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The Persecution of Popular Superstition in 17th and 18th Century Portugal

Copyright: José Pedro Paiva(1)
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In common language the word "superstition" is used by the élite belonging to a religion or prevalent church, with a negative connotation, for typifying "pagan", "wrong", non-orthodox gestures and believes, a product of false religion. So, it would be, on this acceptation, an understanding that leans to confound, and sometimes wrongly, to identify superstition with popular religiosity, that is, with less orthodox, or less "legal" religious manifestations by people.

S. Thomas Aquinas, along the thirteenth century, took the charge of producing a more sophisticated term definition, which tended to endure for many centuries and, in Portugal, at least until the eighteenth century, was the prevalent doctrine(2).

Thomist canon was codified in Summa Theologica(3) and won breath in Catholic Europe over again, since the beginnings of sixteenth century, so that it can be found easily in almost every moral theology treatise, every confessor handbook, every catechism, or in endless texts of Diocesan Constitutions that went around in Portugal between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

According to S. Thomas' understanding, superstition must be assumed as a false religion, inappropriate worship to be addressed to very God -- due to excesses and abuses one can do -- yet a worship given to false gods, or unworthy creatures. It was, so, a very heavy sin.

This Thomist understanding searched to classify several superstition forms, usually taking on account five kinds of superstition: idolatry, magic, divination, vain observation and finally, maleficium (sorcery/witchcraft).

By idolatry, the greatest sin among all superstition types, one understood worship to false gods. Magic was viewed as a skill in making prodigies or wonders (mirabilia), such as, for example, doing the sensation that some objects were moving by themselves from a place to another, without none touching them, and it could be made either by using ways one could think to be natural or invoking diabolic powers. The divination was an art that intended to predict future or know events from past or present, all which were unknowable "by natural means". "Vain observance" was a practice of inappropriate actions (usually called "non-proportional means"), or non-efficient ones, in order to reach some pretended goals. This vain observance essentially consisted of ascribing efficiency to a given moment, form or place on which one carried out some operations addressed to reach an expected effect. It was this understanding that made almost every cure executed by popular healers being seen as a mode of superstition. Finally, maleficium (also called sorcery/witchcraft) was an attempting, through an operation wide set, of damaging thirds (causing death, disease, thunderstorms, bad harvests, and so forth) which according to doctrines from most distinguished theologians, involved devil's help(4) . Such wide understanding about this concept made an infinity of popular practices and believes to be included within the ambit of what was considered superstition. It is impossible, in a synthesis like this one, to discriminate all of them. Let me pick up some of the more diffused ones, mainly during the Modern Age, a period in which it is possible to obtain detailed descriptions, on base of Inquisition records and of bishop's visitations. As for the cases before the sixteenth century, and since the judicial processes against those who practised such arts rest unknown for us, the best sources are legislative collections (odd determinations concerning the reign of João I, and "Ordenações Afonsinas") as well as determinations emanated from Synods realised in various dioceses(5) .

In the frame of popular practices taken as superstitious by ruling élites, we can find a great number of operations used for several purposes. With them one believed to be possible causing misdoings against thirds (death and disease), propitiating friendship, love or hate amongst people (that's to say, controlling feelings and behaviours), healing ill bodies, divining (future, distant people whereabouts, stolen things), protecting men from meteorological accidents and from some potencies to which negative powers were ascribed. Both techniques and supposed powers used in reaching such objectives were unlimited and rather heterogeneous ones, and marked by a deep symbolism concerning all the acts realised, materials used and words recited, about which, a very great importance were granted to the formality of all gestures. From all this it excels a deep magic-religious syncretism, in which we can distinguish a large variety of elements: those ones coming from pre-christian worships of death, ancestral believes about astral power, traces of roman mythology, evocation of infernal and satanic spirits, profuse presence of prayers, gestures and images with christian mark(6) .

The agents of these popular practices, that lettered élites took on account of superstitions, only possible -- so they thought -- due to diabolic treaties established between human and the devil, has been object of repressive process and attempt of eradication. This process started at least since half fifteenth century, and becomes more intensive after the Council of Trent, going on to half eighteenth century. The central objective of this study is just to show the outlines of repression against these agents, in Portugal, between 1600 and 1774.

This will be made in three steps. First, it will be presented a very quick general picture about repression within European context. Secondly, Portuguese case will be focused, beginning with making clear about justice courts holding jurisdiction on this kind of crimes, how did they act, and evaluating further what has been the extent, harshness and repressive rhythm of diverse instances that carried out such repression. A third part will try to sketch an explaining theory for the outlines of this phenomenon in Portugal.

