Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Spanish Inquisition-ers Must Have Really Been Bored

In a serendipitous bit of Web surfing -- where intent and chance run wild in the brain -- we've been reading a bit about the Basque witch trials of the early 17th century. The Wikipedia article is a fine a place as any to start, and should the subject stimulate your brain, there's more to read on the Web and in print.

The Basque witch hunt was the largest of any perpetrated by the Spanish Inquisition, with estimates of nearly 7,000 people in Basque Country investigated, accused and/or tried.

And as is often the case, minorities were targeted for persecution. Women were the primary victims, as midwives and herbalists, steeped in the non-Christian [and totally compelling -- ed.] folklore of the region, faced accusations. But plenty of men and children were charged as well, including Conversos, descendants of the Jews and Moors who had converted to Christianity.

It ended as quickly as it started, but not without a body count.

Though not directly inspired by the Basque witch trials, the late 18th century painting "Witches' Sabbath" by Francisco Goya, intentionally recalls medieval and early Renaissance beliefs in what went on during a black sabbath:

You'll pardon our modern eyes for thinking that with the exception of the creepy skeleton baby, this looks like "Awesome Storytime With Uncle Goat" and not some heinous gathering of ill intent.


Bonus witchcraft-y weirdness!

Major Thomas Weir, a 17th century Scottish soldier who, at 70, suddenly claimed not only to be a warlock, but to have engaged in all manner of taboo acts with his sister Jean. All of this flew in the face of their very public life as devout Christians. As their confessions continued, the claims grew even stranger, and both were executed, despite any compelling evidence beyond their claims.

A BBC documentary made in 2007 examines the likelihood that Maj. Weir was largely the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.