Modern Spain emerged in the fifteenth century. The land
had previously been occupied by the Romans, Visagoths, and
the Moors, who remained dominant beginning in the eighth
century C.E. From early times, Spain was regarded as a special
abode of superstition and sorcery, malevolent magic, and, in
the Middle Ages, as the home of witchcraft, much of that reputation
deriving from the notoriety of the Moorish alchemists.
Spain was a major point of dissemination of Arab learning into
Christian Europe. As early as 1370, the kingdom of Castile (a
major component of what would become Spain) declared divination
to be heresy. Writing about 1458 C.E., Alfonso de Spina,
a Franciscan brother from Castile, created a work especially directed
against heretics and nonbelievers, in which he gave a
chapter on those articles of popular belief that were derived
from ancient pagan beliefs. Among these, witches, called Xurguine
(jurgina) or bruxe, held a prominent place. He stated that
in his time offenders abounded in Dauphiny and Gascony,
where they assembled in great numbers by night on a wild tableland,
carrying candles with them to worship Satan, who appeared
in the form of a boar on a certain rock, popularly known
by the name Elboch de Biterne, and that many of them had
been taken by the Inquisition of Toulouse and burned.
Spain reemerged as a Christian kingdom during the reign
of Ferdinand V (14741504) and Isabella. They introduced the
Inquisition, expelled the Jews, and financed Columbuss voyages
to America. Their reign coincided with the redirection of
the Inquisition against witchcraft in the 1480s and from that
time in Spain, the charge of witchcraft and sorcery was frequently
made under different forms and circumstances. Local
inquisitors operated without clear guidelines, especially regarding
exactly what constituted sorcery, and had considerable
latitude in their prosecution of the accused.
The first auto-da-fé (act of faith) against witchcraft appears
to have been that of Calahorra in 1507, when 30 women
charged before the Inquisition as witches, were burned. In
1527 a great number of women were accused in Navarre of the
practice of sorcery through the information of two girls, one 11,
the other only nine years old, who confessed before the royal
council of Navarre that they had been received into the sect of
the jurginas. They promised, on condition of being pardoned,
to expose all the women who were involved in these practices.
The prevalence of various magic practices in the Basque
provinces became notorious, and Charles V, judging that it was
to be attributed more to the ignorance of the population of
those districts than to any other cause, directed that preachers
should be sent to instruct them.
The first treatise in the Spanish language on the subject of
sorcery was by a Franciscan monk named Martin de Castanaga,
printed under approbation of the bishop of Calahorra in 1529.
About this time, the zeal of the inquisitors of Saragossa was excited
by the appearance of many witches who were said to have
come from Navarre, and to have been sent by their sect as missionaries
to make disciples of the women of Aragon. This sudden
witch persecution in Spain appears to have had an influSpace
and Unexplained Celestial Events . . . Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
ence on the fate of the witches of Italy. Pope Adrian IV, who was
raised to the papal chair in 1522, was a Spanish bishop, and
had held the office of inquisitor-general in Spain.
In the time of Pope Julius II (150313), a large sect of witches
and sorcerers had reportedly been discovered in Lombardy
who had their Sabbats and all the other activities of the Continental
witches. The proceedings against them had been hindered
by a dispute between the inquisitors and the ecclesiastical
judges who claimed jurisdiction in such cases. Then on July 20,
1523, Pope Adrian issued a bull against the crime of sorcery,
equating divination with its practice, and by naming both as
heresy, placed sorcery clearly under the sole jurisdiction of the
inquisitors. This bull freed the Inquisition to act against witches
Of the cases that followed during more than a century, the
most remarkable was that of the auto-da-fé at Logrono on November
7 and 8, 1610, which arose in some measure from a visit
to the French Basque province in the preceding year. The valley
of Bastan is situated at the foot of the Pyrenees on the
French frontier, near Labourd. It was within the jurisdiction of
the Inquisition established at Logrono in Castille. The mass of
the population of this valley were said to have been sorcerers,
and they held their meetings or Sabbats at a place called Zugarramurdi.