Between 1560 and 1680, some countries in Europe have been swept by a climate of a very demoniac obsession that led to condemnation and execution of thousands of people, accused of magic-superstitious practices, often associated to demoniac worships celebrated in nightly meetings -- normally called "sabbaths". It should be noted that this collective character involving sometimes thousands of people, was going to exasperate the fear of these creatures, that came to be understood as a very sect of devil's worshippers(7) .

Wide range, violence and "epidemic" character of this movement justify the name of "witch-hunt" usually given to it by historiography.

This "hunt" has been carried out by using legally extraordinary means, in order to make it easy the persecution, among which we can distinguish torture for obtaining confessions, prison through an indefinite time and even search of insensitivity marks or signs in the bodies of accused creatures, which were said devil's marks.

The whole sum of individuals accused and condemned to death has never been made in an accurate way, but one could say that at least forty thousand people would have been death sentenced, and two hundred thousand judged for this delict(8). Such amount has a more rough expression if considered their frightening short time occurrence, but driving to the flames an unbelievable number of people. That is to say, this phenomenon characterised by repression waves, provoking localised highly impressive ravages(9) .

And yet this phenomenon didn't mark all of Europe equally. There were countries where harshness was more precocious, as succeeded in some regions of Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands and France, and another ones where repression emerged tardily, occurring only after the beginnings of seventeenth century, as in Scotland and England. In other areas an hard repression excluding only in the second half of XVIIth century, as in Austria, Transilvania and Sweden, what proves a different setting of ferocity and steadiness, according to space and time.

From this panorama I just presented, results a sharp notion that, through regional variations, since the second half sixteenth century, and for a period of about two thousand years, Europe has known a typical witch-hunt climate.

What I pretend now is to sketch the profiles repression has assumed in Portugal, a country, let it be said at once, where the harshness of this movement has been comparatively a very limited one, which allows, from now on, to put forward the idea that it was a zone where the "witch-hunt" did not exist.

I begin with exposing the legal context which embodied this kind of delict, in order to a further evaluation of persecution volume, intensity and rhythms.

Persecution and punishment of magic-superstitious practice agents in Portugal has been executed by three different instances: secular justice courts of the King, Inquisition, and Bishop audiences. After the terminology of that time, it was a mixti fori case. That is to say, each one of those instances, had jurisdiction on the subject, each case having to be tried by that one would proceed the first, say, would start the process.

We know Portuguese royal legislation against this delict from reign of D. João I onwards. It is a royal document from November 1385, through which are forbidden, under exile punishment, a lot of such practices like "binding" -- i. e. witchcrafts viewing to provoke sexual impotence or asthenia -- "calling devils", making enchantments, and divining(10) .

After that, all of royal legislative codes, since "Alphosine Ordenations" until the Philippine ones, put on legislative determinations concerning this subject.

We may state that during the reign of D. Manuel I, through the Ordenações Manuelinas promulgation, in 1512, secular legislation concerning the crime of "witchcrafts" remained definitively established, a setting by whose means it became possible for royal power to condemn a very diversified group of practices to punishments that, over the limit, might come to death penalty(11).

Such as the King, also Inquisition, since its establishment in 1536, had jurisdiction upon this crime. Its action range was fixed through several Regimentos in force all along its existence. The first one dated from 1570, the second from 1613, the third (the most enduring one) from 1640, and the last one, from 1774(12).

Through the 1640 Regimento, that has driven inquisitorial action along more than 130 years, it is stated as being extremely heavy and heretical to use sacred objects, to invoke expressly diabolic spirits, to worship the devil or to baptise images, acting "witchcrafts, sorceries, and divinations". Punishments were postulated, depending on evidence quality and on how the accused would behave during the process, assuming as highest punishment the capital condemnation, to be executed by "secular arm", and yet banishment, prison, whippings or galleys, and using penitencial habits (also called "carocha", i. e. "beetle"), all of which to be administrated after Inquisitors' judgement. They were advised to take account of damages caused -- if it resulted one's death, for example, it was proposed a greater harshness -- of social condition, and abjuration level to which the accused were condemned. As for punishments, the Regimento stipulated forgiveness for those who presented themselves willingly to confess their guilties, an usual Inquisition praxis, concerned with its own image as wise administrator of mercy for repentant culprits or of hard chastisement for renitent ones in their errors. It was always possible to employ torture in order to ascertain the extent of guilt ascribed to accused, and in fact about sixty per cent of processed for this sort of delict were tortured in jails of the Holy Office during judicial processes.

