TALES OF SPANISH MAGIC AND SORCERY
SPAIN seems to have been regarded by the other countries of Western Europe as the special abode of superstition, sorcery, and magic, probably because of the notoriety given to the discoveries of the Moorish alchemists, the first scientists in Europe. But with the coming of the Inquisition a marked and natural falling off is noticeable in the prevalence of occult belief, for anything which in the least tended to heresy was repressed in the most rigid manner by that illiberal Institution. In this way much of the folk-lore and peasant belief of Spain, many fascinating legends, and many a curious custom have been lost, never to be recovered. The Brothers, in their zeal for the purity of their Church, banished not only the witch, the sorcerer, and the demon from Spain, but also the innocent fairy, the spirits of wood and wold, and those household familiars which harm no one, but assist the housewife and the dairymaid.
The first information we receive that the authorities intended a campaign against the whole demonhood, good and evil, of Spain is contained in a work by Alfonso de Speria, a Castilian Franciscan, who wrote, about 1458 or 1460, a work specially directed against heretics and unbelievers, in which he gives a chapter on those popular beliefs which were derived from ancient pagan practices. The belief in witches, whom he calls xurguine (jurguja) or bruxe, seems to have been imported from Dauphiné or Gascony, where, he tells us, they abounded. They were, he says, wont to assemble at night in great numbers on a high tableland, carrying
candles with them, for the purpose of worshipped Satan, who appeared to them in the form of a boar rather than in that of the he-goat in which he so frequently manifested himself in other localities.
Liorente, in his History of the Inquisition in Sp states that the first auto-de-fé against sorcery was h at Calabarra in 1507, when thirty women charged with witchcraft by the Inquisition were burnt. In the first treatise on Spanish sorcery, that of Martin de Castanaga, a Franciscan monk (i 529), we learn that Navarre was regarded as the motherland of Spanish witchcraft, and that that province sent many 'missionaries' to Aragon to convert its women to sorcery. But we find that the Spanish theologians of the sixteenth century were so much more enlightened than those of other countries that they admitted that witchcraft was merely a delusion, and the punishment they meted out to those who believed in it was inflicted in respect that the belief, erroneous though it was, was contrary to the tenets of the Church.
Pedro de Valentin, in a treatise on the subject (1610) entirely adopts the opinion that the acts confessed to by the witches were imaginary. He attributed them partly to the manner in which the examinations were carried out, and to the desire of the ignorant people examined to escape by saying what seemed to please their persecutors and partly to the effect of the ointments and draughts which they had been taught to use, which were com
posed of ingredients that produced sleep and acted upon the imagination and the mental faculties.
The Religion of Witchcraft
This view is very generally held at the present time as accounting for the phenomena of witchcraft. But the
researches of Charles Godfrey Leland, Miss M. A. Murray, and others, seem to indicate that the cult of witchcraft is by no means a thing of the imagination. The last-named writer, indeed, claims that it is the detritus of an ancient pagan faith surviving into modern times, having a priesthood and well-defined ritual of its own, and in a measure conserving the practice of child-sacrifice.
There can be little doubt that this conception of witchcraft is the correct one. In the records of the caste there are numerous proofs that it had a definite ritual and an established priesthood, d that imagination played but a small part in shaping the belief of the adherents of the cult. 1
The Story of Dr. Torralva
Spain had not in the sixteenth century ceased to be celebrated for its magicians, who still retained a modicum of the occult philosophy of the Moorish doctors of Toledo and Granada. Perhaps the most celebrated of these comparatively modern masters of magic was Doctor Eugenio Torralva, physician to the family of the Admiral of Castile. Educated at Rome, he early became a pronounced sceptic, and formed an intimacy with a certain Master Alfonso, a man who, after changing his Jewish faith for Islam, and that again for Christianity, had at last become a free-thinker. Another evil companion was a Dominican monk called Brother Pietro, who told Torralva that he had in his service a good angel called Zequid, who had no equal in the spiritual world as a seer, and was besides of such a disinterested
temperament that he served only those who had complete confidence in him and deserved his attachment.
