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[References for this review may be found at <Nyland>]
[Note: All Basque words are in Italics and Bold-faced Green]
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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 number of scholars from different countries to document the witch phenomenon. Edo Nyland (2001) suggested that emerged from their independent and unemotional assessments amounted to an indictment of the politics of the church in Rome. Most of these researchers concluded that the brutal burnings had been a mistake. It was also clearly shown that among the members of the Inquisition there were some very responsible, honest and courageous people, who were, however, unable to control the excesses of some of their colleagues or of the local government officials, once the process was out of hand. Edo Nyland's translations of some of the names, associated with this epidemic of burnings and hangings are revealing.
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 de Salazar's, the bishop's and similar reports secret and it was not until three centuries later that several of Salazar's (mislabeled) submissions to the Inquisition were re-discovered in Madrid 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 it must be made 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" (Henningson 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 Roman Catholic clergy knew four classes of Non-believers:
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 Logroņo 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 women were their own local people, and they were going to die for a non-existent offense. This was not justice, this was known as a sacrifice.
The peoples' response to the happenings 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).
However, Pedro Gamiz did not realize what he had witnessed, or at least could not admit it. The attraction had been something very different. The Tribunal sent another account of the auto-da-fe to the Inquisition's "La Suprema" on November 13, 1610:
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. It is appropriate to compare this event with the human sacrifice in the Scottish Hebrides. Similar huge crowds had, centuries before, traveled to the north half of the Isle of Hinba (from hinbasio meaning invasion) when the northern Tammuz was sacrificed in the Whirlpool of Corryvreckan, 70 km 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 (from juramendu meaning cursed), when they gained the upper hand. Those observing the sacrifice had done so because speaking at such a holy sacrament would have jeopardized a quick reincarnation for the young man, called Tammuz in the Bible, into a newborn body. Therefore the entire sacrifice service was conducted in absolute silence. It is likely that something very similar happened 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 AD), 2) the Franciscans (1209), 3) the Dominicans (1215), 4) the Inquisition (1231), and last 5) the Jesuits (1540). They all had different functions to perform, as the translations of the names of the organizations show. In western Europe there had been three main enemies of the church. These were 1) the Priestess and her clergy, representing the ancient Goddess religion and civilization, 2) the Cathars, Waldensians, Albigencians etc., belonging to Gnostic Christianity, representing the Heretics and 3) the witches, who formed the gathering basket for all other unfortunates who had drawn the ire of the church in Rome.
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 in the evangelization process:
"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 final additions on the evangelization effort required a different type of training and mentality among the monks. Although the Benedictine Order's name appears in some of the 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 or ama) and male clergy (abade) 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 not to support the later witch craze. They would rather see the demise of their order than to participate in something so very offensive to Christian teachings. The horrible task of killing the witch craze was assigned to the Dominicans and Franciscans, who enthusiastically carried the torch.
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:
It is clear that St. Francis was given his name when the Order was formed and when the task was assigned. 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 because the eradication of the witch heresy was its stated reason for being. The various popes named Innocent were not as innocent as their name would make us believe. The subsequent endorsement of the hated "Malleus Maleficarum", the witches' handbook, and its ruthless and devilish instructions made Innocent VIII possibly the most brutal and decadent of all popes.
There were three types of Franciscans:
Oxford became schools of theology.
It appears that the Franciscans participated in the witch trials in an initiating, supporting and facilitating function by gathering or manufacturing evidence such as for the Logroņo 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 for instance 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 Logroņo showcase witch-trial if they did not confess. They did confess but later told de Salazar what happened. Lazarraga had been appointed inquisitorial commissioner. He put into the head of one of the women the idea of accusing six uncooperative local priests of witchcraft. At Logroņo many people were tortured into admitting anything the clergy 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 .(Henningsen 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.
Dominic was a Castilian priest of aristocratic birth who was assigned the task of countering the wayward Catharist Christians. Before, this task had been the responsibility of the Order of Cistercian clergy since 1209 when Pope Innocent III had ordered them to preach a crusade against the Albigencians. The Cistercians had split off from the Benedictine Order in 1098 A.D. but these highly educated clergy had no stomach for getting involved in a crusade against the Gnostic Christians, who had been of great help to the Benedictines in their initial evangelical work, centuries before. The translation of their name tells us that their assigned task was to educate the people, not to make war against them:
The Catharist clergy had 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 needed specialized education, different from what the Cistercians had received, to be able to stand up to, and overcome the biblical arguments of the devoted 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 deeply devoted 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 clergy to preach against the Albigencians and to prepare for the entire infamous episode of the crusade against these austere Christians. The translation of the name "Dominican", however, appears to have no relationship to the Albigencians, because these had nothing to do with Hallowmass.
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 southern Germany, Switzerland, northern Italy and eastern France. 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 detect and destroy the adherents to the Goddess religion, the use of torture had been officially authorized by Pope Innocent IV in 1252. The clergy were to extract admissions of heresy, sorcery and witchcraft from the people, many of who were the families of the grammarians, working for the Benedictines. The witch craze in the Alps and southern Germany killed more people than in any other region but next to nothing of the documentation has survived.
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, all of this gathered hearsay and gossip was authoritatively 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" [Hebrew = Thou Shalt not Murder]. 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 solution by Christian Europe. They succeeded everywhere except in Euskadi, where the [modified form of Saharan =] Basque language is still spoken to this day.
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 Pope 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:
The person responsible for organizing the Inquisition in Spain, the Dominican Tomas de Torquemada, is regarded as the epitome of the zealous witch hunter:
Tomas de Torquemada: .to-oma-as./ .de/ .to-or.-.ke-ema-ada,
The tribal grandmother makes me furious; that murderer must be defeated and the deceiving prostitute prosecuted.
This, of course, referred to the female head of the matrilineal organized tribe, and possibly also 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 northwestern 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). The sacrifice is an extremely ancient tradition, the memory of which the church in Rome was unable to extinguish and therefore decided to incorporate into the church's calendar as Halloween, thoroughly ridiculed and distorted.
The Dominican clergy 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 that 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.
James 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 deformity, or a physical or mental problem. In fact, anybody 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 inquisitionists had misgivings about this devilish book. In a letter dated November 27, 1538, de Salazar advised the inquisitionists 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).
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 and possible. 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:
End of the Ordeal
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, de 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.
It would be marvelous to think that such a horror would never happen again, but it did recently in Uganda, Africa and likely, it will happen again elsewhere.