The last Holy Office Regimento, from 1774, introduced some deep modifications concerning the actuation system of Inquisition about this delict. It can be considered a basic landmark towards the end of repression against this phenomenon in Portugal. Indeed, in considering such practices as "ideal and fantastic delicts" and declaring those who stated to do them needing instruction "impostors", the system turns out persecuting the "magicians" not for being supposed satanic agents, as happened until then, but only because they were seen as impostors and lacking knowledge. And the Regimento comes to incite the Inquisitors to have a pedagogic action in diffusing this new doctrine, exhorting them to show, in sentence preamble, how all was reproachful superstitions. From now on those accused ofmaleficia, should be taken as empty headed persons. Similarly, by the same time, in catholic Germany, this kind of sceptical approach turned a dominant opinion(13)

Finally let me refer the episcopal justice. We must start with saying that the earlier known references forbidding and condemning "witchcraft" practices in Portugal have ecclesiastic provenience. In Braga Synods of 1281, it was already forbidden the use of "divination" or whatever "magic art"(14).

This watchfulness by ecclesiastic instances would continue without important modification along XIVth and XVth centuries, and since the beginnings of XVIth century there are some episcopal legislative arrangements, the more relevant being that of emerging in Diocesan Constitutions some specific chapters about this problem, in which divination is particularly condemned, with a wide set of curative practices, use of sacred objects in realising sorceries or invocation of satanic spirits. For those behaviours it was mainly prescribed pecuniary punishment, excommunication, prison and banishment. One can also note, along XVIIth century, the growth of imposed punishments, either to agents or clients.

The legal framework we just delineated allows to synthesise some inferences.

First of all, "sorcery" practices were persecuted in Portugal at least since XIIIth century: they weren't, therefore some early Modern Age novelty.

Secondly, said persecution was initially carried out by royal and episcopal authorities to which, since 1536, joined Inquisition.

Thirdly, instances that appointed harshest punishments against delinquent people were secular and inquisitorial courts -- where death penalty was admitted -- being up to bishops a milder normative attitude.

In forth place, it was never disposed a specific legislative code in order to deal with this type of practices, on the contrary to what happened in many countries, where repression became a fierce one, basing on the idea that special delict character deserved exception treatment.

Finally, we must underline that early legislation vestiges in which was stated the non-existence of "sorcery" practices, matching to "impostors" and "fools" those who said to do them (what has to be interpreted as the beginning of persecution's finish to this kind of delict -- after an attitude of absolute scepticism emerging in France on first half of XVII century) point out in said Inquisition Regimento from 1774(15). We can argue, so, it was the Institution that more severely has punished magic practices agents in Portugal -- as it will be explained -- the same that has legislated more precociously in order to stop the persecution.

Within such frame of reference, which have been in practice the characteristics assumed by repression in Portugal?

As for the royal courts of justice it is impossible to quantify the result of their action, since the processes that would have been established -- and there are informations confirming it -- are lost.

Nevertheless, it is sure to say there are no traces that secular justice may have been more severe, concerning punishments imputed to magic-superstitious practice agents, than Inquisition or episcopal trials were, as happened on other Catholic Europe countries, for instance, neighbour Spain(16). While there is sure information that, c. 1559, through royal officers decision, five witches were burned in Lisbon (what would have caused some light panic, leading the Queen Catarina to order a general inquiry all over the country, following the arrest of 27 people, one of them being condemned to death, while some others took punishments of prison, banishment and whipping)(17). There are no more records of such harshness. Some scarce available data for the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries point to prison, banishments, and whipping as the punishments mostly ascribed by royal jurisdiction, resting yet the notion that there wouldn't be so many processes opened by secular justice.

From the point of view of process, the cases judged on this instance were put on through an inquiry or a complain by someone felt injured. During the process, defendants were kept in prison. In trial sessions that followed, and based on witness depositions, tried to make certain the veracity or not of the acts for which defendants were accused, questioning them as well about eventual pacts done with devil. While some cases show that "marks" or "signals" revealing diabolic agreement were searched, there is not any proof of tortures on defendants along the trials(18).

The Inquisition was the court which left more traces of its performance. The good condition of its archives allows a very close evaluation of it.

During almost two centuries, between 1600 and 1774, Portuguese Inquisition (excluding Goa) judged 818 processes started against agents of illicit magic practices: Coimbra Inquisition 361 cases, Lisbon Inquisition 264, and Évora Inquisition 193. From these, 36% were healers, 29%, witches, 18% witch doctors, 8% processed for using withcrafts -- the most for using purses as a protection from being wounded, 5% were trialed for presumably having made a pact with the devil, and 4%, beyond being healers or sorcerers, were accused as well of another delict, such as blasphemy, pretending divine or saints revelations, misusing exorcisms and sodomy(19).

