Melissa Hernández ’22: Book VI, Chapter L (Of a Very Notable Case Whose Subject Touches on Magical Art and Indian Sorcerers Called Texoxes)

Book VI, Chapter L

Of a very notable case that took place on a settlement in the province of Nicaragua in the presence of the author of these histories: whose subject touches on magical art and Indian sorcerers called texoxes; which consequently brings forth other transformations of men into animals written about by some respectable authors; and what in such cases should be believed.

Translated by Melissa Hernández  ’22

I want to end these accounts with one that I will write further about in relation to the Indies in Book XLII, Chapter VII, about a case that occurred in the province of Nicaragua which amazed myself and others. This case reminded me of something that was written in the Sacred Scripture, when Saul told his people about how he went to a sorceress or oracle; disguised, he asked her to summon Samuel, and she did—and Samuel (or that shadow) revealed to Saul the events that would befall him. Hence it is assumed there that Samuel appeared through the diligence of the sorceress and told Saul of the unfortunate fate awaiting him, which is why Isidore says: Fertur et quoedam maga famosissima Circe, quoe socios Ulyssis mutavit in bestias, etc. And later the same holy scholar adds: Quid plura? Si credere fas est, de Pythonisa, ut prophetoe Samuelis animan de inferi abditis evocaret, et vivorum proesentaret conspectibus, si tamem animam prophetoe fuisse credamus, et non aliquam phantasmatican illusionem Satanoe fallacia factam.[1] The glorious Augustine, speaking on this matter, says that after the Greeks destroyed Troy: derelinquentes, et ad propria remeantes, diversis et horrendis cladibus dilacerati atque contriti sunt: et tamem estima ex eis deorum suorum numerum auxerunt. Nam et Diomedem fecerunt Deum, quem poena divinitus urrogata perhibent ad suos non revertisse; ejusque socios in volucres fuisse conversos, non fabuloso poeticoque mendacio, sed historica attestatione confirmant.[2] All this is as written by the aforementioned author. Lucian of Samosata, a Greek, wrote that he went to Thessaly wishing to learn the art of magic; and that once there, wishing to transform into a bird, he turned instead into a donkey through the work of a young woman named Palestra, using a certain magic ointment; he suffered many hardships in this state, but later, after eating roses, he returned to his original form of a man. In imitation of this Greek author, Apuleius later wrote in the Latin language a volume of eleven books in high style, The Golden Ass[3], where he says that he remained a donkey for some time but with his original faculties of a man; as a beast, however, he tells of the many shocking things he saw and experienced before he was transformed back into a man. On this same topic, Augustine, in his Fifth Truth, writes of the Italian sorceresses and also touches upon the case of Apuleius turning into a donkey.[4]

In addition, it is also written in The Life of St. Macarius, Bishop, that a man and his wife went to him, and they showed him a mare who they said was their daughter, a virgin maiden who some evil men had turned into that beast with some enchantments. And they brought her before that holy man and said to him: “This mare that you see was our daughter, a virgin maiden; very evil men with charms turned her into this animal that you see: we beg you to pray to God and return her to what she was.” The holy man then said: “I see the maiden, and she does not have anything of the beast in her; and what you say is not in her body, but in the eyes of those who gaze upon her. Fantasies of demons are those and not the truth.” And by the prayer of this blessed man, anointing her in the name of Jesus Christ, discarding the deception in the eyes of all those who gazed on her, he made her look like a maiden to all, just as she appeared to him.