A woman who was condemned implicated a number of other
persons. All the persons arrested on this occasion agreed in
their description of the Sabbat and of the practices of the witches,
who in their general features bore a close resemblance to the
witches of Labourd. The usual place of meeting was known
here, as in Labourd, by the popular name of Aquelarre, a Gascon
word signifying the meadow of the goat. Their ordinary
meetings were held on the nights of Monday, Wednesday, and
Friday, every week, but they had grand feasts on the principal
holidays of the church, such as Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas.
All these feasts appear to have been fixed by the Christian
teachers at the period of older pagan festivals. The accounts of
their claimed Sabbats were similar to those given of such meetings
elsewhere. They supposedly danced, sang, took part in orgies,
and came into personal contact with Satan.
The auto-da-fé of Logrono, as far as it related to the sect of
the sorcerers of Zugarramurdi, caused a sensation, and
brought the subject of witchcraft under the consideration of the
Spanish theologians. They were far more enlightened than
most of their contemporaries in other countries, that they generally
held the opinion that witchcraft was a mere delusion and
that the details of the confessions of its victims were all creations
of the imagination. They were punished because their
belief was a heresy, contrary to the doctrines of the church. Llorente
gave the abstract of a treatise on this subject by a Spanish
ecclesiastic named Pedro de Valentia, addressed to the grand
inquisitor in consequence of the trial at Logrono in 1610. It remained
in manuscript among the archives of the Inquisition.
Valentia adopted the opinion that the acts confessed by the
witches were imaginary; he attributed them partly to the methods
in which the examinations were carried outand to the desire
of the people examined to escape by saying what seemed
to please their persecutorsand partly to the effects of the
ointments and draughts they had been taught to use. These
were composed of ingredients that produced sleep and acted
upon the imagination and the mental faculties.
Although the heresy-hunting of the Spanish Inquisition resulted
in a vast number of victims being burned throughout Europe,
in Spain itself witchcraft persecutions were relatively
more restrained than elsewhere, and there were relatively
fewer burnings. An entrenched skepticism on the part of the
Suprema as to the reality of witchcraft discouraged mass persecutions
from 1526 onward. During the witchcraft panic of 1610
in Navarre, the secular judges had burned their victims before
the Inquisition could act. Subsequently the Suprema restrained
punishment for alleged witches and in some cases denounced
the charges as a delusion.
A writer in the Religio-Philosophical Journal (flourished
18651905) states The language that furnishes the largest
number of periodicals devoted to the dissemination of the doctrine
and philosophy of modern Spiritualism, is the Spanish.
This statement will be somewhat surprising to many of our
readers, for we have been accustomed to look upon the Spaniards
as non-progressive and conservative in the extreme.
Spain, until a few years, has always been intolerant of any religions
except the Roman Catholic, and was the latest of European
nations to yield to the spirit of religious progress. Protestantism
has with the greatest difficulty obtained a foothold in
that country within the last few years, but it has been attended
with annoying restrictions and persecutions, while its progress
has been exceedingly slow and discouraging.
Spiritualism in Spain began, as in many other lands, with a
series of disturbances, which took place in a family residing in
the outskirts of Cadiz. Stone throwing, bell ringing, and other
poltergeist-style annoyances were the first means of awakening
attention to the subject. Because they occurred at the house of
a Spanish gentleman who had just returned from the United
States, full of the marvels of the Rochester rappings, circles
were at once formed, intelligent responses by rappings obtained,
and a foothold for Spiritualism established. So rapidly
did interest in Spiritualism spread, that the first promulgators
were soon lost sight of. As early as 1854, a society was formed
at Cadiz for the sole purpose of publishing the communications
received from the spirits during the two preceding years.
From 1854 to 1860, Spiritualism spread through the principal
towns and villages of Spain in the usual fashion, aided in
large part by Spiritualisms claim to be a nonreligious, scientific
movement. Circles were held in private families, and an endless
number of societies were formed and dissolved, according to
the exigencies of the time.