Let us emphasise the volume of denunciations that came up to Court was very much larger, if we take as an example what happened in Coimbra Inquisition. Speaking widely, through this Court, 361 cases were sentenced, and there are on the Cadernos do Promotor (a book where remained records of, amongst others, accusing depositions to Inquisition without originating any trial) to a little lower chronological range (1611-1757), c. 6.190 denouncing cases, that is to say, something like 20 times more than the number of sentenced people.

Besides it must be said that the weight of this kind of delict in Holy Office activity was very limited, more or less about 3,5% of whole amount of cases sentenced by this institution. As it is generally admitted, Portuguese Inquisition, on the contrary to its two congeners Spanish and Italian, focused its action quite exclusively on the persecution of cristãos-novos (new-christian) accused of Judaism(20).

How did this repression grow up along the time?

Graphic number 1 shows how XVIIIth century, mainly starting from 1710 decade, was a period of more intensive repression than previous century: from an amount of 818 cases, 579 (70%) occurred by that time, and only 239 (30%) did occur during the XVIIth century. And this was plainly caused by the increase of processes started against healers for considered superstitious procedures, which before then, in spite of several accusations come to Inquisition, scarcely went on.

Graphic 1: Inquisition trals (1600-1774)

A final note, on this brief and not exhaustive reading of graphic results, to clarify how the period beginning with 1760 until 1774 marks the agony of repressive action against those agents by Inquisition. Such decline revealed to be a very quick one -- during about 15 years there was a decrease from 49 cases each five years to only 2 -- and it is to be associated with changes concerning inquisitors mental view facing the question. On the one hand, because about 1750, they stop conceiving possibility of maleficia practice. On the other hand, because they begin looking to healers as unlearned or impostor, needing instruction or else deserving censure for deceiving people. But it was not question any more of devil powers, and therefore the action of Inquisition ceased making sense.

What degree of severity has been used, and what kind of punishment has been sentenced against the convicts? The most frequent punishment associated prison and banishment, to which could also be added whipping or shameful punishments; even socially humiliating penalties were inflicted, such as exposition at church door with a candle in hands, wearing of Santo Ofício penitent habit or of witch "carocha". This "carocha" was a kind of mitre which was put on the head, and which, in the case of sorceresses, had some black saliences, making such a "hat" to be beetle-like.

The overwhelming majority of defendants has been sentenced with banishment (80%) and prison (65%), but the average of condemned was very low: 0,6% (say, 4 cases). Even considering 27 people perished in prison before trials end, the percentage of death victims should be 4,5%.

This, as for the kinds of penalties; in what concerns their lengthening, it must be said that a half lasted between 1 and 3 years, and only 10% ran for a superior to 5 years period, which means in their majority penalty duration was not so high.

Finally, let's analyse what has been about episcopal justice, using data concerning Coimbra Diocese (one of 13 dioceses in which Portugal kingdom was divided). To this analysis we'll get in mind what happened with Inquisition, that is, we propose a compared reading.

At Coimbra Diocese, during pastoral visitations, between 1640 and 1770, almost 2.291 cases, 400 of which would have been judged through episcopal court were denounced. It should be stressed that these figures concern Coimbra Diocese only(21).

The processed by Inquisition, dwelling in the same diocesan space and in the same period, were merely 69. This aspect must be emphasised, because it undoubtedly shows how the amount of repressive activity through episcopal courts against magicians, was very superior to Santo Ofício's and secular courts'.

If, concerning the volume, the episcopal activity surmounted Inquisition's, as for its harshness on the contrary, it was essentially milder. At once, because about 15% of processed people in episcopal court were absolved by lacking evidence, while Inquisition never pronounced that sentence to whatever cases were submitted to judgement. Such a mildness appears also through non-application of bodily chastisements, through lower time of prison or banishment imposed, and even through a less severe selection of banishment places. Episcopal judges applied banishments to continental territories only, while as for Inquisition, convicts to major penalties were often shipped to Brasil or Africa. Bishops insisted mainly on imposition of pecuniary penalties. Inquisition tried to discipline through banishment, prison and whippings.

In what concerns repressive rhythms, figures point to the existence of three phases. A first moment of limited growing (1640-89), a second phase of accentuated enlargement, which runs from 1690 to 1744, and a last vertiginous declining time, starting from 1745 and going on to 1770 onwards.

