Witches of Navarre

August 15, 2011 by

Things To Do

You know what they say… “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”.

The legends of witchcraft, magic potions, covens, exorcism and persecution are bound into the mountainous landscape of Navarre, in Northern Spain. The local tourist board has mapped out the Witchcraft Route, four itineraries to discover traditions and curiosities alive in these lands. Enter the enigmatic world of the occult while enjoying gastronomic traditions and the authentic magical essence of the region. Visit the cave of Zugarramurdi on the 18th August, rituals are revived in the zikiro-jate, a collective meal featuring roast lamb on a stake. The Inquisition operated in more than 60 towns and villages in Navarre.

Museo de las brujas (Witch Museum) - Photo courtesy of Lejana 54 via Flickr

Mediaeval Navarrese society was characterised by a belief in myths, legends and the ancestral wisdom of women who used natural remedies to cure illness and disease. The isolation of the area and prevalence of occult beliefs favoured theories of devil worship, and hence accusations of witchcraft. Look carefully and you may see a thistle hanging upside down on the door of an old house, to keep away evil spirits…

Zugarramurdi is known as the “Town of the Witches,” and the museum, in the old hospital of the village near the famous cave, deals with the world of witchcraft and society of Navarre in the 17th century. Learn about the matriarchal society and ancestral wisdom of women and herbalists, discover the birth of the myth, María Ximilegui who took part in covens after arriving in Zugarramurdi and later repented, telling the authorities what went on… and so began the biggest witch hunt ever conducted in Spain.

The route of the first persecutions of witchcraft in Navarre takes you through enchanted forests and sites of covens to Auritz/Burguete, Orreaga/Roncesvalles, Ochagavía, Burgui and Vidángoz, where several witches were burnt at the stake for having supernatural powers. Go in the last week of August to see a performance in Vidángoz of “Descent of the Witch”, dance around a bonfire to welcome Maruxa, the local witch. The second itinerary examines the frontier, superstition and witchcraft in the villages Urdazubi/Urdax, Zugarramurdi, Bertiz, Arraioz and Cinco Villas. Visit the Witchcraft Museum in Zugarramurdi and feel the magical aura in the famous local cave where devil worshippers held feasts and orgies under the moonlight, and he infamous medieval palace of Jauregizarrea, in Arraioz, where women accused of witchcraft were incarcerated and tortured in 1612. The third route of mountains and caves goes through the valleys of Larraun, Leiztarán and Araitz, where the film “Aquelarre” (Witches Coven) was shot. Finally, the fourth route travels the villages of Viana and Bargota, birthplace of the sorcerer Johanes, a witch-doctor said to be able to cure headaches and travel on clouds.

Medieval Markets take place throughout the summer, as historic quarters of the towns in Navarre dress up to welcome ancestral customs, medieval legends and crafts products: chocolates, teas, candied almonds, beads, ointments, clothes, carvings… Music and games of minstrels and troubadours fill the streets, as Kings and princesses, peddlers, storytellers, dulzaina players, magicians and puppeteers wander the cobbled streets of Estella, Mendavia, Berbinzana (Sept 4), Los Arcos, Lekunberri, Olite (Aug 19, 20, 21), Pamplona (Sept 9,10 ), San Adrián (Sept 8), Bargota and Aibar (Oct 30).

- Jodi Rose

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Photo courtesy of Lejana 54 via Flickr ~ used under CC-BY license

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