One of the first public events of note in connection with
Spanish Spiritualism deserves special mention. It was no other
than a modern auto-da-fé, held on the morning of October 9,
1861, at the Esplanade Barcelona. The difference between this
burning and the fiery executions of earlier centuries was that
the early victims were humans, while these were all the books,
pamphlets, and works of a Spiritualist character that could be
procured at that period of the movement. Resting on the funeral
pyre were the writings of Allan Kardec and Baron Ludwig
von Guldenstubbe, some copies of English and American
Spiritualist papers, and a large collection of tracts issued by the
Spiritualists of Spain. Some change of attitude soon occurred.
Among the well-known residents of Barcelona was a Señor
Navarez, whose daughter Rosa had, for many years, been the
subject of spasmodic attacks, called by some of the Roman
Catholic clergy the obsession of demons, and by the medical
faculty, an aggravated condition of epilepsy. Within two years
following the Barcelona burning, Rosa was pronounced entirely
cured by the magnetic passes of a gentleman who was the medium
of the private circle held in the city.
Shortly after this, Barcelona could boast of its well-approved
Spiritualist publications, numerous societies for investigation,
and several mediums. A journal published by a Señor Alcantara
was supported by the Viscount de Torres Solanot and many
other leaders of science and literature in Spain. Through this
publication the opponents of Spiritualism were amazed to
learn of the immense progress the cause was making, and the
number of distinguished persons who assembled nightly in circles
to promote its investigation.
A circular calling the attention of the Spanish public to the
phenomena of Spiritualism was published in 1875 by Viscount
Solanot. The authors of this circular met with no little response.
However, the energetic viscount again promoted the subject
before the Paris Exposition of 1878. In articles written for El
Criterio, he argued for the development of an international cooperative
effort by Spiritualists and named among those societies
prepared to promote such a structure as including La FedEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. SPAIN
eration Espirita, of Belgium; The British National Association
of Spiritualists, England; La Sociedad Central Espirita, of the
Republic of Mexico; and El Central General del Espiritismo.
There was also an attempt to form a national association and
unite all the discordant elements under the one broad banner
of Spiritualism. Instead of further development, however, by
the end of the century Spiritualism had ceased to exist as a vital
movement in Spain.
Animal Magnetism and Mediums
In Spain, as in Italy, a considerable amount of attention was
directed toward exploring mediumistic abilities by means of
animal magnetism. Magnetic societies abounded in Spain
prior to World War I, but internal discord eventually dissolved
the bonds that had united flourishing associations.
Among the numerous groups formed in the different parts
of Spain in the late nineteenth century to study Spiritualism
and its phenomena was one of long standing at Tarragona
called The Christian Circle. The president of this circle sent the
following communication to the Revue Spirite of Paris
The convict prison here in Tarragona has 800 inmates sentenced
to forced labour. By some means, Spiritualistic books
have been introduced among the prisoners. The circulation of
these books among them has been the means of bringing seventy
or eighty of them to be believers in our doctrine. These
converts have ceased to regard their miserable position from
their old point of view; they no longer entertain schemes of revolt
against the authorities. They endure their lot with resignation
under the influence of the teaching that this world is but
a preliminary stage to another, where, if repentant of the ill
they have done, and seeking the good of others, they will be
better off than here.
Not long since one of these men died; at his death he declined
the established offices of the prison priest, on the
ground that he was a Spiritualist and did not need them. The
priest then discovered that Spiritualism was a subject of discussion
with many of the prisoners. He made a representation of
the matter to his bishop, who made formal complaint of it to
the commandant of the prison, and the commandant made an
investigation. In the end a particular prisoner was selected for
punishment in the form of an additional weight of fetters. This
coming to the knowledge of the Spiritualists of Tarragona, Barcelona,
and Lerida, they had a meeting upon the subject and
delegated one of their number, a man of position, to interview
the commandant. The representations which he made, led the
commandant to cancel his order as to the additional fetters.
The bishops censure against Spiritualist books placed them
under prohibition, which was maintained. It is known, however,
that although never found by gaolers, the books are still
In April 1881 the editor of the Madrid El Criterio stated that
. . . great progress has been made in the cause of Spiritualism;
that the hall of meeting of the Spiritual Society is completely
full every Thursday evening, and is not now large enough to
hold the public who come to the sessions, that Dr. Merschejewski
has called the attention of the University of St. Petersburg
to a psychometric phenomena of much importance; to
wit A young man deemed from childhood to be an idiot, who
will in some seconds solve any mathematical problem, while if
a poem be read to him, even of many hundred verses, he will
repeat the whole of it without failing in a single word.
