Hammer of Witches and the Korrika with Begoña Echeverria


Begoña Echeverria is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education, University of California, Riverside

Could you tell us about the tour and the premise of your book The Hammer of Witches?

Certainly. My novel is loosely based on the 1610 burnings of Basque “witches” in Logroño, Spain: six people were burned alive and five in effigy.  Their crimes? Offering children to Satan, partaking in masses and sexual escapades with the devil, feasting on dead witches and human children, and concocting powders to destroy enemies or crops.

While too late for the Basque “witches” burned that day in Logroño, the Inquisition would eventually conclude that these charges were nonsense, that “there were neither witches nor bewitched until they were talked and written about.”  For the Inquisition had used violence to get people to accuse themselves and others: An agent of the Inquisition had tied his sixteen-year-old nephew naked to a bed and beaten him until he admitted to being a witch. Another man had held a dagger to his daughters’ throats until they confessed and named other witches – because if the girls did so “voluntarily,” they would not be punished. Still others had been bribed.  A shepherd boy said two women had given him money and a shirt to accuse another woman of taking him to a witches’ gathering; they coached him to name the people he had seen there.  Accustomed to eating only maize, other children had been given good food and drink by the interrogators themselves to answer their leading questions.

So that is the background for The Hammer of Witches. Fortunately for me as a writer – and unfortunately for the Basques burned that day – the Inquisitors were very proud of what they were doing and wrote everything down. Most of the documents I use in the novel are historical, though all the characters are fictional. I essentially have the characters respond to the events swirling around them in different ways, depending on their position in that society at that time.

I try to give a taste of this on my book tour: in addition to reading excerpts from the novel itself, I show images of the people, places, artifacts, and documents pertinent to the historical case. My latest stop on the tour was Denver, where I shared my story with members of the Colorado Euskal Etxea. My next reading will be on May 22 in Bakersfield, right before their annual picnic.  But in March my book tour took me to  Washington, D.C; New York City; Boise and Homedale, ID; Ontario, OR; and Sydney, Australia. Most stops have been in the Basque Clubs in those communities, but I will also be speaking to a book club in Santa Cruz about The Hammer, and gave a presentation at the Instituto Cervantes while I was in Sydney. I’ve been wanting to travel to Australia for a long time, so it was great to have this excuse to finally go.

We heard you have recently run in a Korrika.  Where was this run and why did you run it there?  Yes – that was a nice surprise!   I stepped off the plane and walked the Korrika over the Sydney Habour Bridge right away! So either it was serendipity or excellent planning on [Sydney Basque Club] Gure Txoko’s part.  Either way, it was a great experience.


Hammer of witches


  1. quico a. lostaunau

    May 17, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    are any of the characters in the book queer and were they also forced to confess that they witches and then burned?

  2. quico a. lostaunau

    May 17, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Correction: above comment, line 2 – forced to confess that they were witches and then burned?

  3. Could there be modern descendants of Basque witches today?

    • basquebookseditor

      June 1, 2015 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Amadeus, it’s really likely that there are modern descendants of the people persecuted as Basque witches. An interesting point that the author makes on this is that, her family being from Zumalakarregui, that she herself might be a descendant of someone persecuted, or, even on of the people who accused someone else of being a witch.

      But with modern genealogical techniques, I’m certain that it would be be possible to trace the family histories of the individual persecuted.

    • Hi Amadeus, that’s an interesting question. The witches were local people from these places so I would assume some relatives will still be around today, but who knows? Today the witches are considered an important part of history and tradition in this part of Navarre and it would seem that the plight of those people killed is looked on sympathetically by the local inhabitants. For example, in Zugarramurdi, you can visit the cave where the akelarreak or covens were held and there is actually a witch museum there as well.

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