Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Satan in the form of a duck, c.1635

From Thomas Gage’s New Survey of the West-Indies (1648, 1677 edition used here), chapter 20, p. 379 ff .

Gage, born into a Surrey recusant family c.1603, educated at St Omer and Valladolid, disowned by his father when he became a Dominican rather than a Jesuit, travelled to the Philippines in 1625, embarking by being hidden in barrel of dry biscuit (for English friars were designated for missions to England). He was in various parts of the Spanish New World until 1637; accruing plenty of money. On his voyage home, pirates took £8,000 in coin and jewels off him. Finally back in England, he converted to the Church of England 1642, and informed against Catholic priests, sending three to the gallows. As the ODNB life says, his The English-American his Travail by Sea and Land, or, A New Survey of the West Indias (1648) was “the first book by an English writer—in fact, the first book not by a Habsburg subject—portraying daily life in Spanish America. He died in 1656.
Gage seems to have been very much in conflict about his church, his mission, and his aims in life. His account of his travels is very vivid, whether describing earthquakes or being infested with jiggers in the soles of your feet. But when it came to a witchcraft matter, he sounds very much to have responded as a true Dominican, in an inquisitorial fashion:


In Pinola [Gage acted as priest for two towns, Mixco and Pinola in Guatemala, c.1635]  there were some who were much given to Witchcraft, and by the power of the Devil did act strange things; amongst the rest there was one old woman named Martha de Carillo, who had been by some of the Town formerly accused for bewitching many; but the Spanish Justices quitted her, finding no sure evidence against her; with this she grew worse and worse, and did much harm; when I was there, two or three died, withering away, declaring at their death that this Carillo had killed them, and that they saw her often about their beds, threatning them with a frowning and angry look. 

The Indians for fear of her durst not complain against her, nor meddle with her; whereupon I sent word unto Don Juan de Guzman the Lord of that Town, that if he took not order with her, she would destroy his Town. He hearing of it, got for me a Commission from the Bishop and another Officer of the Inquisition to make diligent and private inquiry after her life and actions, which I did, and found among the Indians many and grievous complaints against her, most of the Town affirming that certainly she was a notorious witch, and that before her former accusation she was wont whithersoever she went about the Town to go with a Duck following her, which when she came to the Church would stay at the door till she came out again, and then would return home with her, which Duck they imagined was her beloved Devil and familiar Spirit, for that they had often set dogs at her and they would not meddle with her, but rather run away from her. This Duck never appeared more with her, since she was formerly accused before the Justice, which was thought to be her policy, that she might be no more suspected thereby. 

This old woman was a widow, and of the poorest of the Town in outward shew, and yet she had always store of Money, which none could tell which way she might come by it. Whilst I was thus taking privy information against her (it being the Time of Lent, when all the Town came to Confession) she among the rest came to the Church to confess her sins, and brought me the best present and offering of all the Town; for whereas a Riall is Common, she brought me four, and besides, a Turky, Eggs, Fish, and a little bottle of hony. She thought thereby to get with me a better opinion than I had of her from the whole Town. I accepted of her great offering, and heard her Confession, which was of nothing but trifles, which could scarce be judged sinful actions. 

I examined her very close of what was the common judgment of all the Indians, and especially of those who dying, had declared to my self at their death that she had bewitched them, and before their sickness had threatned them, and in their sickness appeared threatning them with death about their beds, none but they themselves seeing her To which she replyed weeping that she was wronged. I asked her, how she being a poor widow without any sons to help her, without any means of livelyhood had so much mony as to give me more than the richest of the Town; how she came by that Fish, Turkey, and Hony, having none of this of her own about her house? to which she replyed, that God loved her and gave her all these things, and that with her mony she bought the rest. I asked her of whom? She answered that out of the Town she had them. 

I persuaded her to much repentance, and to forsake the Devil and all fellowship with him; but her words and answers were of a Saintly and holy Woman; and she earnestly desired me to give her the Communion with the rest that were to receive the next day. Which I told her I durst not do, using Christs words, Give not the childrens bread unto dogs, nor cast your pearls unto swine; and it would be a great scandal to give the Communion unto her, who was suspected generally, and had been accused for a Witch. This she took very ill, telling me that she had many years received the Communion, and now in her old age it grieved her to be deprived of it, her tears were many, yet I could not be moved with them, but resolutely denied her the Communion, and so dismissed her. 

At noon when I had done my work in the Church, I bad my servants go to gather up the offerings, and gave order to have the fish dressed for my dinner which she had brought, but no sooner was it carried into the Kitchen, when the Cook looking on it found it full of Maggots, and stinking; so that I was forced to hurl it away; with that I began to suspect my old Witch, and went to look on her hony, and pouring it out into a dish, I found it full of worms; her eggs I could not know from others, there being near a hundred offered that day, but after as I used them, we found some rotten, some with dead chickens in them; the next morning the Turkey was found dead; As for her four Rials, I could not perceive whether she had bewitched them out of my pocket, for that I had put them with many other, which that day had been given given me, yet as far as I could I called to memory who and what had been given me, and in my judgment and reckoning I verily thought that I missed four Rials; 

At Night when my servants the Indians were gone to bed, I sat up late in my chamber betaking my self to my books and study, for I was the next morning to make an exhortation to those that received the Communion. After I had studied a while, it being between ten and eleven of the clock; on a sudden the chief door in the hall (where in a lower room was my chamber, and the servants, and three other doors) flew open, and I heard one come in, and for a while walk about; then was another door opened which went into a little room, where my saddles were laid; with this I thought it might be the Black-Moor Miguel Dalva, who would often come late to my house to lodge there, especially since my fear of Montenegro, and I conjectured that he was laying up his saddle, I called unto him by his name two or three times, from within my chamber, but no answer was made, but suddenly another door that went out to a Garden flew also open, wherewith I began within to fear, my joynts trembled, my hair stood up, I would have called out to the servants, and my voice was as it were stopped with the sudden affrightment; 

I began to think of the Witch, and put my trust in God against her and encouraged my self and voice, calling out to the servants, and knocking with a Cane at my door within that they might hear me, for I durst not open it and go out; with the noise that I made the servants awaked, and came out to my chamber door; then I opened it, and asked them if they had not heard some body in the hall, and all the doors opened, they said they were asleep, and heard nothing, only one boy said he heard all, and related unto me the same that I had heard; I took my candle then in my hand and went out with them into the hall to view the doors, and I found them all shut, as the servants said they had left them. 

Then I perceived that the Witch would have affrighted me, but had no power to do me any harm; I made two of the servants lie in my chamber, and went to bed; in the morning early I sent for my Fiscal the Clerk of the Church, and told him what had happen'd that night, he smiled upon me, and told me it was the Widdow Carillo, who had often played such tricks in the Town with those that had offended her, and therefore he had the night before come unto me from her, desiring me to give her the Communion, lest she should do me some hurt, which I denied unto him, as I had done to her self; the Clerk bad me be of good cheer, for he knew she had no power over me to do me any hurt. After the Communion that day, some of the chief Indians came unto me, and told me that old Carillo had boasted that she would play me some trick or other, because I would not give her the Communion. But I, to rid the Town of such a Limb of Satan, sent her to Guatemala, with all the evidences and witnesses which I had found against her, unto the president and Bishop, who commanded her to be put in Prison, where she died within two months.