OUR legends of witchcraft and sorcery are very poor, and in some of these, as said above, the witch is evidently a fairy. The reason of this is not that the belief in witchcraft is extinct among the Basques, but because it is so rife. Of stories of witchcraft (as matters of fact), and some of them very sad ones, we have heard plenty; but of legends, very few. In fact, witchcraft among the Basques has not yet arrived at the legendary stage. The difference is felt at once in taking down their recitations. In the legends they are reciting a text learnt by heart. It is "the story says so." "It is so," whether they understand it or not. But they tell their stories of witchcraft in their own words, just as they would narrate any other facts which they supposed had happened to themselves or to their neighbours. One woman told us, as a fact within her own knowledge, and persisted in it, a tale which appears both in M. Cerquand's pages and in Fr. Michel's "Pays Basque." 1 It was only after cross-examination that we could discover that it had not really happened to her own daughter, but that she had only seen the cottage and the chapel which are the scene of the alleged occurrence. We have, too, been informed on undoubted authority that, only a year or two back, a country
priest was sorely puzzled by one of his parishioners, in his full senses, seriously and with contrition confessing to him that he frequented the "Sabbat."
But what is strange and unexpected is, that with this prevalence of belief in witchcraft and sorcery, and which can be traced back to our earliest notices of the Basques, there is nothing to differentiate their belief on this subject from the current European belief of three centuries back. All the Basque words for witchcraft and sorcery are evidently borrowed. The only purely Basque term is Asti, which seems to be rather a diviner than a sorcerer. The term for the "Sabbat" is "Akhelarre"--"goat pasture"--and seems to be taken from the apparition of the devil there in form of a goat, which is not uncommon elsewhere. Pierre de Lancre, by the terrors of his hideous inquisition in 1609, produced a moral epidemic, and burnt numerous victims at St. Jean de Luz; but there is not a single Basque term in all his pages. Contrary to general opinion, both the Spanish Inquisition and the French ecclesiastical tribunals were more merciful and rational, and showed far less bigotry and barbarity than the two doctrinaire lawyers and judges of Bordeaux. The last person burnt for witchcraft at St. Jean de Luz was a Portuguese lady, who was accused of having secreted the Host for purposes of magic, in 1619. While her case was being investigated before the Bishop of Bayonne, in the crypt of the church, a mob of terrified fishermen, on the eve of starting for Newfoundland, burst in, tore her out of the church, and burnt her off-hand, in the midst of the "Place." "They dared not," they said, "sail while such a crime was unpunished." The Bishop's procés-verbal of the occurrence is still extant in the archives of the Mairie.
The magic wand in all our tales is now said to be made from the hazel. In De Lancre's time it was from the "Souhandourra"--"the cornus sanguinea"--or dog-wood. This was then the witches' tree.
64:1 Cerquand, Part I., p. 29, notes to Conte 8; Fr. Michel, "Le Pays Basque," p. 152 (Didot, Paris, 1857).