Monday, April 26, 2010

The Last American Witch Hunts...

We have all heard of the history of the Salem Witch Trials, but unknown to most Americans, witch hunts took place in other regions of our country. In 1756, during a period far later than the Salem Hunts, the Spanish Inquistition conducted a little known witch hunt in the New Mexico town of Abiquiu. It is unusual in the fact that it occurred during a period in which the power of the Spanish Inquisition was starting to decline, and was largely unconcerned with trivialities such as Witchcraft.

The Abiquiu area was due a new priest, and shortly Franciscan Juan Jose Toledo arrived from Spain to fill the duties. When he arrived, he was aghast to find the local indians still practicing their native dances and traditions. He felt it to be a form of Devil Worship, and questioned how well they had been converted to Catholicism. The Priest then ordered an end to their festivals and pagan dances.

He then claimed someone, or something was attacking him magically, causing him illness and duress. These claims prompted investigation by local government officials. It was not long before the local residents and indians were accusing each other of various witchcraft related crimes. These officials decided to eliminate all cultural traces, and destroyed rock art and pictographs in the area that had been there for centuries, along with forbidding many traditional customs practiced by the locals.

Shortly after the accusations, several local women claimed to become possessed by demons. Father Toledo carried out excorisms on these women hoping to eliminate the problem. Instead, it spiraled hopelessly out of control as more claims of demon posession, and accusations of witchcraft came pouring in. Eventually, the Regional Governor, caught wind of the affair. Growing tired of the whole sordid ordeal, he sent many of those involved to face the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico City.

Several of the accused languished and died in jail. Many others faced punishments ranging from public humiliation, to flogging, but no one was executed for the crime of using witchcraft. Contrary to public opinion, it was actually very rare for an accused witch to be executed by the Spanish Inquisition. To their credit, claims of witchcraft were normally considered to be flights of fancy or mere superstition without much merit, though the Inquisition persecuted Jews and Muslims without mercy.

This was the last known case of Witch Hysteria in the continental US.

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