Coincidence of this evolution with the one revealed by Inquisition is too evident: light increase of cases along XVIIth century; stressed enlargement during XVIIIth century, a little more precocious as for episcopal visitations, and decline in terminal phases of the period under analysis. This parallelism in repression rhythm of two different institutions, lets understand how structural grounds of that movement have been outlined by questions of attitude in what concerns the problem, which were extrinsic to real performance of both instances. That is to say, it would have been the élites conception and frame of mind towards the magic practices phenomenon that marked results, and not so much real specificities and objectives of repressing institutions. This explains the watchful attitude which holds along the XVIIth century, which coheres with general frame that has marked the élites thinking, in what concerns the assumption of possibility of magic acts made through diabolic pacts, patterned by a relative scepticism. It clarifies as well the whirling enlargement of pression carried out during the first half of the XVIIIth century, which was reached at expenses of repression against healers, and embodies in a wide ecclesiastic endeavour of social control towards the population. It appears plainly that from XVIIIth century, we can watch some implantation of a certain politics prepared by central mechanisms of the Church, intending to pattern at more and more areas the "superstitious" and worldly behaviour of people.

And traces of this kind of campaign can be detected everywhere. Through the action of missionaries that roamed about all rural world; through the attitude of confessors towards their penitents; through the contents of episcopal pastorals; through the positive results of pastoral visitations. In short, there are enough vestiges which seem to point that from beginning of XVIIIth century on, a strong campaign for christianise the rural areas was in course, a consequence of which would have been the growth of repression against healers by inquisitorial and episcopal justice.

This sketch of magicians repression in Portugal, makes possible a comparison with the generic picture which, in the beginning of this session, has been largely traced to European Continent.

From this comparison it results that the movement was rather late here, that is to say, repression reached its highest strength in the first half of XVIII century, at a time when, in zones where such phenomenon got its greatest expression, said persecution was practically over.

On the other hand, repression did not reach the amounts of the most fierce persecution zones, and has been comparatively mild as for punishments. It doesn't come to 12 the sum of death condemnations about which there are memories, from the half XVIth century until the end of XVIIIth century.

Finally, it had as main targets not maleficia agents (witches and sorceresses) but above all, healers and sorceresses committed to love magic practices and divination.

In short -- and this is the basic idea that must be seized -- there has not been, in Portugal, anything like witch-hunt, as it happened on many European countries. I would dare even say that Portugal did not know witch-hunt, at least if we mean by that expression the massive, violent, panicking repression of supposed maleficia agents, generating episodic avalanches of condemnations.

Let us approach the third and last topic of my address, concerning the causes of this mildness repression.

These figures arise an interesting historiographic question. There was in Portugal tens of thousands denouncements against individuals accused for producing magic and superstitious acts. There were some institutions (Inquisition, episcopal and royal justice courts) with jurisdiction and resources for persecuting agents of magic practices. Besides -- a point of view not approached here -- among those occupying executive and commanding positions in judicial apparatuses, it was perfectly known the diabolism doctrine which, in many European territories, inspired such a great repression movement against "witches", along Modern Age. Portuguese people had practices and believes very similar to those which were persecuted all over Europe(22) . According to many historians, these were the type of previous conditions for such a movement of violent repression, as in fact happened in Central and Northern Europe. Briefly, in Portugal, main conditions were joined to break out a violent "witch-hunting". And yet it did not happened.

If, in fact, substantial aspects justifying said repression existed in Portugal, why same severe persecution did not happen there(23)?

To begin with, it must be stated that the key of understanding the pattern and amplitude of the movement consists of focusing not people behaviours but otherwise the frame of notions and motivations of the élites, as much as the juridical mechanisms they disposed in order to perform such a task. That is to say, I share the belief of those defending that movement hardlines have been ordered by policies come down from above and not so much by the emergence of local tensions, at a community level(24). On the contrary, recently Robin Briggs stills state that generally witchcraft trials in Europe were instigated from below(25)

Once this assumed, it must be underlined that what happened in Portugal was closely similar to the patterns observed both in Spain and in Italic Peninsula, where repression against magicians was not violent as well. On the contrary, a global and compared explanation concerning the causes of that situation it seems to me not being up to now completely succeeded. The usual explaining frame has centered the question on rather judicious and prudent role of Inquisition in Southern Europe. Such is the suggestion proposed for some Italian and Spanish cases(26).

Robert Muchenbled's proposal doesn't focus upon Inquisition tolerance action. His explanation is wider. He states that in Ancien Régime Europe, the great witch-hunt would have been a consequence of an attempt of emerging Modern States authority affirmation. Therefore, it was more violent on zones where that affirmation was more difficult (for instance, Sacred Empire territories named "Spanish route") and less severe on spaces where the power of State had not so much barriers to impose itself(27). This general explaining theory, assumes some variations which let him justify some particular situations. So according to Robert Muchembled in Spain and Italy, persecution was not severe because protestantism put neither State's nor Church's steadiness at risk, and because in those countries the Church made available to faithful people some "official" means to control supernatural. According to that, some more moderated policies of popular superstition control were chosen.

