Sex with the Devil, toad birthing, and a torn tribunal in Northern Spain…

I’m new to blogs, so I’ll just give this my best stab… My name is Meredith Howard, and I am a Dintersmith Fellow who is studying Spanish witchcraft during the early modern era. I will be reading my eyes out in Swem during my summer stay on campus…AND going to Spain for about two weeks to transcribe more materials for my thesis. My research is supported by Ted Dintersmith, an alumnus of the College who somehow managed to complete two honor theses as a senior, and who has thoughtfully continued to support scholars at the College. I’ll be a senior history major next year, so all of the work I’m able to complete this summer will *hopefully* set me up to enjoy my senior year a little on top of composing my thesis.

Specifically, I’ll be tackling a 65 folio (or 130 page) manuscript book I stumbled upon in the Archivo General y Real de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain over my spring break research trip. Through a QEP Mellon grant, I, two other undergrads, and our advisor Professor Lu Ann Homza from the History department spent a week in the Archivo General and the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona for a week.

Originally, I was searching for anything having to do with children and witchcraft; but as researchers often find, their ideas about what kinds of sources will be available and what kind of conclusions they’ll reasonably be able to make from the information available may prove to be simply dreams. This happened to me. I was feeling down about not being able to make my original idea come true, but then I came across MSS Codice L. 3 written in 1612 by two senior inquisitors at the tribunal in Logroño. This document was written during the height of the Zugarramurdi Witch-Hunts, one of the largest witch-hunts in European history. It contains 32 “actos comprabados” or “verified acts” of witchcraft. More on the actual content of the manuscript will come later…

So, I delved into transcribing what I could for the next few days from this entertaining text. And upon returning to the states, I found that this text is extremely neglected by the only major historian on the Zugarramurdi Witch-Hunt, Gustav Henningsen. My goal is to place this text in a fuller scope of Inquisitorial debate and demonological artifacts of the time, and to rebalance the existing scholarship on this fascinating, yet convoluted event.

So there. First post down…more to come on what I’ve come to call “The Great Debate” and how it turned one tribunal topsy-turvy. And maybe I’ll list a few of the titles I get to read…

MH out.


  1. bdnorris says:


    This sounds like a truly fascinating subject—is there much scholarship on witchcraft? It seems like an important cultural and historical phenomenon, but aside from the Salem Witch Trials, I’ve never come across it in academia. What led to your initial interest in children and witchcraft? Is there a particularly important connection between the two?

  2. mlhoward says:

    Dear bdnorris,

    Thanks for your comment!

    You would be surprised how much academia has been devoted to witchcraft! For obvious reasons, English witchcraft and the Salem Witch trials are well explored. But fascinatingly enough, German witchcraft and a few well-known instances of Spanish, French and Italian hysteria are very well-documented and researched. Lyndal Roper’s “Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany” is not only a prime example of where current witchcraft studies stand, but is also a great book on the very unusual characteristics of German witchcraft. So although, it is a small niche, the history of witchcraft is a very active field.

    I was initially interested in children and witchcraft through the presentation of one of the student researchers who went to Pamplona a year before me. Basically, she was looking at the legal use of child testimony…But the stories were so incredible! One of the characteristics of Navarrese witches is their propensity to lure in child adherents. This is obviously an especially terrifying prospect for the Church and villagers; to have children revoking their baptisms and being used for diabolical purposes really put the Tribunal and local authorities on edge.

    The children were often the grandchildren of supposed witches, and their main duties at the sabbat (or aquelarre, as it is called in Navarre) were to attend the herds of “dressed toads” which acted as the witches’ familiars and the “Great Toad” when it arose from the creek’s waters. There is also evidence (according to the inquisitors) that the children were beaten by the Devil and their witch superiors and perhaps sexually molested.

    And to complicate things a bit more, the main thesis of Roper’s book on German wtichcraft was that witch crazes were born of fears about fertility (fertility in the human reproductive sense, and the fertility of the land). Basically I wanted to see if this same thesis could be applied to Navarrese witchcraft, especially when it comes to attacks on children, their involvement in the witches’ sect, and even baby-killing.

    As I mentioned before, though, this thesis was too hard to prove concretely. But I am nonetheless thankful for the lead though, since it led me to Codice L. 3…which certainly doesn’t lack in evidence of children’s involvement in witchcraft.

    That’s a long answer, bdnorris, but like you said, it really is a fascinating subject. I’ve gotten to read some wild things, and I’m sure I’ll find more in the research to come!

    Thanks again for your comment!