the Cisterian monks, but these had made little
The Catharist clergy had a spiritual elite who were
famous for their austerity and self-denial. Dominic decided that
his evangelists had to be a clerical order from the beginning
and much better educated than the Cisterians had been, to be
able to stand up to, and overcome the biblical arguments of the
From the beginning,
the Dominicans therefore were a learned order and all efforts
were aimed at furthering the needs of the pastoral mission. In
1215 Pope Innocent III gave provisional approval to Dominic to
create an institute of preachers to convert the Gnostic Albigencians of southern France, the "heretics", to the "proper"
form of Christianity.
church in Rome was on record as having
created this special order of monks to preach against the Albigencians and to prepare for the entire infamous episode of
the crusade against these devoted Christians.
The translation of
the name "Dominican", however, appears to have no relationship
to the Albigencians, because they had nothing to do with
do do dongakeria perversity
omi omi Omia Saindu Hallowmass
ini ini initz/ainitz many
ika ika ikararazi to terrorize
an. ana anaitu to unite, to gather
"(During) the perversity of Hallowmass, many gather to
This name tells us
that the Order was created to combat the witches, which is
strange because this meaning therefore anticipates the invention
of the witch-craze at a time that the heretics were still the
Could it be that the church was already making
plans for the witch-craze at that time? Dominic likely was given
his name after the name for the Order had been decided. When the
Inquisition was established in 1231, the Dominicans were
entrusted with its organization and the execution of heretics.
They created schools of theology at the Universities of Paris, Bologne, Oxford and Cologne to train an educated and fanatic
cadre of monks.
Especially in the mountainous regions, many people still adhered
to their ancient Goddess religion, guided by their priestesses.
The Inquisition and the Dominicans concentrated on the Alps of
northern Italy. This was the Ligurian region from which the
Benedictines for many centuries had obtained their
Saharan-speaking (Basque/Ligurian) grammarians who had been
instrumental in creating the new languages of Europe.
the adherents to the Goddess religion, the use of torture had
been officially authorized by Pope Innocent IV in 1252. The
monks were to extract admissions of heresy, sorcery and
witchcraft from the people, many of whom were the families of
the grammarians. The witch craze in the Alps and southern
Germany killed more people than in any other region.
Order of the Dominican Mendicant friars took the initiative
in collecting ancient lore connected with the peoples’ belief in
magic. When the time was right for the witch hunt to begin, some
of this gathered hearsay was assembled into the "Malleus
Maleficarum", the witch hunter’s handbook. The
Dominicans trained and guided the judges of the Inquisition and
wrote justifications why people should be so very cruelly put to
death, in spite of the commandment: "Thou shalt not kill".
laid the entire blame for the existence of witches on the
pre-Christian Goddess religion although the witches and their
aquelarres had been a total fabrication of the church of Rome.
But it was a fabrication which served a very specific purpose:
the elimination of the last pockets of the adherents to the
Goddess religion, the Gnostic heretics and of the ancient
language of the Goddess which many still spoke; it was to be the
final cleanup of Europe.
They succeeded everywhere except in Euskadi, where the Basque language is still spoken to this day.
Gregory IX instituted the papal Inquisition in 1231 for the
apprehension and trial of heretics such as the Cathari and
Waldenses. The medieval Inquisition functioned in northern Italy
and southern France.
In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV authorized the
Spanish Inquisition to combat apostate former Jews and Muslins,
and the heretic Alumbrados. This inquisition proved so severe
that Sixtus IV tried to interfere but the Spanish crown forced
the pope to give up his efforts.
In 1483 he
authorized a grand-inquisitor for Castile, a few months later
for Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia. The first inquisitor was de Torquemada. The name Inquisition means the following:
ink. inke inkestatu to make an investigation
isi izi izigarrikeria atrocity
ishi ixi ixil calmly
on. one onegitasun extreme patience
Calmly and with
extreme patience make an investigation of the atrocities.
The person responsible for organizing the Inquisition in Spain,
the Dominican Tomas de Torquemada, is regarded as the epitomy of
the zealous witch hunter:
Torquemada: .to-oma-as./ .de/ .to-or.-.ke-ema-ada,
.to eto etorkizko tribal
oma oma oma grandmother
as. ase aserregorritu to become furious
.de ede ederrak hartu to be defeated
.to ito itotzaile murderer
or. ori ori that
.ke ike ikertu to investigate, prosecute
ema ema ematxar prostitute, witch
ada ada adarra sartu to deceive
grandmother makes me furious; that murderer must be defeated and
the deceiving prostitute be prosecuted.
This, of course, referred to the female head of the
matrilineally organized tribe, and the voluntary death of a
young man (Tammuz) who had participated in the Sacred Marriage
with the Priestess on May 1, and then was sacrificed on October
31/November 1 (Hallowmass) so others might live.
In NW Europe
this sacrifice took place annually in the whirlpool of
Corrivrecken. The death of Tammuz is still being remembered in
our churches on Good Friday, when many Christians in Europe and
elsewhere wear black mourning clothes to church (Ezekiel 8:14).
