Everyone knows about the witch trials in Europe and New England, but less is known about the trials conducted by the Spanish in early America. Unknown to most Americans, the Inquistors plied their trade in this country just as well as they did in the Old World, only most of it was directed at the native inhabitants they found. The underlying reasons were very different, however, with much of it rooted in destroying militant politics intent on stopping the Spanish Conquest.
The Native Americans equated the priesthood and missionaries with disease, since they were often the first Europeans they encountered. As such, the early contacts were marked by many of the American Indians seeing the priests and missionaries as sorcerors carrying a great plague. This led to endless struggles and violence when these folks encountered each other.
After the plagues ran their course, the tables were turned. The Spanish, in particular, elevated fears of Witchcraft by selectively singling out individuals who proved difficult to control, or were inciting rebellion amongst the native population. Indeed, the Catholic church was actually less concerned with spell casting and other sordid spiritual matters as long as loyalty to the Spain and the Catholic Church was maintaned. Those they accused as witches were not just rebelling against God's order, they were usually militantly encouraging and leading the others to armed rebellion as well.
In 1679, the Franciscans of New Mexico conducted a witch-hunt, leading to the destruction of sacred Kivas and violent attacks on the natives as they performed their ancient rituals. The next year, the Pueblo indians could stand no more, and rose in rebellion. The Pueblo Revolt as it is now known, drove the Spanish out of New Mexico for many, many years. They were led by an accused "witch" known as Pope` who had been one of the 47 accused of witchcraft in the preceding witch-hunt. He had been whipped for his part in trying to curse the Spanish and "steal their hearts".
This pattern is seen over and over in regions conquered by Spain, in their subjugation of the indigenious people found there. These people accused as "Witches" are analogous to the later political "Anarchist", seeking freedom from his oppressor for himself and his people. The act of "witchcraft" as termed by the Spanish, was an act of of political and religious defiance. In many cases, they really were what they were accused of, and were militantly trying to overthrow the Spanish and restore their older shamanic ways. This pattern was echoed to a lesser degree in the Old World, with their purges against the Jewish, Basques, and others.