“We are the heiresses of witches and healers. There is an evolution: today they call us feminazis..”
The Catalan parliament has passed a resolution to pardon up to 1,000 people – the majority of them women – condemned for the crime of witchcraft in the region 400 years ago.
The resolution “repairs” the memory of the women convicted of witchcraft in Catalonia and condemnss the “misogynistic persecution”.
It calls on the town councils to review the gazetteer of their streets to incorporate the names of these women.
Thousands of women were condemned during witch-hunts that persisted well into 18th century
The move follows similar gestures in Scotland, Switzerland and Norway after more than 100 European historians signed a manifesto titled: They weren’t witches, they were women.
The resolution, which follows a campaign in the local history journal Sapiens, was supported by the leftwing and nationalist parties in the parliament. But the Socialists refused to sign, the right wing PP abstained and the fascist VOX voted against.
Commenting on a TV3 documentary entitled Witches, the Big Lie, the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, described the witch-hunts as “institutionalised femicide”.
It is estimated that between 1580 and 1630 about 50,000 people were condemned to death for witchcraft across Europe, of whom about 80% were women.
While witch-hunts raged across northern Europe, in Spain the Inquisition had its hands full rooting out heresy among Jews and Muslims who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. The Inquisition was sceptical about allegations of witchcraft.
We Are The Grandaughters of the Witches you couldn’t Burn
Catalonia was the exception, however, and witch-hunts persisted well into the 18th century there. What is thought to be the first European law against witchcraft was passed in Lleida in 1424.
According to Pau Castell, a professor of modern history at the University of Barcelona, witch-hunts were more common in Catalonia because rural areas came under the absolute power of feudal lords, and confession alone was sufficient proof of guilt.
He added that, paradoxically, in cases where the Inquisition was called in, the accused were often set free for lack of evidence.
Witches were frequently blamed for the sudden death of children or for natural catastrophes and poor harvests, Castell said.
According to the historian Núria Morelló, suspects were often practitioners of traditional medicine or women of independent means, who were regarded with suspicion.
Unlike the rest of Europe, witches in Catalonia were hanged, not burned at the stake, hanging was the regular procedure followed in secular courts of justice, which accounted for more than 90% of all witchcraft trials in Catalonia.
Some Catalan villages hired their own witch-finders. One such was Joan Cazabrujas (John the witch-hunter) in the village of Sallent, whose accusations led to the hanging of 33 women.
When the Inquisition later discovered that most of the women were innocent, it had Cazabrujas burned at the stake.
Ivet Eroles, the author of a book on witchcraft in Catalonia, cites the feminist slogan “we are the granddaughters of the witches they couldn’t burn” but says that “more to the point, we are the descendants of those who murdered them; we are the oppressors’ heirs”.
Spain’s most notorious trial for witchcraft centred on the village of Zugarramurdi in Navarra, not Catalonia, where it was claimed that men and women, including priests, practised witchcraft in a large cave.
Before the trial began in nearby Logroño in 1609, altogether 7,000 people were investigated – an astonishing number given that, even today, Zugarramurdi has a population of 225.
“we are the granddaughters of the witches they couldn’t burn”
Two thousand suspects confessed, nearly three-quarters of them children, but nearly all later retracted.
In the end, 11 were condemned, of whom five had already died in prison. The remaining six – four women and two men – were burned at the stake.
Four children’s playgrounds in the Catalan village of Palau-solità i Plegamans have been named in honour of condemned witches and there are plans to name Catalan streets and squares as a form of memorial.
The witch hunt in Catalonia included hundreds of femicides documented after historiographical investigations that show a feudal and decentralized society where women with medical knowledge, widows or non-normatives were accused of witchcraft and murdered with social collusion.
An illustration in literature from 1870. Witches were frequently blamed for the sudden death of children or for poor harvests. Photograph: Album/AlamyStephen Burgen in BarcelonaWed 26 Jan 2022 19.08 GMT
In the Vall d’Àneu, in the Pallars Sobirà region (Lleida), one of the places with the most executions, the oldest law against the crime of “witchcraft” in Europe, dated 1424, was approved.
In this historical context, the approved resolution has gone ahead with the favorable votes of the groups that have presented it (ERC, JxCat, CUP and ‘comuns’) and the PSC-Units, in addition to the abstention of Citizens and the ‘no’ of Vox and the PPC .
The resolution also proposes that the Catalan city councils review their street maps to incorporate the names of these women, as an exercise in “historical repair and feminization” of the gazetteer.
Criticism of Vox and PP The main criticisms of Vox and PP have focused on the fact that a resolution on an issue that lacks “relevance” is carried out in full, while from the PSC and Cs they have also believed that it should have been voted on in committee.
The harshest words against the proposal have been uttered by the fascist Vox deputy Mónica Lora, who has lamented that, while there is poverty in Catalonia and insecurity, the Parliament is debating “about witches”.
In the debate on the proposal, the ERC Left Republican deputy Jenn Díaz has valued historical memory to “repair” the victims and has pointed out that it is an issue that is connected to the present.
The approval in plenary session of the text, Díaz has said, should serve to ask for “forgiveness from a group of women who were accused of being witches.”
From JxCat Together for Catalunya, the deputy Aurora Madaula has pointed out that the Parliament “can and must be a benchmark in the defense of women’s rights”.
Ella Madula has recalled that the accusations of witchcraft were “catalysts of social tension” with a “marked gender character.” .
The approved text also calls for academic studies “with a gender perspective on witch hunting” to be launched and incorporated into the academic curriculum.
The deputy of En Comú Podem ‘We Can Do It In Common’ Susanna Segovia referred to this fact during the debate, defending the recovery of the names of these women, “tortured, persecuted and murdered” because they had “a name and a life”.
The PSC socialist deputy Gemma Lienas has justified that her group has not signed the text because, according to the Socialists, it should have been voted on in committee, although they have voted in favor and has lamented the negative connotation of the “witch” concept: “It’s amazing that these women are forgotten as healers.”
To follow the debate, the magazine Sàpiens, which promotes the campaign ‘They were not witches, they were gifts’, its director, Clàudia Pujol and Agustí Alcoberro, as well as the historian Pau Castell, attended the Parliament.