As AL's resident (and self-proclaimed) Witch expert and fanatic, I wanted to bring to your attention another view of the Witch Trials. In the 17th century specifically, there was a huge spike in Witch Trials around the world (although this spike would is merely one jump in the timeline of Witch Trials through history). However, most of the ones stories we hear from that time, especially in America, are of the Salem Witch trials, or Witch Trials in the U.K. and Ireland. But, during this time period, there were Witch Trials going on around the world. Keep reading for a little taste of the Spanish Witch Trials - but, be forewarned, there might be more to come!
Like I said above, these specific Spanish Witch Trials took place during the 17th century, but were by no means the only Witch Trials to take place in the country's history. They are known as the Basque Witch Trials and the actual trial specifically began in January of 1609, but it was after 2+ years of serious Witch hunting.
Similarly to other Witch Trials during this time period, and throughout history, they were motivated for religious reasons. These trials were specifically to cater to attacking those who still performed 'Pagan' rituals, especially herbalists, healers, and mid-wives. It is important to note that these sorts of people also had special standing and respect in the community, and thus power, that the new government did not like and that threatened Catholicism. This is one of the main reasons these groups of people were so heavily persecuted. Muslims, Jews, and Protestants were also among the accused.
The Basque word for Witch was "Sorginak", which was also the word for female attendents of the Goddess Mari held a Witches' Sabbath every Friday, these gatherings were called akelarre. Here it was said that Mari and her consort, Sugaar, met in caves to create storms and wreak havoc. More specifically, some of these people had been tried for practicing Witchcraft at Olabidea or Infernuko erreka, which translates to “Hell’s stream.”
Sorginaks, in particular, share some common Witchlore that will be familiar to many. For example, they could shape-shift into cats and it was said that they specifically bothered Catholic women. More unique to Sorginak's was the fact that they practiced most of their magic in caves, particularly the Zugarramurdi cave.
During this time, roughly 7,000 people in the area were accused of Witchcraft. Of these 7,000, a few thousand were deemed guilty in the initial trial, or remained suspects, and continued on to harsher review. The first phase of these trials ended in 1610, when 31 of the accused people were sentenced. Roughly a dozen of the accused were burnt at the stake. However, it is important to note a fair amount of people succumbed to the torture, which is how many confessions were received, and died without being "properly" tried.
One other interesting thing to note about these trials was the thread of skepticism that moved throughout the trial process and proceedings. The recordings of the trial took up almost 11,000 pages, and it was clear that each of these cases were looked at with a high level of scrutiny. One judge in particular, who was the youngest of the 3 judges and more 'liberal' judge, named Salazar. About the trials in general he believed he had found no substantive proof of witchcraft on his travels, or in the light of pursuing many of the confessions. This, obviously, did not bode well for Salazar. The two other judges, Alonso Becerra y Holquin and Juan del Valle Alvarado, unsurprisingly accused Salazar as being in league with the Devil. However, Salazar stayed true to his belief that not only were many of the accused not Witches, but that Witches didn't exist at all and that no one should be further prosecuted.
This was elevated to the Central Office of the Inquisition, and many in the main office seemed to agree with the younger judge as well. This is likely why, although the huge number of the accused, only about a dozen people were put to death.
The above picture was taken by Flickr user Urko Dorronsoro and is one one of the Witch caves in Basque. It is liscensed under creative commons.