Doctors, Folk Medicine and the Inquisition: The Repression of Magical Healing in Portugal during the Enlightenment

By Timothy D. Walker | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
PUNISHING MAGICAL CRIMINALS: MILD CUSTOMS
(BRANDOS COSTUMES) AND SOCIAL CONTROL

For all of the diligence of Portugal's inquisitors and familiares in bringing popular healers and other mágicos to trial during the Enlightenment era, the Holy Office's treatment of convicted magical criminals was comparably light. Indeed, relative clemency is the salient feature of Portugal's "witch hunting" experience in the eighteenth century. The Inquisition publicly humiliated sorcerers, witches, diviners and illicit superstitious healers and drove them away from their homes to live in exile under very difficult circumstances, but it almost never had them killed. Certainly by the standards of other European regions during the previous three centuries, when being found guilty of a magical crime generally meant suffering some form of capital punishment, Portuguese sentences, lethal in only the rarest of circumstances, were comparatively benign.

Curiously, this was almost as true in the sixteenth century as it was in the eighteenth; during the nation's first major period of "witchhunting" during the 1550s, the Portuguese executed only six of more than ninety convicted mágicos, but these sentences were passed in civil courts in Lisbon, not by Holy Office tribunals.1 During the entire period of the present study, the Portuguese Inquisition condemned only two magical criminals to death (and these sentences were commuted to lesser penalties), while civil courts condemned none. From 1600 to 1800, the total number of mágicos executed—"relaxed to the secular arm of justice" in the language of the institution—was just four persons.2 (Ecclesiastical authorities were not permitted to take a human life; condemned prisoners were handed over to civil

1 Francisco Bethencourt, O Imaginário da Magia: feiticeiras, saludadores e nigromantes
no seculo XVI (Lisbon: Universidade Nova, 1987), pp. 250–254. See also Bethencourt's
"Portugal: A Scrupulous Inquisition," p. 405.

2 Paiva, Bruxaria e Superstição, pp. 218–221. Inquisition procedure required that, for
a mágico to suffer capital punishment, the accused had to twice assert, during two
separate interrogation sessions, that he maintained an explicit pact with the devil.

-294-

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