Two generations of witches, mothers and daughters belonging to the “Las Morillas” clan, were prosecuted in Pareja (Guadalajara) with a difference of 30 years in the 16th century in a trial against witchcraft that achieved great notoriety. It is the first Spanish antecedent that exists with such extensive documentation, of hundreds of pages, but today it is forgotten and has been left in the shadow of the Zugarramurdi conventicle, already mythical in the history of Spanish sorcery, although it happened almost a century later. Today he returns to the forefront of historical research with the book ‘Alcarria witch. History of witchcraft in Guadalajara and the processes of the town of Pareja’, by the historian and archaeologist Javier Fernández Ortea, who has documented this theme in co-edition with Julio Martínez and with illustrations by the historian Miguel Zorita.
Did you know that witchcraft was the only alternative to prostitution for women in the 16th and 17th centuries?
The history of the rescue of the witches of the Alcarria dates back to 2016 when the author was documenting himself to make an exhibition on this subject for the Monsalud monastery (Córcoles). “Based on this experience, I realized the potential and interest that these processes of heterodoxy had and how unknown they were to the general public. We had some isolated notes on processes like the Couple, but we began to pull the thread and it seemed that it would never end, ”he says.
Thus, the book is a chronological tour of witchcraft and magic that covers the areas of the Señorío de Molina, the Alto Tajo and the Sierra Norte up to the Campiña de Guadalajara, from Prehistory –already in the Cueva de los Casares there are anthropomorphic figures identified as shamans – until the end of the 18th century.
More than three centuries of practices that persist over time despite being persecuted by the Inquisition. This data alone already indicates that “they survived for centuries in hiding” and that they were very settled in rural areas. “To investigate these facts is to investigate the regional culture.”
What kind of women does the book talk about? In so long, the characteristics are not identical but they were usually elderly witches and almost always widows. “Women in those times only had two ways out: marriage or religion. If they had been widowed or had not been able to marry, they were really on the verge of social marginalization”, details the historian. It is not surprising that in this context most sorceresses moved out of necessity, “seeking their survival” and even threatening their neighbors with curses and spells.
A “social threat”
This is one of the characteristics that has led to the negative conception that witches have historically had. “They were persecuted because they posed a social threat, they were trying to break the established order, in which men prevailed. In addition, they worked with elements that the authorities could not control, as is the case with magic, considered dangerous.”
The context of those centuries also tells us about the “hostility” of the rural environment. There were no health services, repression was the order of the day and mental health problems were very common. “In such a dark time, human beings always look for an escape route. The whole society fervently believed in magic because it was a prelogical thought, before science existed”.
Documentary sources corroborate this and the book is full of them. From the court of the inquisition of Cuenca to the National Historical Archive. The result: more than 70 process files, some of them with more than 200 pages. The reason is that in them each case was told in great detail and that there could be more than 80 complainants about the same person in each trial, in addition to direct and indirect witnesses. “With the Inquisition, you were guilty until proven otherwise,” recalls the historian.
The process of the town of Pareja, also known as “The Witches of Barahona” (it was said that they flew there accompanied by their demons) is a “referential” example in the history of Spain that was buried in oblivion by the transcendence and the number of people processed later in Zugarramurdi. However, the six trials that took place in this municipality of Guadalajara have had their mark on an artistic and literary level, from Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, to José Ortega y Gasset, Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch and Francisco de Goya.
The processes took place in two periods 31 years apart (1527 and 1556), affecting two generations of women, mothers and daughters, from the “Las Morillas” clan. “There are confessions of the classic witch, who prepares her ointments, who meets with a close circle and flies away to make the conventicles or together”, where they mainly ate, drank and performed sexual acts, details the author. He recalls that at that time they could not be called “covens” because this word is an “elitism” of the Basque language that comes from the 18th century, so in the previous processes such a reference did not exist.
One of the most dramatic events occurs when in just two years 12 to 15 children under the age of two die in the town. “It is possible that people were somatized and panicked because the witches threatened to harm the children if they did not get what they wanted. But I do not do esotericism, I do history, and I try to find a scientific explanation: all the complainants say that these children die between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., just after dinner and it is possible that they had eaten contaminated rye, the famous ergot , which produced visions for parents (it’s like a psychotropic) and perhaps death for children”, he argues.
But beyond the myth, the data and the history, Javier Fernández Ortea makes it clear that the witch from Alcarria was “above all a woman in need”. “There are many authors who speak of educated women with great knowledge in medicine, a worshiper of pagan, ancient and ancestral rites. I have not been able to verify any of this in the Aclarria, what I have seen is many poor people who had to survive in a hostile context, pushed by need and misery”, he concludes.
Javier Fernández Ortea has a degree in History (2007) and Social and Cultural Anthropology (2010) from the Complutense University of Madrid. He obtained a master’s degree in Management and Leadership of Cultural Projects (2013) at the Rey Juan Carlos University and the title of specialist in Heritage Virtualization from the University of Alicante (2015). He received his doctorate in history and archeology (2021) with an outstanding grade cum laude.
He has worked as a professional archaeologist in numerous projects throughout Spain, highlighting -in Guadalajara- the direction of the excavations in Caracas or the completion of the archaeological map of Sigüenza. Currently he combines his research work with teaching, as a high school teacher.