The only historian who has tried a whole explanation of these mild patterns of persecution observed in Portugal, Spain and Italy, obviously recognising similitudes amongst these three zones, was Francisco Bethencourt. Assuming that the Inquisition has entirely controlled the outline of repressive strategy on those areas, he concludes the relative mildness would have been provoked, on one hand, because of the secondary place occupied by this kind of delict within the heresies hierarchy persecuted by Inquisition. On the other hand, it would have been caused by the pattern of christianisation tested on those spaces(28).

Although containing some very important explaining elements, these proposals appear insufficient. Firstly, because they don't take on account that Inquisition was not the only institution with jurisdiction over this delict. It isn't enough to stress that the Inquisition has been mild, since bishops and secular judges were too. Secondly, and recognising the role played by the Holy Office, what is important is checking why were inquisitors, bishops and other secular judges so mild facing these "devil agents".

There are manifold aspects which let grasp this moderated attitude that Portuguese élites generally assumed.

On one hand, some alienation and even dismissal concerning the sorcery discussion, a question which made run a great deal of writings, at countries where persecution was more cruel. On the other hand, a somewhat unbelieving phenomenon vision, as for some aspects about sabbath myth, namely concerning capacities and powers of those agents, and the possibility of witch flying and metamorphose into animal figure.

Thirdly, the very restricted influence and diffusion of demonology treatises by lay jurists, who have prodigally write elsewhere some treatises in which damages practised by those kind of people were enlarged and their condemnation was requested.

Fourth, a deep faith in Church and help resources it proposed to fight the devil and its allied (the witches) most especially for exorcisms, a belief shared by ecclesiastics as much as doctors and jurists. That is, Portuguese élites largely believed that with prayers recommended by Church, with canonical exorcisms and some other means of protection as rosary, medals of saints, and so on, people could defend themselves from diabolic powers, witches and sorceresses.

And this confidence and faith about divine helpings propitiated by the Church was in fact extraordinary. In a book titled Espelho de sacerdotes ("Mirror for Priests"), published around the end of the XVIIth century, bewitched people were advised to come back to grace of God, because, would they in state of grace, "even all of hell" would be not able of pulling up a single hair from their heads(29).

Finally, somewhat as a consequence from these aspects, the non existence of whatever fear feeling, and much less of panic, towards devil's powers and its supposed allied. If one reads what few Portuguese authors who have written about this subject said, one easily verifies they were not terrified, did not be afraid of those people, on the contrary to what happened in places where repression was massive(30). Awe of witches becomes easily noticeable there, and given their reverenced power, extermination of those creatures is suggested as the only way of wiping out such a sect.

Within this ambit, emergence of a repression movement, massive and violent, was not predictable. Agents of diabolic practices were never viewed by Portuguese élites as a powerful enough group that could threaten, still less put at risk, any of their most liked values: God, Church, Monarchy, and prosperity and health of each one.

My thesis is that this picture basically resulted for two factors: the rigidly Thomist marked formation of Portuguese lettered élites and the power and steadiness of Portuguese Church.

Thomism's high coefficient on formation of Portuguese, and Iberian intellectuality in general, conditioned conceptions of learned people in this area and marked their relative scepticism, moderation and even little importance they granted to witchcraft questions. Thomist doctrine, on this matter, has nothing to do with frightened and frightening description in "hunt" handbooks published in XVth to XVIIth centuries. Saint Thomas does not allude to sabbaths, deaths provoked by witches, destruction of harvests, promotion of raging storms, ceremonies of devil's worship, and so on. Besides, it was evident his determination on limiting diabolic powers to some parameters and, above all, to divine authorisation. Now, for their intellectual formation, Portuguese élites' thought became linked to this theological tradition and was less opened to demonology treatises, many of them produced by jurists not by theologians, through which a terrorist, obsessive and extremely prejudicial vision about witchcraft was extended. Of course, Thomist thought assumed the reality of some witchcrafts, as much as the possibility of diabolic pact and production of some enchanting acts by force of that pact, but one must assume that the difference between Saint Thomas's writings and treatises like Malleus Maleficorum, or works by Nicolas Remy, Jean Bodin, Pierre de Lancre or Del Río, is a very large one. Thomas was not frightened of witch sects, nor claimed for their pitiless destruction, even less argued for special juridical procedures in order to detect and fight an imagined sect of Satan's worshipers, such as did many treatise writers who indeed relied on their own knowing, quoting it, to justify the existence of witchcrafts realised with intervention of Satan.

