The Spanish Inquisition
His fellow inquisitors had been convinced of a mass witchcraft epidemic because so many confessions shared the same details. But this was what made Salazar suspicious — might it not just as easily signal mass delusion?
Crucially, the reforms and codifications enacted by the Suprema — and inspired by Salazar’s reports — had a transformative effect. It now became necessary to corroborate any accusations of witchcraft, and all testimonies had to be recorded in their entirety rather than simply being summarised. As a result, inconsistencies and contradictions became much easier to spot, along with what Salazar described as “claims that go beyond all human reason.”
To his great credit, Salazar also realised that he had played his own part in fanning the flames of paranoia and, for the remainder of his career, he would do much to prevent a repetition of the panic that had engulfed the Basque region. As his reputation blossomed within the Inquisition, he monitored the activities of local tribunals and, on occasion, directly intervened when the secular authorities’ zeal reached fever pitch.
Between 1424 and 1782, as many as 60,000 European people were legally put to death for witchcraft. Historians have, however, talked of a so-called “Mediterranean mildness” in this context. Spain certainly had its share of persecutions but, by comparison with other parts of Europe, it behaved with relative restraint.
The great surprise is that the Spanish Inquisition, for all its infamous notoriety, was one of the key factors in limiting the carnage. One of its agents, Alonso de Salazar y Frías, was a crucial part of this tradition and well deserves his reputation as the “witches’ advocate”.
The Spanish Inquisition tried 5,000 people for using magic between 1610 and 1700. None of them were burned
The title page of the Malleus Maleficarum, the late 15th-century book that set the tone for attitudes towards witchcraft