In the same issue of El Criterio Señor Manuel Lopez wrote
on the progress of a society of Spiritualists in Madrid We have
received a mediumistic work of extraordinary merit, executed
by a medium of the Society of Spiritualists of Zaragoza. It consists
of a portrait of Isabel the Catholic, made with a pencil, and
is a work truly admirable. It is said by intelligent persons who
have examined it to be an exact copy of one preserved in the
Royal Museum of Painters of this court. Many thanks are tendered
to the Zaragozan Society for this highly appreciated
It was about the end of the year 1880 that the Spiritualists
of Spain sustained another series of attacks from the church.
The first of these was the refusal of the clergy to accord the customary
rites of interment to the remains of two women, both
of irreproachable character and good standing in society, but
both guilty of having believed in Spiritualist manifestations.
The second attack by the church about this time was the suppression
of a Spiritualist paper published at Lerida, entitled El
Buen Sentido. The bishop of Lerida had long threatened this
step and warned the editor to beware allowing any writings reflecting
upon clerical doings to appear in his columns.
One article that seemed to inflame the clergy to such threats
was an article that appeared in El Buen Sentido protesting the
condemnation of a working man to three years imprisonment,
leaving a family of children destitute, and all for daring to
speak in public against the intolerance of the church.
In an issue of El Criterio dated 1881 was a letter from Don
Migueles in which he gave a somewhat discouraging account of
the cause of Spiritualism as it existed at that time in Spain. The
editor commented, Don Migueles visited many cities to examine
into the state of affairs of a spiritual nature, but found many
who were only to be enticed by physical phenomena, caring
nothing for the esoteric beauties of our faith; many who were
convinced that they knew all there was to be known concerning
it, and others who were timid fearing the disapproval of neighbours.
In some places, however, excellent mediums were discovered.
In Santiago, in Oviedo, in Corunna, and in Valladolid an
exceptional interest was manifest. Near Santiago, there was a
young girl said to be possessed of remarkable faculties. Two
bars of magnetized iron held over her horizontally, half a meter
distant, were reportedly sufficient to suspend her body in the
In 1881 the Barcelona Lux gave encouraging accounts of séances
held at Cordova, Tarragona, Seville, and many other
places. The editor, Madame Soler, also referred to an archbishops
prohibiting Catholics from possessing or reading the Spiritualist
work of Niram Aliv of the Society of Spiritualists of Tarrasa;
that of the circle of Santa Cruz of Tenerif; that of Faith,
Hope, and Charity, of Andujar, and that of St. Vincent de Bogota.
Psychical research emerged in Spain but had an extremely
spotty existence. Some research was carried on by the Ferderacion
Espirita Española, a Spiritualist group in Sabadel. Periodicals
included Hacia La Iguidad y el Amor of Barcelona and Lumen
of Tarrasa. Spain was also represented at the several international
congresses of psychical research. By 1930 Don Manuel
Otero of Madrid and Signor Tassi of Perugia were active psychical
researchers who had investigated the phenomena of the
medium Eusapia Palladino in Naples in 1899.
The Civil War and World War II disrupted developments
from the 1930s on. However, interest in parapsychology reappeared
in 1971 when Ramos Molina Perera began to teach
courses at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Two years
later Perera, several colleagues, and others interested in the
field founded the Sociedad Española de Parapsicologia. Perera
served as president for many years. The society, which at one
time had several thousand members, conducts research, sponsors
courses at colleges and universities, and issues Psi Comunicacíon.
Baroja, Julio Caro. The World of the Witches. Chicago University
of Chicago Press, 1961.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
Lea, Henry. History of the Inquisition in Spain. New York and
SPAIN Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
Llorente, J. A. History of the Inquisition of Spain. 1826.
Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology.
New York Crown, 1959.
The Roots of the New Age Movement. httpwww.xs4all.nl
~wichmnewage3.html. June 19, 2000.