The Witches Of Majorca

The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition established by the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand in 1478 was ostensibly to identify heretics among those who converted from Judaism and Islam. One says "ostensibly" because the Inquisition broadened its scope. Witchcraft was to attract the Inquisition's attention. The most infamous case was in Zugarramurdi in the region of Navarre. In November 1610, eighteen women were brought before the Inquisition. Six were burned at the stake and five others were burned in effigy; they were already dead. The other seven confessed and did penance.

In general terms, though, the Inquisition looked upon witchcraft as no more than superstition, a remarkably rational conclusion for an institution that history suggests wasn't entirely rational. It was guided in part by the thoughts of Nicolau Eimeric, the Crown of Aragon's Inquisitor General in the fourteenth century. His Directorium inquisitorum was used as a form of manual by the Inquisition. Eimeric had concluded that fortune-tellers should not be placed under investigation.

However, there were dynamics which sparked the Inquisition's interest in witchcraft, and one of the most important first emerged nine years after the Inquisition was established. In 1487 the Malleus Maleficarum was published in Germany. Translated as the Hammer of Witches, Heinrich Kramer's work was almost as popular as the Bible. As a consequence, the momentum for persecuting witches was as much a popular movement as it was a religious one. And caught up in the febrile atmosphere generated by the Malleus were single women and widows. Some women were married but usually they were not.

It is true that they engaged in fortune-telling and forms of sorcery. They did so in order to scrape a living. But as well as some predictions of the future, there was prostitution and, it is fair to say, a certain madness that was to mean that witchcraft came to be looked upon as a mental illness. By the middle of the seventeenth century, there was talk of a witches epidemic.

In Majorca formulas for determining witchcraft were developed. These involved pacts with the devil, animal sacrifices, conversing with the dead and the incantations made by witches. Investigations in Majorca don't appear to have really started until the turn of the seventeenth century. From 1600 and during the course of the next hundred years, there were cases against, for instance, Juana Morell of Palma, Margalida Garrel of Muro, Catalina Alomar of Petra, Juana Arbona of Soller and Catalina Baulona of Alcudia.

The most complex and longest investigations concerned a Catalina Font. There were numerous charges related to demons, exorcisms, the telling of the future and so on. Catalina's incantations included cries to Satan and her spells would usually require a lamb's heart. Her case was in 1697, and condemned at the same time as her were Juana Arbona, who was basically considered to have been a con artist, and Joana Fiol of Sineu.

Catalina wasn't burned at the stake. Instead she was sent into exile having received 100 lashes. She was portrayed as having been far more than a mere fortune-teller. She was known to have been a prostitute - "a worldly woman and a harlot". She apparently threatened other women and families with incantations. These had their magic that was couched in religious terms, and they were usually designed to attract "lascivious advances". Women were in a sense being encouraged to take control of their sexual destiny by witches like Catalina.

Very few women tried as witches died at the hands of the Inquisition. While there was some fervour for witch trials, the Inquisition had cautioned against accepting everything that was contained in the Malleus. A woman such as Catalina Font would typically have been reintegrated into local communities after a period of expulsion and penance. Although there were some investigations into the eighteenth century, her trial would seem to have been the last one of any significance in Majorca.

In folklore terms, witches owe far more to fiestas such as Sant Antoni in January (the Nit Bruixa) than to Halloween. Witches also appear on the Majorcan landscape. Puig de ses Bruixes in Llucmajor provides a reminder that witches were around well before the Inquisition. According to the legend, there were witches in the area by the hill. Complaints about their mischief were made to King Jaume I after the conquest in 1229. Two priests and an altar boy were sent up the hill, and the witches apparently fled in terror.

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