The Church situation in Portuguese society along Modern Age (according to its political, social, economic, and cultural strong weight) which has been almost entirely kept from impact of Protestantism, reaching to preserve Catholicism's integrity, allows to grasp why Portuguese élites did never become frightened nor too fearful towards powers of witches and sorceresses. To this institutional steadiness, the Church added the availability of efficient means of protecting individuals from diabolic investments of witches and sorceresses. The very formation that intellectual élites acquired at institutions patronised by the Church became a greater chance of control on religious field. So, those creatures, seen by learned élites as rude and simple-minded, did not constitute a serious and consistent threaten. Surely it was not this conjuncture alike to that one of countries where repressive violence emphasised.

There are yet other aspects, which I would lean to consider of minor importance but contribute as well to justify non-existence of a violent repression: A) extant strong anti-Jewish tradition which, occupying, almost obsessively, the Inquisition, in a certain way turned aside the attention target from witches to cristãos-novos; B) a legal framework marked by the non existence of juridical procedures and codes of exception to judge this delict; C) the patient way how Church, all along XVIth to XVIIIth centuries developed its policies of christianising the cristãos-velhos, always patiently and not drastically; D) the difficulty judges always had for making accused to confess they had committed diabolic pact, so becoming impossible capital sentence application.

All of these factors explain why did Portugal, although a country of many witches, be a land without witch-hunting.


* Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra. Centro de História da Sociedade e da Cultura.

2.  See for the portuguese case PAIVA, José Pedro - Bruxaria e superstição num país sem caça às bruxas (1600-1774). Lisboa: Editorial Notícias, 1998, p. 336-40. All the topics of the Thomist doctrine were also referred by CLARK, Stuart - Thinking with demons. The idea of witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 474-79.

3.  See AQUINO, Tomás de - Summa Theologica. Madrid: BAC, 1959-64.

4. We can see a positive example of these interpretations in ANUNCIAÇÃO, António da - Collegio abreviado de ordinandos, pregadores e confessores ... Lisboa: Miguel Manescal da Costa, 1765, p. 146-49.

5.  See Ordenações Afonsinas. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1984, Livro V, tít. XXXII; also, GARCÍA Y GARCÍA, Antonio - Synodicon Hispanum. Madrid: BAC, 1982.

6.  Some exhaustive descriptions of positive facts and an attempt of decoding practice symbology and believes can be seen in BETHENCOURT, Francisco - O imaginário da magia. Feiticeiras, saludadores e nigromantes no século XVI. Lisboa: Projecto Universidade Aberta, 1987, p. 35-103, and also PAIVA, José Pedro - Bruxaria ... Op. cit., p. 95-137.

7. See, for instance, the treatises by DEL RÍO, Martín - Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex. Lugduni: Joannes Phillehotte, 1604-1608, and by REMY, Nicolas - Demonolatriæ libri tres. Lugduni: Officina Vincentii, 1595.

8.  Some case studies with quantitative approaches concerning several European countries can be seen in MUCHEMBLED, Robert (dir.) -- Magie et sorcellerie en Europe du Moyen Age à nos jours. Paris: Armand Colin, 1994, and ANKARLOO, Begnt; HENNINGSEN, Gustav -- Early Modern European Witchcraft Centres and Peripheries. London: Clarendon Press, 1990.

9.  For some cases occurred in Bamberg and Warzburg dioceses (Germany), see WALINSKI-KIEL, Robert -- "Godly States, Confessional States Conflict and Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Germany" in Mentalities: an Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 5, nº 2 (1988), p. 13-24. Other amasing figures concerning Germany, Austria and Switzerland were revealed by BEHERINGER, Wolfang - "Witchcraft studies in Austria, Germany and Switzerland witchcraft" in BARRY, Jonathan; HESTER, Marianne; ROBERTS, Gareth - Witchcraft in early modern Europe. Studies in culture and belief. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. p. 64-95.

10.  See OLIVEIRA, Eduardo Freire de -- Elementos para a História do Município de Lisboa. Lisboa: Typographia Universal, 1885, 1ª parte, Livro 1, p. 264-75.

11.  See Ordenações Manuelinas. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1984. Livro V, título XXXIII.

12.  See Regimento do Santo Officio da Inquisiçam dos Reynos de Portugal Lisboa: Pedro Crasbeeck, 1613. Regimento do Santo Officio da Inquisição dos Reynos de Portugal. Ordenado por mandado do Ilustrissimo e Reverendissimo Senhor Bispo Dom Francisco de Castro. Lisboa: Manuel da Silva, 1640. Regimento do Santo Officio da Inquisiçam dos Reynos de Portugal Lisboa: Officina de Miguel Manescal da Costa, 1774.