All this excited Torralva's curiosity to an unbounded degree. He was one of those people, fortunate or otherwise, in whom the love of mystery has been deeply implanted, and when Pietro generously proposed to resign his familiar spirit to his friend's keeping he eagerly accepted the offer. Nor did Zequid himself offer any opposition to this change of master, and appearing at the summons of Pietro, assured Torralvo that he would follow his service as long as he lived, and wherever he was obliged to go. There was nothing very startling in the appearance of the spirit, who was dressed in a flesh-coloured habit and black cloak, and had the appearance of a young man with an abundance of fair hair.
From this time onward Zequiel appeared to Torralva at every change of the moon, and as often as the physician required his services, which was generally for the purpose of transporting him An a short space of time to distant places. Sometimes the spirit assumed the appearance of a hermit, at others that of a traveller and even accompanied his master to church, from which circumstance Torralva concluded that he was a beneficent and Christian-minded spirit. But, alas! Dr Torralva was to find, like many another, that attendance at the sacred edifice is not necessarily a guarantee of piety.
For many years Torralva continued to reside in Italy, but in the year 1502 he felt a strong desire to return to the land of his birth. He did so, but seems to have made Rome his headquarters once more in the following year, placing himself under the protection of his old
patron, the Bishop of Volterra, now become a cardinal. The influence this connexion brought him proved of the greatest service to him, and he soon rose to high repute for his skill in medicine. But neither the pious cardinal nor any of the other distinguished patients who sought his aid knew that he drew practically all his medical knowledge from his unseen famulus, who taught him the secret virtues of young plants, with which other physicians were not acquainted. Zequiel, however, was untainted by the love of lucre; for when his master pocketed those thumping' fees to which all good physicians aspire the spirit rebuked him, telling him that since he had received his knowledge for nothing he ought to impart it gratuitously. On the other hand, did the doctor require funds, he never failed to find a supply of money in his private apartment, which.he knew implicitly must have been placed there by his familiar.
Torralva returned to Spain in 1510, and lived for some time at the Court of Ferdinand the Catholic. One day Zequiel confided to him that the King would shortly receive Some very disagreeable news. Torralva at once communicated this piece of intelligence to Ximenes de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo, and to the Grande Capitan, Gonzalvo Hernández de Cordova. On the same day a courier arrived from Africa bearing dispatches which informed his Majesty that an expedition against the Moors had met with disaster, and that its commander, Don Garcia de Toledo, son of the Duke of Alva, had been slain.
When in Rome it appears that Torralva had been so indiscreet as to summon Zequid to appear before his patron, Cardinal Volterra, who now, hearing of the manner
in which his protégé had 'prophesied' the disaster to the Spanish arms, acquainted the Archbishop of Toledo with the means by which the doctor had received intelligence of the defeat. Torralva, ignorant of this, continued in his forecasts of political and other events, and soon found his reputation as a seer greatly enhanced. Among others who consulted him was the Cardinal of Santa Cruz, to whom a certain Donna Rosales had complained that her nights were disturbed by a frightful phantom, which appeared in the form of a murdered man. Her physician, Morales, had watched at night with the lady, but although she had pointed out the precise spot where the grisly vision took its stand, he could discern nothing. Torralva accompanied Morales to the lady's house, and, seated in an ante-chamber, they heard her cry of alarm about an hour after midnight. Entering her apartment, Morales again confessed his inability to see the apparition, but Torralva, who was better acquainted with the spiritual world, perceived a figure resembling a dead man, behind which appeared a shadowy female form. "What dost thou seek here"he inquired, in a firm voice, whereupon the foremost spirit replied : " I seek a treasure," and immediately vanished. Torralva consulted Zequiel upon the subject, and upon his advice the cellars of the house were dug up, whereupon the corpse of a man who had been stabbed to death with a poignard was discovered, and upon its receiving Christian burial the visitations ceased.
