The Expert

One of the main goals of my research on the the Zugarramurdi Witch-Hunt and el Quaderno is to supplement, deepen, or perhaps in some ways correct the scholarship of one Gustav Henningsen. Henningsen is the indisputable expert on the Zugarramurdi Witch-Hunt and Inquisitor Salazar, the “Witches’ Advocate.” In fact, one of Henningsen’s major works and perhaps his most popular monograph is titled exactly that, The Witches’ Advocate. Henningsen’s own goals are clear in all of his Zugarramurdi works: he means to uphold Salazar as an important initial skeptic of witchcraft and witchcraft trials.

Throughout his works, Inquisitors Becerra and Valle, the authors of el Quaderno, are painted as backwards, superstitious dinosaurs of the old order. They get angry at Salazar and threaten him, while Salazar always comports himself with the decorum fitting an inquisitor. Granted, it is very likely that Salazar did in fact characterize himself and his colleagues this way in his letters. And his colleagues were certainly angry to have their junior, upstart inquisitor challenge the precedents of the tribunal and his superiors.

The main cave "room" where the Zugarramurdi witches supposedly gathered with the Devil.

But the problem is that Henningsen is not sufficiently critical of Salazar’s self-representation. In fact, there is an established form of self-representation at this time worthy of studying here; essentially it’s own genre, the probanza was a rhetoric of writing in which the author sought to represent themselves in the best light. The probanza author would spin events to make themselves look better; the author would put the blame for failure on others; they may even claim that their activities were all for the glory of God and their monarch. Of course, then, this type of writing should be read with extreme scrutiny for historical truth. In fact, any document written by an participant in the historical event should always be read with skepticism as to the veracity of any historical relation. But Henningsen fails to sufficiently do this when it comes to Salazar’s writings.

Furthermore, he skews his one book  (The Salazar Documents) which claims to review the participants of the Z. Witch-Hunt to include a disproportionate number of skeptics. He includes very little of the perspective of Becerra and Valle. This is a big mistake given that their views, their “lack of skepticism” was what the average Early Modern European would have believed. What’s more, he even makes complete guesses at what el Quaderno could be, calling it only one part of a two-part verdict. Although el Quaderno may be such a verdict, there is nothing to really suggest one way or another what it is besides what it claims to be: a quaderno of witchcraft abuses, a legal summary of evidence collected. Henningsen commits a historical error in his insistence of what this document is, when he only (admittedly) performed the most perfunctory of reviews of the manuscript.

What is perhaps most worrying is the fact that Henningsen does not actual perform many of the translations printed in his books. Although I do not doubt his ability to understand sixteenth-century Spanish (he’s probably MUCH better than I am), the fact that he allows others to create translations for him is problematic. He opens himself to attack by allowing this crack in his methods.

So, in close, what I will be trying to do is at least re-balance the scholarship provided by Henningsen. I may in fact agree with him on a number of things; certainly Salazar did demonstrate a notable early skepticism. But by firmly injecting the arguments of the other side, I hope to compliment and critique Henningsen’s research and deepen our overall understanding of the documents and opinions surrounding the Zugarramurdi Witch-Hunts.