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Basque Mythology: Witchcraft
The following was translated from an article originally in Spanish at the Encyclopedia Auñamendi.
Lexicon: Witchcraft, sorginkeri (c), sorginderi (AN, J. Liz.); (profession), sorgintzu (B), sorgingo (AN), sorginko (AN), belhagilego (S).
Magic and pagan mentality in the origins of Basque witchcraft.
There are many and various explanations given for the phenomenon of witchcraft in the Basque Country. In this field, there are explanations for all types, from Satanologists, such as Martín de Andosilla, ingeneous nominalists, like D. Gregorio de Múgica, and psychopaths like Pierre de Lancre, to modern erudites, like J. Caro Baroja and Florencio Idoate, aiming for examination and critical thinking. As for the origins of witchcraft, the most curious authors are those who look for the first roots in non-Basque places, that is to say, foreign to the country. In the second book of the Paraninfo celeste De Nuestra Señora de Aránzazu (1686), the introduction of witch practices is attributed to a witch in the Guyena named Hendo, who had iniciated his followers into a demonic cult. According to this tradition, Hendaya and the mountain Indamendi carry his name. "Many attribute -- says Menéndez Pelayo -- the propagation of the dark arts in Navarra in the XVI and XVII centuries to the gypsies." Jerónimo de Alcalá, in the XVII century, in the work Historia de Alonso, servent of many masters, presents to us the gypsies as wandering beings who lived to pass(??) good fortune over the villages of Navarra. In the continental part of the country they were also balled bohemiens, who had to pay the consequences of the comfortable custom -- still very much alive! -- of attributing all of our evils to foreigners.
Stereotype and Inquisition in the thresholds of Basque modernity.
The Catholic Kings put in force the papel decree of Sixto IV against the Jews (1478), opening the way for the formation of the Inquisition, in which Torquemada, Inquisidor General in 1483, stands out. The Most Supreme Counsel of the Holy Spanish Inquisition was installed in Madrid. It was presided over by the Inquisitor General, appointed by the king in name of the Pope, and was composed of 6 inquisitors, 2 of which belonged to the Counsel of Castille. Courts subordinate to this one were located in Toledo (later C. Real), Seville, Valladolid, Granada (later Jaén), Cordoba, Murcia, Llerena, Basin, Santiago, Calahorra (later Logroño), Zaragoza, Barcelona, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Valencia and Majorca. Each court was comprised of 3 inquisitors, 3 secretaries, one major constable and 3 receivers, assessors and consultants. The mission of the court was to look after not only the catholic orthodoxy, but also over matters that fell out of the realm of faith, such as medicine and pharmacy and, in general, all scientific happenings. In France this agency was already in disuse by this time, as we will see further on. In the Basque Country, there was no inquisitorial tribunal in the Middle Ages. Throughout the country the usual practice was that the civil courts were entrusted with matters of heterodoxy as well of common witchcraft.
The last grand procedings: paroxysm of terror [1609-1611].
In the last third of the XVI century, and the following decades, a new and terrible persucusion of so-called black magic developed in Europe. Nicolas of Remi, for example, inquisidor of Nancy, burned, starting in 1580, more than 800 supposed witches. That same year "De la démonomanie de sorciers", by Jean Bodin, appeared in which he makes all types of fantastic assertions about the power of the devil. In the year 1600 no one less than Giordano Bruno burned in the inquisitorial blaze of Rome. But, on the eve of the great proceedings of the XVII century, the Holy Office barely figured in France, a country of an already developed bourgeoisie. Crimes of heresy and witchcraft fell under the jurisdiction of the University of Paris and of the Parliaments, while the title of Great Inquisidor was little more than honorific. In our suffering country they again lit the fires, while the religious wars nearly reached the northern towns and villages, during the tumultuous reign of Enrique III of Navarra (IV of France). Laburdi was the most repressed of all the Basque lands, where that repression was the most cruel and where the dark sociopolitical motivations of the drama appear most clearly. Already by 1576, the lieutenant of the stewardship of Lannes, Boniface de Lasse, stood out for the harshness of his verdicts and his great credulity with respect to the stories about witchcraft.