Among Torralva's intimate friends was one Don Diego de Zuñiga, a relative of the Duke of Bejar, and brother of Don Antonio, Grand Prior of the Order of St John in Castile. Zuñiga had consulted the learned doctor as
to how he could gain money at play by magical means, and Torralva informed him that this could be accomplished by writing certain characters on paper, using for ink the blood of a bat. This charm Torralva advised him to wear about his neck, so that he might experience good luck at the gaming-table.
In 1520 Torralva went once more to Rome. Ere he left Spain he told Zuñiga that he would be able to travel there astride a broomstick, the course of which would be guided by a cloud of fire. On his arrival at Rome he interviewed Cardinal Volterra, and the Grand Prior of the Order of St John, who earnestly begged him to abandon all commerce with his familiar spirit. Because of their exhortations, Torralva requested Zequiel to leave his service, but met with a stern refusal. The spirit, however, advised him to return to Spain, assuring him that he would obtain the place of physician to the Infanta Eleanora, Queen-Dowager of Portugal, and later consort of Francis I of France. Acting upon this counsel, Torralva sailed once more for the land of his birth, and obtained the promised appointment.
In 1525 an incident occurred which greatly enhanced Torralva's celebrity as a seer. On the 5th of May of that year Zequiel assured him that the troops of the Emperor would take Rome on the following day. Torralva desired the spirit to carry him to Rome so that he might witness this great event with his own eyes. Zequiel gave him a stick full of knots, and commanded him to shut his eyes. Torralva obeyed the request of the famulus, and when after a space the spirit told him to open his eyes once more, he found himself in Rome, standing on a high tower. The hour was
midnight, and when day dawned he duly witnessed terrible events which followed the death of the Constable of Bourbon, the flight of the Pope into the Castle of St. Angelo, the slaughter of the citizens, and the wild riot of the conquerors. Returning to Valladolid by the same means as that by which he had come, Torralvo immediately made public all he had seen, and when, a week or so later, news arrived of the capture and sack of Rome, the Court of Spain was very naturally filled with unbounded surprise.
Many persons of high rank had been accomplices of the gifted doctor in his practice of the black art, and one of these, in a fit of remorse, notified the Holy Inquisition of his dealings with the supernatural. Zuñiga too, who had benefited so greatly by the occult knowledge of Torralva, now turned against him, and denounced him to the holy Office of Cuença, which had him arrested an cast into prison. The terrified magician immediately confessed all his doings with Zequiel, whom he persisted in regarding as a beneficent spirit, and penned no les than eight declarations of his dealings with the supernatural, some of which contradicted statements made in others in a most ludicrous manner. In view of their unsatisfactory nature, the unhappy necromancer was put to the torture, and an admission of the demonic nature of his familiar was quickly extracted from him. In March 1529 the Inquisitors suspended his process for a year, a common practice of the Inquisition, which thus attempted to wear its victims down. But, to the dismay of Torralva, a new witness made his appearance, who testified that in his early days at Rome the imprisoned medico was prone to indulgence in occult arts, so that in January 1530 Torralva was once more put upon his
trial. The Inquisition appointed two learned theologians to labour for his conversion, to whom Torralva promised amendment in everything, except the renunciation of the evil spirit with whom he had been associated for so long, assuring his mentors that he had not the power to dismiss Zequiel. At length, on his making a pretence to cast off his familiar and abjure his heresies, he was released, and entered the service of the Admiral of Castile, who had employed all his influence to obtain a pardon for him. Immortalized in the pages of Don Quixote, he remains for all time the archetype of the Spanish magician of the sixteenth century.
By no race was the practice of the occult arts studied with such perseverance as by the Moors of Spain, and it is strange indeed that only fragmentary notices of their works in this respect remain to us. The statement that they were famous for magical and alchemical studies is reiterated by numerous European historians, but the majority of these have refrained from any description of their methods, and the Moors themselves have left so few undoubted memorials of their labours in this direction that we remain in considerable ignorance of the trend of their efforts, so that if we desire any knowledge upon this most recondite subject we must perforce collect it painfully from the fragmentary notices of it in con temporary European and Arabic literature.
