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  • Urban Magic in Early Modern Spain: Abracadabra Omnipotens by María Tausiet
  • George A. Klaeren

George A. Klaeren, María Tausiet, early modern magic, Spanish magic, urban magic, Saragossa, witchcraft, possession

María Tausiet. Urban Magic in Early Modern Spain: Abracadabra Omnipotens. Translated by Susannah Howe. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Pp. xiv + 254.

María Tausiet has firmly established herself as a leading voice in the history of magic and witchcraft, particularly in studies of early modern Spain. Her earlier monograph, Ponzoña en los ojos, focused on the history of witchcraft and superstition in the kingdom of Aragón during the sixteenth century. In [End Page 253] this translation of Tausiet’s 2007 monograph, Tausiet returns to Aragón, where she examines the practice of magic in the urban environment of the city of Saragossa. Unlike previous studies that have usually highlighted rural investigations into magic and witchcraft, implicitly relegating magic to the uncivilized parts of the map, Tausiet’s study emphasizes the way in which magic and religion operated in tandem within the city limits. In doing so, she destabilizes the bifurcated concept of religion and magic, complicating what she calls the “myth of witchcraft” that was propagated during Tridentine Spain and reaffirming the blurriness of the line between faith and superstition.

In Chapter 1, “The Judicial Backdrop,” the author explores the legal setting of Saragossa and explains the sources from which she derives her research. Tausiet describes the three responsorial systems to the practice of witchcraft—episcopal, secular, and Inquisition investigations. Although Saragossa was the seat of an archdiocese, little secular or episcopal evidence remains of the persecution of magic and superstition within the city. The majority of Tausiet’s work, therefore, is drawn from inquisition records. The subsequent two chapters examine these records in order to highlight two of the most common forms of magic in Saragossa. In Chapter 2, “Magic Circles and Enchanted Treasures,” Tausiet examines the primarily male magic of treasure seeking and money-making, while the primarily female form of amatory magic is the subject of Chapter 3, “Magic for Love or Subjugation.” Special attention is given in both to highlight the corporal elements of ritual. Tausiet details the canes, candles, and various household objects that functioned as tangible metaphors for urban practitioners of magic. In the fourth chapter, “Saludadores and Witch-Finders,” Tausiet examines the work of saludadores—male healers who had the ability to heal and counter the harm spread by witches. These saludadores serve as perfect examples for two of Tausiet’s central arguments. First, as individuals who traveled from the urban center to the rural periphery and back, these healers complicate the preexisting historiographical divide between folk and “civilized” society. Second, because saludadores were believed to have been given their powers from God, their existence in early modern Saragossa thwarts any attempt to neatly partition religion and magic. Instead, religion and magic were, according to Tausiet, “two sides of the same coin.”

The unique character of the urban setting is highlighted in the remainder of the work. In the fifth chapter, “The City as Refuge,” Tausiet explores how individuals, usually women, accused of witchcraft often fled their communities to seek asylum within the city. Although the textual record mostly records those who were yet further investigated within Saragossa, Tausiet [End Page 254] argues that the majority of refuge-seekers found new lives in the relative inconspicuousness of the city and were safe from a generally skeptical episcopal and secular judicial system. In the final chapter, “Rural versus Urban Magic,” Tausiet offers an insightful analysis detailing differences between rural and urban beliefs and practices surrounding magic. For urban magic, this included an association between magic and certain vocations, a cosmopolitan blend of learned and folk magic, for both mercantile and relational purposes, and the existence of magical “spaces” unique to the city of Saragossa—for example, at the ruins of a local castle. Most importantly, Tausiet emphasizes how her examination of urban magic counters the contemporary understanding of the “archetypal witch”—an archetype that was promoted during this period, particularly in rural settings. Rather than diabolic agents capable of supernatural harm to society, the Saragossan “witch...


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pp. 253-255
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