It is an extremely ancient tradition, which the church in Rome
was unable to extinguish and therefore decided to incorporate
into the church’s calendar.
Dominican monks Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger
assembled many fairy tales and magic stories, nightmares,
hearsay, confessions and accusations and put this all together
as factual information in what became the handbook for the witch
hunters, examiners, torturers and executioners, called
the Malleus Maleficarum, a
title which was translated as Hammer of Witches.
published in 1487, but two years previously the authors had
secured a bull from Pope Innocent VIII, authorizing them to
continue the witch hunt in the Alps which they had already
instituted against the opposition from clergy and secular
authorities. They reprinted the bull of December 5, 1484 to make
it appear that the whole book enjoyed papal sanction.
of the authors tell us about their fanaticism:
Kramer, .he-in.-.ri-ik.-.h. / .k.-.ra-ame-er.,
.he ihe ihesegin to escape, to run away
in. ino inorenganatu to change shape
.ri ori orritz feast
ik. ika ikarragarri frightening
.h./ aho/ aho cave entrance
.k. ake akela witch, priestess
.ra era erraustu to annihilate, to burn
ame ame amestxar nightmare
er. ero erotiko erotic
"(They) change shape
to escape to the frightening feast at the cave entrance. Burn
the witches with the erotic nightmares".
Sprenger, ja-ame-es. / .s.-.p.-.re-en.-.ge-er.,
ja ja jainkogabe godless, sinful
ame ame ameslilura fantasy
es./ ese/ esetsi to attack
.s. ase aserrez angrily
.p. epa epaipatu to sentence
.re are aren her
en. -ena -ena suffix to express future
.ge age ageriki publicly
er. era erraustu to burn
"To attack that sinful fantasy, he angrily sentenced her
to be burned publicly".
Anybody with a
grudge or suspicion, very young children included, could accuse
anyone of witchcraft and be listened to with attention; anyone
who wanted someone else’s property or wife could accuse; any
loner, any old person living alone, anyone with a misformity,
physical or mental problem was likely to be accused.
hunting season was declared on women, especially herb gatherers,
midwives, widows and spinsters. Women who had no man to
supervise them were of course highly suspicious.
It has been
estimated by Dr. Marija Gimbutas, professor of
archaeology at the University of California, that as many as 9
million people, overwhelmingly women, were burned or hanged
during the witch-craze.
For nearly 250 years the Witches’ Hammer
was the guidebook for the witch hunters, but again some of the inquisitioners had misgivings about this devilish book. In a
letter dated November 27, 1538 Salazar advised the inquisitioners not to believe everything they read in
Maleficarum, even if the authors write about it as something
they themselves have seen and investigated (Henningson p.347).
obedience to the pope was the hallmark of
Pope Paul III had approved the outline of the order’s organization on
Sept. 27, 1540. The order functioned quite different from the
others with its special flexibility, allowing them to get
involved around the globe. The Jesuits were cosmopolitan
Christian clerics, trained to function in the urbane world of
the courts; many of them were distinguished classicists.
were the educators and confessors of the leading men of France
and Spain and were highly respected. Many of them were of Basque
origin, which made them ideally suited to communicate with the
thousands of bewildered Basque refugees who had fled the brutal
French witch hunt and trials, ordered by King Henry IV of
They had fled across
the border to Spain because at least half of the women had been
accused by witch-hunter de Lancre of being witches. The
do not appear to have had any part in the gory details of the
witch-hunt, but instead they mediated, interviewed, observed,
reported, translated, helped and advised where this was
necessary. It appears that their good services were mainly
responsible for the fact that the Basque language is still
The meaning of the name Jesuit has nothing to do
with the witch-craze or any other confrontation; it comes from jesu-it, jesu (Jesus) itzeman (committed to): "Committed to
The End of the
this dreadful part of our European history in this our modern age,
makes one think that the witch-craze must have been just a horrible
nightmare; it couldn’t have happened; but it did. Henningson sums up
some of the important points at the end of his book.
The research he
did was impressive but in no way was it the final word.
Three of the
conclusions which he, Salazar, the Bishop of Pamplona and others
belief in witchcraft and in witches as a sectarian
organization practicing inversion of Christianity, including
pacts and fornication with the devil, was totally irrelevant
to popular belief. It flared up and was forgotten; it did
not become a popular tradition anywhere until in very recent
years when it became "hip" to belong to a witches coven and
in this way harmlessly show disdain for conventional
thinking and religion.
the application of hallucinatory witches’ salves give the
flying witch phenomenon a rational explanation, could not
bear critical examination.
the persecution of witches was often instigated by people
who gained economic or social advantage from them. They saw
in zealous Christian preachers, officials, judges,
inquisitors and bishops excellent instruments through which
to forward their personal and private interests.
It would be marvelous to
think that such a horror will never happen again, but very likely it