The first name of importance which we encounter in the broken annals of Moorish occultism is a great one-that of the famous Geber, who flourished about 720-750, and who is reported to have penned upward of five hundred works upon the philosopher's stone and the
elixir of life. In common with his fellow-alchemists, he appears to have failed signally in his search for those marvellous elements, but if he was unable to point way to immortal life and boundless wealth, he is to have given mankind the nitrate of silver, corrossive sublimate, and nitric acid. He believed that a preparation of gold would heal all diseases in both animals plants, as well as in human beings, and that all men were in a condition of chronic sickness in so far that they had departed from their natural and original state of gold. His works, all of which are in Latin, are not considered authentic, but his Summa Perfectionis manual for the alchemical student, has frequently been translated.
The Moorish alchemists taught that all metals are composed of varying proportions of mercury and sulphur. They laboured strenuously to multiply drugs out of the various mixtures and reactions of the few chemicals their disposal, but although they believed in the theory of transmutation of metals they did not strive to effect. It belonged to their creed rather than to the practice. They were a school of scientific artisans and experimentalists, first and last. They probably owe their alchemical knowledge to Byzantium, which in turn had received it from Egypt; or it may be that the Arab drew their scientific inspiration at first hand from the land of the Nile, where the great art of alchemy undoubtedly had its birth.
Astrology was also an important branch of occult study with the Moors of Spain, whose consideration of ii greatly assisted the science of mathematics, especially
that branch of it which still retains its Arabic name-algebra (al = the, jabara = to set, compute). It is probable that the Arabs first received an insight into the practice of foretelling events by the position of the planets at a given time from the Chaldeans, who undoubtedly were its earliest students. References to astrology are plentifully encountered in Spanish story, as the reader will have observed. But high as it stood in the estimation of the Moorish sages, it was still subservient to the grander and more mysterious art of magic, whereby the spirits of the air could be forced to do the will of the magus, and carry out his behests in four elements. Most unfortunately, we are almost entirely ignorant of the tenets of Moorish magic, owing probably to the circumstance that it was averse to the spirit of Islam. But we know that it was founded upon Alexandrian magic, and therefore recognized the principles of that art as laid down by the great Hermes Trismegistus, who was none other than the Egyptian Thoth, the god of writing, computation, and wisdom.
About the end of the tenth century the learned men of Europe began to resort to Spain for the purpose of studying the arts, occult and otherwise. Among the first to do so was Gerbert, afterward Pope Sylvester II, who spent several years in Cordova, and who introduced into Christendom the knowledge of the Arabic numerals and the no less useful art of clock-making. Strange that he did not apply his knowledge of the one to the other, and that even to-day our timepieces are burdened with the old and cumbrous Roman numerals! William of Malmesbury assures us that Gerbert made many discoveries of treasure through the art of necromancy, and relates how he visited a magnificent
subterranean palace, which, though dazzling to the sight, would not remain when its splendours were subjected to the test of human touch. Ignorant Europe took Gerbert's mathematical diagrams for magical signs, and his occult reputation increased as his moral character withered. It was said that the Devil had promised him that he should not die until he had celebrated high mass at Jerusalem. One day Gerbert celebrated his office in the Church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem at Rome, and, feeling ill, asked where he was, observed the double entendre of the Evil One, and expired. Such was the tale that benighted ignorance cast round the memory of this single-minded and en-lightened man, much in the same spirit as it bedevilled the recollections of our own Michael Scot and Roger Bacon.
The Dean of Santiago
In the Conde Lucanor, a Spanish collection of tales and homilies of the fourteenth century, already alluded to, is a story of the Dean of Santiago, who went to Illan, a magician of Toledo, to be instructed in necromancy. The magus raised a difficulty, saying that as the Dean was a man of influence, and would attain a high position. he would probably forget all past obligations. The Dean, however, protested that no matter to what eminence he attained he would not fail to remember and assist his former friends, and particularly his tutor in things supernatural. Satisfied with the churchman's promises, the necromancer led his pupil to a remote apartment, first requesting his housekeeper to purchase some partridges for supper, but not to cook them until she had definite orders to do so.
