Defining "Deviance": Otherness, Sexuality, and Witchcraft in the Spanish and Mexican Inquisitions

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Haverford College. Department of History
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This thesis analyzes the role of witchcraft trials in the Spanish and Mexican Inquisitions. The Inquisition fought to enforce religious orthodoxy and also served as a tool for controlling the impact of "other" cultures considered dangerous by Spanish leaders. The histories of the individuals examined in this thesis complicate the story of the Inquisition. A close reading of trial transcripts, inquisitorial reports, and the subsequent instructional document reveals the cultural history of the Inquisition and the regions in which it took place. These sources reveal the changing role held by the Inquisition, as it became a tool used by disgruntled neighbors, political leaders and inquisitors alike not only to limit the power of "deviant" cultures on Spanish society but also to settle a myriad of local conflicts. In the Basque Country of northern Spain the unique culture of the native inhabitants failed to conform to the dominant Spanish society. Similarly, the indigenous people of Mexico represented a new set of religions and cultures not understood or experienced by the Spanish people. The existence of these distinctive cultural practices threatened the success of the Spanish national project.. Furthermore, unsuccessful attempts at conversions in both populations provided the groundwork for the consistent practice of pre-Christian religions and rituals. The Inquisition offered a means for controlling both the religious and cultural practices of these people and preventing them from influencing Spanish society. The trial transcripts from both northern Spain and Mexico point to individual sexual behaviors and cultural practices among the people tried by the Inquisition that threatened or challenged accepted Spanish norms. In the case of the Indian Don Diego his sexual practices represented not only sins but also customs condemned by the greater Spanish culture. The Spanish women of the Basque Country prayed to and worshipped the devil, and significantly often claimed to have sexual relations with demons and their demonic lord. Neither the Church nor society recognized the Mexican slave girl Juana Maria's lover. In all three cases, and in the case of all of the trials examined by this thesis, the accused stood trial for reasons greater than their religious practices. Each of them confronted the accepted Spanish society in some way. Therefore the Inquisition sought to limit the influence of these perceived abhorrent cultural practices on the Spanish people. In this way the Inquisition became a tool used to control interactions between the cultures of the native peoples of both the Basque Country and Mexico and their Spanish counterparts.