Continuity in voodoo needle magic in Barcelona: 1800s Inquisition records and 1900s crime reports

Antonio Gascón Ricao:

Es de sobras conocido que una de las habilidades más comunes de las brujas consiste en clavar agujas o cortar con unas tijeras un corazón, el hígado o los riñones de un animal, y así, el daño causado en dichos órganos animales se puede reproducir de igual forma en la persona a la que se pretende perjudicar.

Lo que ya no es tan conocido es que se tienen noticias de tres casos concretos sobre dicha práctica, que tuvieron lugar en Barcelona durante los principios del siglo XX, al ser recogidos en aquella ocasión por la propia prensa de la época. El primero de ellos tuvo lugar apenas iniciado el siglo y más concretamente en la entonces llamada Villa de Gracia. El incidente se hizo público al aparecer en las páginas de sucesos del diario “El Barcelonés”, donde además se daban todo lujo de detalles sobre aquella tenebrosa historia.

Según la historia periodística, un vecino de la calle Mayor [since 1981 officially Gran de Gràcia], al salir una madrugada camino del trabajo, se encontró en el picaporte de su piso y sujeto con una cinta, un paquete que contenía el corazón de un cordero atravesado por unas cuarenta o cincuenta agujas de cabeza, entrelazadas y coronadas por una aguja saquera. Curioso el hombre, tras descolgarlo, procedió a abrirlo totalmente, descubriendo en su interior un papel doblado con todo cuidado, en el que una mano poco experta en caligrafía había escrito torpemente: “Morirás, morirás, morirás”.

Pero por desgracia para los lectores, estos se quedaron en la más absoluta ignorancia sobre a quién en concreto estaba dirigido el macabro mensaje, ya que en el mismo piso convivían otras cuatro personas más y el papel no señalaba nombre alguno, o sobre si la historia concluyó o no en final fatídico, pues en los días sucesivos el diario guardó, curiosamente, un sepulcral silencio. Una verdadera y auténtica pena.

The village of Clot, Barcelona, 1803:

I demanded what medicines the said Antonio prescribed him. He replied that the first was a white onion and five plantain leaves. These were cut up and placed upon his stomach, which relieved his pain, a symptom which the wife of Antonio pronounced good. The cure, however, not being effected, he was ordered to procure a partridge, twentyfive needles, and a new pot, all of them to be bought and carried home with the left hand. The needles were to be stuck into the partridge with great fury, and the whole put into the pot. Then at midnight the sick man was to set it on the fire with the left hand, and with the left hand keep stirring the fire till two o’clock in the morning. He informed him that during this, the tables and plates would put themselves in motion, but that he must not be frightened, as he should be present himself. All these directions were followed, and there were also present at the time, Francisco Vintro, and Francisco Siralt, his brothers-in-law, to keep him in courage during the operation. At two o’clock he took it off the fire, but found himself no better. Antonio’s wife, Josefa, directed broth to be made for him, he being as thin and spare as if he had suffered a long illness. This was done the next morning, when he found himself exceedingly weak and fatigued.

What is now called the Raval, Barcelona, 1802:

Answered, that about six months ago she dwelt in the Calle de San Raymundo, near the Calle del Asalto, in a house between a tavern on one side, and a tailor’s shop on the other. In this neighbourhood resided a female named, formerly, Teresa Sola, and after her second marriage, Salanova, a native of Barcelona, aged from forty to fortyseven years. Her husband was named Francisco Salanova, and was by trade a weaver, and a native of San Felix de Llobregat. The deponent witnessed several transactions between the said Teresa Sola, now Salanova, and a Swiss soldier of the regiment called Bretxa. This soldier was called Joseph ; his other name unknown, as well as the place of his birth. Information respecting him could be obtained of a certain captain, called Don Felice Cristi.

The deponent saw these two persons take certain live frogs, stick needles into their eyes, breasts, and backs, and put them into a new pot over a great fire. This was done, as they informed her, for the purpose of compelling a certain man to marriage.


Furthermore, the deponent has heard that when the said Teresa lived in the Calle de Arolas, there ran out of her house, one day, a dog, with an ox’s heart, stuck full of needles, and that the Alcalde, whose name is unknown to the deponent, with the men and boys of the neighbourhood, caught the dog and burnt him in the middle of the street.

The latter two are from the Records of the Spanish Inquisition, documents allegedly taken from the Inquisition’s palace (now the Marés museum) by the mob in 1820 and published in 1828 in Boston. Despite the editor’s blurb, there’s not much in there for Black Legend nutters–not a single death sentence, and only the odd bit of undefined torture. More some other time.

(Due to the current political crisis, I’ve sold out my line of Carod-Rovira voodoo dolls. More supplies after Holy Week.)

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  1. But why, oh why, do they do it? Because brujas rhymes so handily with agujas:

    Si la verdad he dicho, infames brujas,
    ¿Por qué me dais tormento con agujas?
    (Calderon de la Barca, Don Pegote)

    Also Las brujas de las Agujas de Santa Agueda

    Witches and needles don’t always go together. Here are some Mexican machistas foretelling the rise of María Teresa Fernández de la Vega:

    Esa que en el parlamento
    toma la primera, asiento,
    y en vez de espumar el caldo
    ó de aplicarse á la aguja,
    lee el Clamor y el Heraldo,
    es una bruja.

    Witchcraft is an ideological-literary construction, that’s what it is, or strike me dead.

  2. Possible etymology of bruja/brujo, through Proto-Celtic “*brixta” spell.

    If that makes it into the Diccionario de la Academia Real I claim my £200.

  3. Needle magic in Barcelona cerca 2003:

    A mate of mine is a sexually predatory Sicilian Lesbian-with-lapses who spent many years living in Barcelona. She swears blind the following is true:

    She was going out with a catalan lass who had certain sanity issues and was incredibly jealous of what she (rightly) suspected her Sicilian lesbyfriend was getting up to behind her back.

    One day, after a blazing argument, my friend confessed to having shagged medio Raval. There was a big scene and my friend stormed out, but later returned and had enough of a reconciliation to allow her to stay in the flat.

    However, from that day on my friend found herself unable to have sex. Areas which had once been in the public domain became painfully inaccessible. Being a one with such a raging libido that she is a danger to man, woman or beast, she found this strange, and not a little frustrating.

    The situation lasted for a couple of months, when she decided to move out. Packing her things she found a photo of herself, with a pin sticking in the zona chochal, her ex, when confronted, admitted responsibility. She destroyed the photo and was immediately able to resume her debauched ways.

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