When the Dean and his instructor had settled themselves to the business before them, they were interrupted in their labours by a messenger, who came to inform the Dean that his uncle, the Archbishop, had summoned him to his death-bed. Being unwilling, however, to forgo the instruction he was about to receive, he excused himself from the duty. Four days later, another messenger arrived, informing the Dean of the Archbishop's death, and later he learned that he had been appointed Archbishop in his uncle's place. On hearing this, Illan requested the vacant deanery for his son. But the new Archbishop preferred his own brother, Inviting, however, Illan and his son to accompany him to his see. Later the deanery became vacant once more, and once again the magician begged that his son might be appointed to it. But the Archbishop refused his suit, in favour of one of his own uncles. Two years later the Archbishop became a cardinal, and was summoned to Rome, with liberty to appoint his successor in the see. Once more Illan was disappointed. At length the Cardinal was elected Pope, and Illan, who had accompanied him to Rome, reminded him that he had now no excuse for not fulfilling the promises he had so often made to him. The Pope, in anger, threatened to have Illan cast into prison and starved as a heretic and sorcerer. "Ingrate!" cried the incensed magician, "since you would thus starve me, I must perforce fall back upon the partridges I ordered for to-night's supper."
With these words he waved his wand, and called to his housekeeper to prepare the birds. Instantly the Dean found himself once more in Toledo, still Dean of Santiago, for, indeed, the years he had spent as Archbishop, Cardinal, and Pope were illusory, and had existed
only in his imagination at the suggestion of the magus. This was the means the sage had taken to test his character, before committing himself to his hands and so crestfallen was the churchman that he had nothing to reply to the reproaches of Illan, who sent him off without permitting him to sup upon the partridges!
It is strange that physicians and priests figure most notably as the heroes of Spanish magical story-strange, until we reflect upon the manner in which the learned classes were regarded by an illiterate and illiberal commonalty. Torquemada tells a story of a youth of his acquaintance, a young man of great ability, who was afterward physician to the Emperor Charles V. When he was a student at Guadalupe, and was travelling to Granada, he was invited by a traveller, dressed in the garments of a churchman, whom he had obliged in some manner, to mount behind him on his horse, and he would carry him to his destination. The horse seemed a sorry jade, unable to carry the weight of two able-bodied men, and at first the student refused the mount, but, on pressure, at length accepted a seat behind the seeming ecclesiastic. The horseman requested his companion not to fall asleep in the saddle, and they jogged on, without any appearance of' their going at an extraordinary rate. At daybreak, to the student's surprise, he found himself near the city of Granada, where the horseman left him, marvelling that the distance between two places so widely separated could have been covered in a single night.
Spectres and Apparitions
As might be imagined, the strong vein of superstition in the Spanish character, if subdued to some extent by
the harsh dictates of the Holy Office, yet rose triumphant in other spheres of occult belief. We find, for example, a widely diffused belief in the power of the dead to return to the scenes of previous existence, and this superstition is well illustrated by a weird passage in the thrilling and mysterious pages of Goulart, who in his Tresor des Histoires admirable, knows well how to mingle shadows with the colours on his palette.
Me tells us how Juan Vasquez Ayala and two other young Spaniards, on their way to a French university, were unable to find suitable accommodation at a certain village where they had halted for the night, and were obliged to take shelter in a deserted house, the reputation of which as a haunted vicinity had flourished for a considerable time among the villagers.
The young men made the best of matters, borrowed articles of furniture from several neighbouring houses, and resolved to give a warm reception to any supernatural visitant who should have a mind to pay them a call. But on the first night of their occupancy they had scarcely fallen asleep when they were awakened by a noise as of clanking chains, which seemed to proceed from the lower regions of their temporary dwelling.
