by Edo Nyland
March 25, 1997

from PaganTeaHouse Website

recovered through WayBackMachine Website



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 witch phenomenon.


What emerged from their independent and unemotional assessments amounted to a terrible indictment of the politics of 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.


Witchcraft an imaginary offense

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.


His 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"

(Henningson, p.ix).

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 akelarre, 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; itx, 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"

(Henningsen p.391).

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.


The execution

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 carried on 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 church.


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"

(Henningson p.184).

But Pedro Gamiz did not realize what he had witnessed. The attraction had been something totally different.


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 Christ’s crucifixion.



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 (1215)

4) the Inquisition (1231)

5) 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

2) the Cathars, Waldensians, Albigencians etc., representing the Heretics

3) the witches, who formed the gathering basket for all other unfortunates who had drawn the ire of the church in Rome


The Benedictines

St. 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:

Benedict, .be-ene-edi-ik.-.t.,


.be abe abe cross
ene ene ene come to me
edi edi ediren to find
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 new country.


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.


Although the 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.

The Franciscans
The Franciscan friars were a ragtag group of urban wandering lay preachers and looked their part as unkempt and threadbare evangelists.


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 name:


.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 the brotherhood.

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.


The 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:

1) the Zealots, insisting on observance of the primitive rule of total poverty. One of their reform groups became the Capuchins.
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 p.345).


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 special emissaries.


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.

The Dominicans
Dominic 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 progress.


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 Catharist theologians.


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.


The 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 Hallowmass.

Dominican, do-omi-ini-ika-an.,

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 terrorize".

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 main problem.


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.


To destroy 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.

The 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".


They 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.

The Inquisition
Pope 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:

Inquisition, ink-isi-ishi-on.,
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:

Tomas de Torquemada: .to-oma-as./ .de/,

.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


The tribal 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.

The Malleus Maleficarum
The 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.


It was 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.


Both names of the authors tell us about their fanaticism:

Heinrich 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".


James Sprenger, ja-ame-es. /,

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.


Open 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 Malleus Maleficarum, even if the authors write about it as something they themselves have seen and investigated (Henningson p.347).

The Jesuits
Special obedience to the pope was the hallmark of the Jesuits.


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.


They 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 France.


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 Jesuits 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 spoken today.


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 Jesus".


The End of the Nightmare

Reading about 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 reached are:

  • Firstly: the 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.

  • Secondly: that the application of hallucinatory witches’ salves give the flying witch phenomenon a rational explanation, could not bear critical examination.

  • Thirdly: that 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 will.