Passing of unfounded rationalism and satanism in thinking after Lancre and Logroño(???).
The massacres carried out by P. of Lancre and the Auto de Fe of Logroño constitute the finishing touch to the lower medieval(???) cycle of repression of the magic arts as much for the civil justice as for the Inquisition. In the subsequent evolution of the judgement of the practice of witchcraft, capital importance was given, according to that revealed by J. Caro Baroja in diverse investigations, to the actions of one of the three inquisitors of the Court of Logroño during the Auto of 1610. The conscientious inquisitor Alonso de Salazar y Frías, who had disagreed with his colleagues Valle y Becerra Holguín in the Auto de Fe, had the luck to be chosen to promulgate the edict of grace dictated in Logroño on March 26, 1611 and to do the inquiries in the same setting as the accusations that had carried so many unfortunates to death and desperation. Salazar interrogated 1802 witnesses, of which an enormous percentage withdrew the confessions that they had given under the duress of obsession or torture. The investigation lasted nearly the entire year of 1611; upon its completion, in January of 1612, Salazar wrote a long and meticulous report. Salazar, motivated at the time by a remorseful desire to repair the situation, arrived at some very radical conclusions. Only 6 of the 1802 persons maintained their statements and affirmed to have resumed going to the akelarres.
The return to the old river bed.
The waters return, therefore, to their river bed, and, in accordance, the echoes stirred up by the actions of 1609-1610, little by little, fade. Magic tries to obtain, and achieves, a place in a world that is increasingly more and more rational. In the course of the XVII and XVIII centuries, and up to today, there has been a return of the herbalist, now in open competition with their educated colleagues, the doctors and the pharmacists. Idoate brings to light a good selection of them, always tangling with the proto-doctors of the day. One such, Domingo Gallego, in the middle of the XVII century in Peralta, cured, by means of potions, ointments and «infusion science», nearly all illnesses. Originally from Tolosa, Lucas de Ayerbe, «specialist in extracting the devils of the body», based on striking the possessed(???), established himself in Villava, Navarra around 1670, without suffering much pursecution. In Atauri, Alava, the services of the «charlatan» were stipulated by means of a contract with the Concejo (1691). In the early XVIII century (1713) the «charlatan» had a fixed -- or contractural -- council salary, with the obligations of attending to the neighborhood, animals and fields twice a year. At the end of the XVIII century, the «surgeon» of Pamplona, Ignacio Páramo, who cured skin cancers by supplying a concoction that he called «vipor broth», attracted denunciations from Navarrese pharmacists, who, apparently, utilized more honorable methods. Caro Baroja brings to light the case of the faith healer Francisca Ignacia de Sorondo, who, in 1826, caused the City Hall of Fuenterrabía to extend to her a certification that guaranteed that she was not a witch. At the beginning of last century, a charlatan attracted large multitudes of laborers from Laburdi, most from Ascain and Sara, who came with their animals so that they could be blessed and exorcised. Francisque Michel testified on the existence by then, in Saint-Jean-him-Vieux (B.-Nav.), of a reigning «King of the Witches» who exercised for more than 80 years the powers of healing and prophecy. A priest recounted to W. Webster his stupor at receiving the confession of one of his parishioners, around 1875, in which he confessed of attending the Sabbath... J. M.ª Iribarren, in his "Retablo de curiosidades" (1954) collects various cases, real and imagined, of the attribution of occult abilities to specific persons, generally women. Iribarren theorizes that these phenomena usually occur in places subject «to the druidic influence of the forests and caves», and observes that, in the Ribera, the most favorable places are the ones that possess caves, by "the mystery inherent in darkness". This author collects more than a dozen cases and personages: of particular fame as witches are, in Monteagudo, the aunt Flora; in Arguedas, la Caramba and el Ostión; in Fitero, la Choya; in Cintruénigo, la Morundaca; in Valtierra, a «very bad man who kept devils in a pipe and, with this, he had power»; in Milagro, la Cartago, etc., all of them personages of the current century. La Morundaca inspired such fear that a couplet he adapted him:
En el cielo manda Dios y en el fuerte manda el, Jaca y en el camino a Tudela manda la tía Morundaca.