Absolutely fearless, young Ayala leaped from his bed and, donning his clothes, sallied downstairs in search of the cause of the clamour which had awakened himself and his comrades. In one hand he carried his drawn sword, in the other a lighted candle, and on coming to a door which led to the courtyard of the house he perceived a dreadful spectrea grisly skeleton, standing in the entrance. The grim apparition which confronted him was loaded with chains, which clanked with a doomful
and melancholy sound on the ears of the gallant young student, who, however, undismayed by the spectacle before him, advanced the point of his sword and demanded the intruder's reason for disturbing his rest. The phantom waved its arms, shook its bony head, and beckoned with its hand, as if asking Ayala to follow it. The student expressed his willingness to do so, on which the ghost commenced to descend a flight of steps, dragging its legs as it went like a man whose limbs were weighted with iron shackles. Ayala followed fearlessly, but as he advanced his candle suddenly flickered and went Out, a circumstance which did little to reinforce his courage. " Hold!" he called to the phantom. "You perceive my candle has gone out. If you will wait till I relight it, I shall return in a moment.
Rushing to a light which burned in the hall, he relit his candle, and returned to the spot where he had left the apparition. He entered the garden, where he saw a well, close by which he perceived the ghost, which signed to him to continue his progress, and having gone a little way forward, vanished.
Puzzled, the student returned to his apartment, and told his comrades to accompany him to the garden, but search as they might, nothing could they find. Next day they reported what had occurred to the alcalde of the village, who had the garden examined, with the result that immediately beneath the spot where the phantom had disappeared a skeleton was exhumed, loaded with chains. When proper burial had been given to the remains the noises in the house abruptly ceased, but the adventure proved too much for the superstitious Spaniards, who returned home abruptly, without fulfilling the object of their journey.
This tale is a capital example of the typical ghost story in its earliest phase. I will not descant upon it here, as a book on Spanish romance and legend is scarcely the place for a disquisition on the occult. But we are learning, slowly and painfully perhaps, to regard these matters from another point of view than our Victorian grandfathers, whose materialism pooh-poohed the supernatural without trying to account for it. In any case I am one of those who believe in it and who desire to believe in it, so that the reflections of such a biased person are perhaps better dispensed with.
Torquemada tells a gruesome story of one Antonio Costilla, a Spanish gentleman, who one day left his mansion, well mounted, on a matter of personal business. When he had ridden several leagues, night suddenly fell, and he resolved to return to his home, but to his dismay he was overtaken by the darkness, and seeing a light ahead rode his horse at a walk in its direction. He saw that it proceeded from a small hermitage, and, dismounting, he entered the little chapel and engaged in prayer. As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he saw that he was not alone, for the hermitage was occupied by three persons, who lay upon the ground, wrapped in black mantles. They did not address him, but lay regarding him with wild, melancholy eyes. Terrified, he knew not by what, he leaped into the saddle and rode off. In a little while the moon shone out, and showed him the three men whom he thought he had left in the chapel riding a little in front of him on black horses. In order to avoid them, he turned down a by-path, but to his horror still observed them riding a few paces ahead. Spurring madly on, yet always preceded by those whom he desired to avoid, he came in time to the gate of his
own house, where he dismounted, and led his horse into the courtyardonly to find there the three cloaked figures awaiting him. He rushed into the house, and entered his wife's apartment, calling for help. Instantly the entire household came to his assistance, but although he screamed loudly that the three fiends or apportions stood by the couch on which he had thrown himself, they were invisible to all others. A few days later the wretched Costilla died, maintaining to the last that three forms with glaring eyes stood over his bed, menacing him with frightful gestures.
Pity it is that our knowledge of the supernatural as manifested in Spain is so slight and fragmentary. But the dread of the sorcerer's fate was heavy upon the people, and the fear of torture by rack or fire successfully banished witch, wizard, fay, and phantom from the fields and cities of the Peninsula.
335:1 The reader who wishes to follow this phase of the subject further should consult Miss M. A. Murray's recent articles In Man.