13.  See BEHERINGER, Wolfang - Witchcraft persecution in Bavaria. Popular magic, religious zealotry and reason of state in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 359-81.

14.  See GARCÍA Y GARCÍA, Antonio (dir.) -- Synodicon Hispanum, Op. Cit. vol. II, p. 21.

15.  About French case, see MANDROU, Robert -- Magistrats et sorcières au XVII siècle. Paris: Seuil, 1980, p. 313-341.

16.  The thesis arguing a more harshness by Spanish civil justice can be confirmed through figures presented by MONTER, William -- Frontiers of Heresy. The Spanish Inquisition from the Basque Lands to Sicily, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 259-63, 265-66, 268-69 and 274.

17.  See REGO, Yvonne Cunha (ed.) -- Feiticeiros, profetas e visionários. Textos antigos portugueses, Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda, 1981, p. 13-21.

18.  Ideas based on 16 records sent to Inquisition by secular judges. See ANTT, Inquisição de Coimbra, Nr. 979, 1147, 1249, 4053, 7199, 7257 and 10089; Inquisição de Lisboa, Nr 1084, 6871, 7536, 8052, 10181 and 11630 and Inquisição de Évora, Nr. 2112, 3698 and 3709.

19.  A detailed analysis for all these figures can be seen in PAIVA, José Pedro -- Bruxaria Op. cit., p. 207-214.

20.  See BETHENCOURT, Francisco -- História das Inquisições. Portugal, Espanha e Itália. Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores, 1994, p. 279.

21.  For more details see PAIVA, José Pedro - Bruxaria... op. cit, p. 207-14.

22.  See PAIVA, José Pedro - Bruxaria... op. cit, p. 36-66.

23. This communication doesn't approach the problem in detail. A more particular analysis can be seen in PAIVA, José Pedro -- Bruxaria Op. Cit., p. 331-356.

24.  This thesis has been argued by, among others, COHN, Norman -- Europe's Inner Demons. London: Sussex University Press, 1975, p. 224 and 252; TREVOR-ROPER, H. R. -- "The European Witchcraze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries" in Religion the Reformation and Social Change. London: Macmillan, 1967, p. 90-192, and MIDELFORT, H. Eric -- Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany: 1562-1684. The Social and Intellectual Foundations. Standford, California: Standford University Press, 1972, p. 17-18.

25.  See BRIGGS, Robin - "Many reasons why": witchcraft and the problem of multiple explanation witchcraft" in BARRY, Jonathan; HESTER, Marianne; ROBERTS, Gareth - Witchcraft in early modern Europe. Studies in culture and belief. Cambridge: Cambridge Iniversity Press, 1997, p. 54.

26.  See MARTIN, Ruth -- Witchcraft and Inquisition in Venice: 1550-1650. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989, p. 25; CONTRERAS, Jaime -- El Santo Oficio de la Inquisición de Galicia (Poder, Sociedad y Cultura), Madrid: Akal Editor, 1982, p. 537-38 and 688-90; FAJARDO SPINOLA, Francisco -- Hechicería y Brujería en Canarias en la Edad Moderna, Las Palmas: Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria, 1992, p. 250; and the classic LEA, Henry Charles -- Historia de la Inquisición Española, Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 1983, p. 585, 608-09, and 638-39. On the same line, though associating other elements to this theory of inquisitional moderation, O'NEIL, Mary -- "Magical Healing, Love Magic and the Inquisition in Late Sixteenth-Century Modena", in HALICZER, Stephan (ed.) -- Inquisition and Society in Early Modern Europe. London, Sydney: Croom Helm, 1987, p. 106-7.

27. See MUCHEMBLED, Robert -- Le roi et la sorcière. L'Europe des bûchers: XV-XVIII siècle. Paris: Desclée de Brower, 1993, p. 32-33, and 56.

28.  See BETHENCOURT, Francisco -- "Un univers saturé de magie", in MUTHEMBED, Robert (dir.) -- Magie et sorcellerie en Europe du Moyen Age à nos jours. Paris: Armand Colin, 1994. P. 189-93.

29.  COIMBRA, Manuel de -- Espelho de Sacerdotes, Lisboa: João Galrão, 1692, p. 134.

30. The only two treatises, written by Portuguese, totally concerned about questions of superstitious magic- practices were LACERDA, Manuel -- Memorial e antídito contra os pós venenosos que o Demónio inventou e per seus confederados espalhou, em odio da christandade. Lisboa: Antonio Alvarez, 1631, and MOURA, Manuel do Vale de -- De incantationibus seu ensalmis. Eboræ: Laurentius Crasbeeck, 1620.