Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)
Type of Culminating Activity
Master of Arts in History
Lisa McClain, Ph.D.
John Ysursa, Ph.D.
David Lachiondo, Ph.D.
During the early seventeenth century, the Catholic Church sought to eradicate any belief systems that did not align with Catholic theology. In the Basque regions of Spain and France, these efforts produced a series of witch hunts between 1608 – 1614, in which the Church labeled as diabolical and nefarious the socio-religious belief systems the Basque people tried to incorporate into their practice of Catholicism. This thesis uses the confessions of accused Basque witches gathered during investigations and trials to explore Basques’ mention of pre-Christian symbols and beliefs, which I argue were often misunderstood by the Inquisitors as evidence of diabolical, maleficent witchcraft. The accused Basques’ use of such symbols and beliefs in their testimonies may have been a means of asserting their own culture against the dominance of the Catholic Church. Previous scholarship on the Basque witch trials focuses on legal, political, and Catholic religious aspects of the persecutions but does not investigate the influences of pre-Christian mythology, symbols, and belief within the trials. This contributive work builds upon previous research and adds Basque points of view to the multilayered factors present within the Basque witch trials.
This study limits its focus to the specific Inquisition investigation and trial surrounding the Auto de Fe of Logrono between 1608 – 1614 and also draws from seventeenth-century writings from Spanish Inquisitor Alonso de Salazar Frias, French Inquisitor Pierre de Lancre, and Inquisitional records. The research reveals the deeper Basque connections to pre-Christian belief and mythology that went unrecognized by the Inquisitors and most modern scholars. It explores the cultural history of the Basque people, and the pre-Chrisitan, socio-religious beliefs the Basques held in spirits such as the goddess Mari, He-goat Akerbeltz, and other spirits such as the Lamiak. Some of the last witch trials in Spain, these Basque trials display a cultural syncretism of Catholic belief with pre-Christian belief that the accused used to assert their culture and themselves in powerless situations. Inquisitors failed to recognize this, while attempting to fit the symbolism and syncretism of the Basques into mainstream European witch beliefs, labeling it as diabolic and evil.
This thesis explores the socio-religious environment of the Basques and the confrontation and miscommunication of the accused witches and the Inquisitors through linguist Mary Louise Pratt’s framework of the contact zone, the point where Basque social and cultural norms met the restrictions of the Catholic Church. The accused’s use of common witchcraft terminology such as night flights, conjuring storms, and sabbats display a connection to the pre-Christian socio-religious environment of the Basques as well as the maleficient language the Inquisitors sought. By investigating this contact zone, a fuller understanding is gained regarding the multifaceted event of the Spanish Inquisition within the Basque region.
Earwicker, Michelle Gizinski, "Seventeenth-Century Basque Witchtrials: The Interaction of Socio-Religious Norms within the Contact Zone of the Accused and the Inquisitor" (2018). Boise State University Theses and Dissertations. 1382.