Returning to Saint Augustin, in his treatise, The City of God, everything regarding this matter he claims is by illusion of the devil, our common adversary, and thus it should be believed. To this purpose, until I write of what concerns the governorate of the province of Nicaragua in Book XLII of the third part of this General History of the Indies, I want to briefly touch upon a case here that seems to have similarities to these transformations or damned illusions, and the case is as follows. In that land there are many witches, of which damned sect and school there are many men and women in that province (as is discussed among the Indians themselves); they call these sorcerers texoxes, and they are known to transform into those large lizards (which should be called cocatrices[5] and in that language they are called agazpalin[6]), or into dogs, tigers, or lions, or into the form of any other animal they want to. In the year 1529, I was in a settlement called Guaçama, which was in the charge of a good man named Miguel Lucas, a friend of another hidalgo named Luis Farfan, when one night a cacique came from another settlement to see said Farfan (to whose encomienda he was assigned) and asked for a dog, one of the fierce ones the Spanish have, because he said that he was afraid of the texoxes; Farfan, not understanding him, told him that a dog of his was due to give birth soon and that he would give the cacique one of the pups to raise and keep in his house. The cacique did not reply or speak of the dangers he presently feared; fearful as he was, when he went to sleep that night, he took his son of six months from the arms of the mother and wrapped the boy in a blanket and held him tight; and he slept next to his woman, and around them and not a step away another five or six Indians of his who were ordered to keep guard. Just as the first stage of sleep took them over, without any of those present or his parents noticing, the child was snatched from the cacique’s arms and taken away. Immediately, the parents and their Indians and many others from the settlement woke up to look for the child, and they searched all over with torches; however, though they searched until daylight, they did not find the boy. The chief told Farfan that the texoxes took the boy to eat him; the Spaniard asked him how he knew that the texoxes had taken his son, and he replied that he had seen them shortly before he had asked for the dog—and they were two large animals, one white and the other black. Still looking for the child, they came upon the trail of said animals, and the tracks looked as if they were from two large sighthounds; around two hours after sunrise, about a stone’s throw or two away from where the boy had been taken from his father’s arms, they found parts of the child’s head, well gnawed, and some blood on the ground. I saw the skull and blood, and I heard everything the cacique said, tears running down his face. That morning, and in our presence, this sign of the diabolical misdeed was found—next to the boy’s skull, they found a cotton necklace with some green stones, like emerald plasmas, that the boy had around his neck, and the mother lifted them from the ground, crying and wailing, as she who had given birth to him.

This will be discussed in greater detail in the forthcoming book and chapter I have mentioned, which will address the province of Nicaragua. And this will be enough to understand the similarity between the deeds of the devil in those parts with those he has accomplished and continues to accomplish in other parts, and what pertains to the transformation of men into animals. That cacique insisted that a neighbor of his with whom he had some bad blood was the one responsible for this tragedy, having threatened that the cacique’s son would be eaten, and that this man had come from the province of those they call maribios (six or seven leagues ​​from there), to do what was told—and I heard this from the cacique himself. While I was in that land, I also heard other Indians say that there were many of those texoxes, and although the Christians tell them that it is all false and illusions of the devil, they consider it to be very true, and they claim to have seen such transformations many times. And more will be said of this and other things of this sort in Book XLII of the last part of these histories, for it concerns that province of Nicaragua.

[1] Etymologies, Book VIII, Chapter IX. De magis. [GFO]

[2] The City of God, book XVIII, chapter XVI. [GFO]

[3] The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, which Augustine of Hippo (Saint Augustine) referred to as The Golden Ass (Asinus aureus), as does Oviedo here, is the only ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety. [EE]

[4] ‘Quinta veritas, quod misterium demonum, etc.’ Augustine, The City of God, book XVIII, chapter XVIII.  [GFO]

[5] Cocatriz or cockatrice is a mythical beast, essentially a two-legged dragon or serpent-like creature with a rooster’s head. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a derivation from Old French cocatris, from medieval Latin calcatrix, a translation of the Greek ichneumon, meaning tracker. The twelfth century legend was based on a reference in Pliny’s Natural History, one of Oviedo’s preferred sources. [EE]

[6] Indian name for a type of crocodile. [EE]

Image: “Maniere dont les prêtres Caribes souflent le Courage” by Bernard Picart in 1723, retrieved from the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.