La Tafallica was surprised by a blacksmith of Tafalla when she was transforming into a crane. Other cases are given, also at the beginning of the century, in Corella, Larraga, Subiza, Galdeano..., until one can affirm, as does Iribarren, that «rare will be the town of the Ribera that do not have its contemporary witch». In Leiza a cross was made on the ash of the hearth before going to bed, while in Cascante a sieve and scissors were employed. In many towns of the mountain -- in a practice that still continues -- thistle is placed in the door so that witches will be prevented from entering, or a handful of salt is thrown at the fire if the rooster sings in inopportune hours. When it is believed that someone or something is enchanted, their mattresses are burned or are opened to examine its content; the capricious zoomorphic form of a tuft of wool can be the unmistakable demonstration of a spell. This was done at least in the basin of the Bidasoa and in the crossroads situated before an old doorway(???) of Bayona. Azkue reports that, at the end of the XIX century, there were three witches in Ochagavía: a woman called Martina Oxokokoa, another woman of Zubieta and a man of Eseverri. The three died without being reconciled with the church and it is told that upon their death an enormous hailstorm fell. There were similar cases, in the same years, in Vidángoz, Bigüezal, Zubieta and Aezkoa. The witch called la Caliente, of Aezkoa, changed her posture in her coffin a number of times, if we would believe her contemporaries... Also in this epoch, a neighbor of Orendain commanded the clouds originating from the Aitzgorri that they discharge their rains in Gorritimendi. There is a melody preserved until recently in the mountains of Navarra of indubitable akelarric flavor:
Adarrak okerrak akerrak ditu Okerrak adarrak akerrak ¡bai!
Possibly, the mysterious witch of Arrauntz (Ustaritz) knew of it, whom the Laburdis called, without the trace of jest, Jainko ttipia, before World War II. Caro Baroja collects various cases of attendance of akelarres well into our century (1932, 1942) in Bizkaia and Navarrese mountains. In Isaba (Ronkal), one of the last witches of the beginning of the century dared to encroach upon, while tranformed into a goat, the hangout of a group of boys; they all gave him, while they danced, a beating, the results of which, on the following day, when he appeared in his human form looked quite badly... [The most curious aspect of this case was the death of the supposed witch, which happened coincidentally -- he tripped on a stone -- when he found himself in a section of the road to Uztarroz especially abundant in toads]....
Of all these cases, but above all of the multitude of legends and beliefs collected in this century by Barandiarán, the autonomous character of Basque witchcraft stands out, and the scarce gap over which they made(???) proceedings and satanic lucubrations. More than 300 years after so many of our ancestors were burned, Barandiarán has been able to collect from the mouthes of hundreds of peasants an endless number of beliefs that have very little to do with the Malleus and a great deal to do with the mythical beings that populate the caves, forests and springs in the mysterious twilight of men who work in close contact with the land. For them, there are human beings that have contacts with the beyond and that can produce good or evil, beings predisposed to the ones that suffice with giving three trips around a church(???), or to receive the transfer of powers from the hands of the dying man, or to be baptized into evil, or to cross themselves with their foot, to become a sorgin, the mythical being that carries out extraordinary actions in the service of Mari, that adopts the form of diverse animals and flees before the invocation of the name of Christ or of His saints. After the great proceedings, the witch of Goya removes the makeup off of his face. The waters return to their river bed.
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