The False Witch and Wolf-Master of La Garrotxa
Everyone knows what a witch is. Wolf-masters, however, are lost in time. In the Spanish Inquisition process that judged «wolf witch» Pere Torrent, it is explained as follows: «Person who trades wrongfully with evils and summons wolves and foxes at his will and how he wants, in a way that they cause a lot of damage killing cattle». With present criteria, other definitions would be better to delve in the enigmatic profile of these characters. Regarding Torrent, it looks like he had wolves just because he liked them and to show off. This, in concurrence with the events that ensued, would cost him torture and his life.
■ Individuals to study
In 1968, when Procés d’un bruixot (Process of a witch) was published, written by father Nolasc del Molar, a distinguished Capuchin friar from Olot, it shocked many people. They discovered that there had been people condemned by the Spanish Inquisition in the area. Among them there was Pere Torrent, born in the village of Les Encies, in La Garrotxa, around 1583. Known as Pere Cufí, he was executed in Sant Feliu de Pallerols (Garrotxa) on November 7, 1619. He was accused of witchcraft; that is, of having a pact with the devil, causing «hailstorms and mists», floods and plague, of making goitres grow in the neck of the folk, of celebrating rituals and fly, riding demons, along with other witches from the vicinity. These were some of the things attributed to him, analysed in depth in the book. There is also information on his connection to wolves, although it does not delve too much into it.
Now that the wolf has discreetly made its comeback to Catalonia, a deeper, more pragmatic and contemporary analysis is needed for a lot of the events concerning this beast in the past. It is, thus, interesting to relive related events with ethnography relevance. And this is one of them.
When we examine the distinctive features, we see that all of Torrent’s wolves had names, and Del Molar writes: «We could not find an explanation to satisfy our investigation, so we considered it better to stop». The explicit withdrawal from investigation gives, however, some general data, in order to get deeper into the history and activities attributed to these beast-masters known in Catalan as llobaters, llopaters, amansidors, encortadors, menadors, amenadors, ensalmadors or salmaires de llops.
Wolf-masters were peculiar, dark characters who got paid for making wolves leave cattle alone. The folk paid them in a way similar to physicians, veterinarians or even barbers and smiths, that is, they perceived their wages during the season or selling sheep, donkeys, calves… Even butchers contributed, usually in kind, as folklorist Joan Amades (1953) states. These wolf-masters should not be confused with those individuals who were in charge of gathering official contributions to eliminate wolves, mainly through communal raids. In this case, the money was used to pay rewards for every kill and the expenses of such hunting action.
■ Events Attributed to Pere Torrent
One of the complaints came from his own aunt, Joana Trias, also considered a witch, who involved him during torture. She may have been executed several days before her nephew. We must take into account that, even if Civil Law states that nobody can declare against himself, the inquisitors forced them to do it, were it with subterfuge or ploys, while they coerced the accused psychologically so they denounced relatives, close or otherwise.
In the book by Del Molar accusations in general and controversial or imprecise ones in particular are harshly criticized. Many confessions are exact copies, as from a manual, in which they inexcusably admitted their alleged connection to Satan. A man of infamous memory from Girona, Dominican friar Nicolau Eimeric (1320-1399) was responsible for some of those proceedings. He is the author of Directorium Inquisitorum, written in 1376.
Torrent’s burden was that a wolf killed Lleonard Hilari, from Les Planes d’Hostoles, a shoemaker who refused to repair the soles of his shoes some time before. Torrent, altered and showing his impulsive nature, threatened him with being killed by a wolf. That actually came to happen, so we can understand the commotion.
To round off the situation, one Nicolau Llapart, farmer of the parish, had also been intimidated by Torrent, because he «had killed a wolf of his pack». In this case wolves, maybe Torrent’s or savage wolves, harmed his cattle and «killed a mare, a male, a draft horse and 17 piglets».
Both events, troubling as they were, created the fame of witch, wolf-master and evil maker among the neighbours. He, who was poor of judgement, might have done nothing to resist it. Inquisitorial power, as well as hysteria and fear of the devil’s work did the rest. Torrent commended himself to God, the Virgin Mary and all the saints, but that and endorsement from others made no difference, because the inquisitors would only believe what he said if they were punishable acts, the profile they expected.
■ Wolves to show off
Considering the data, we can deduce that the alleged witch found and stole a litter of wolves, taking four cubs with him. This happened in a cave in Cogolls, a village in Les Planes d’Hostoles where he worked as swineherd. He explains as much in his declaration, adding (what other thing could he do during torture!) that the devil inspired him: because «I liked to think that after feeding them, they would follow me everywhere as puppies. And that way I found them; and I put them in a ravine in that same forest, with a little wall I made. And I brought them milk and meat from sick cattle that would soon die. And when I had nourished them, the aforementioned wolves followed me where I went, because they became infatuated with me; and when I called, they came to me; and usually, they stayed near the houses I was in». He adds he had them for eight years and thought they did nothing wrong, but he had not seen them or called for them in a long time. There were testimonies in favour of the accusation, confirming the threats he had uttered were real, although he defended himself arguing he was just joking.
According to his final statement, he named the wolves after every demon he knew. Moreover, he claimed during torture that those wolves were also demons. The first, «who was the captain», was named Vermell, and the others Carrua, Gruanya, Grea, Poca-llàstima, Burbó, Espardenya (might have been a she-wolf) and Sergent. He mentioned four members more than the ones he had found. We do not know if he added some untamed wolves, or maybe the first ones had bred, or what was the reason. Among wolves, usually only a dominant couple breeds, and both are called Alpha. When he describes a wolf as «the captain», he might be talking about what we know today as Alpha male, and maybe Espardenya was the Alpha female.
He must have chosen the names randomly, as dogs are usually named. We understand the meaning of some of the names such as Vermell (Red), Poca-llàstima (Insolent), Espardenya (Espadrille) and Burbó (probably after the House of Bourbon). Carrua is a ravine used to bring wood from a forest, but we do not know the meaning of Gruanya and Grea, unless Gruanya comes from cruanya, which is the name of raw leather in Catalan.
What is clear is that Pere Torrent, as we will see, did not have the features of a conventional wolf-master. It seems demonstrable that he did not make a living out of it, and the documents of the interrogation state that he was a musician and played the piccolo, the flute and the drum. It was also well known that wolf-masters used to be outsiders, and he was not. In addition, while he was in jail, there was a twist and turn with Llampart for the damage to his cattle, and it was resolved that Torrent would pay him eight pounds.
■ Howling Communication
The role of wolf-masters is contradictory, depending on the author. For some, his figure mixes with Pare slop, as both drove wolves away and chased them. They were feared, because hearsay goes that when someone refused to pay or lodge them, their herds were inevitably chased by wolves. The story is not new, and classic authors, from Plato, Herodotus and Ovidius to Saint Jerome or Cervantes, Dumas, Sand, Seignolle or, for instance, Pep Coll, wrote about them.
Some farmers suspected wolf-masters and often took them for impostors, or thought they actually gave orders to the wolves. But many of them preferred to pay. A different thing were the cases of selfish irresponsible actions, like the one in Cerdanya, where a shepherd drew wolves close imitating their howling. Neighbours were convinced he did it out of envy, because other herds had more sheep than his. This ability towards the pack allowed him to make them come when his herd was safe in the pen but others’ were still out in the open.
Wolf-masters were later persecuted by the authorities and considered just the same as vagabonds. A Royal Decree from March 25, 1783, promulgated by Charles III, states: «En lo respectivo á los que se llaman Saludadores y los Loberos, mando asimismo sean comprehendidos en la clase de los vagos y tratados como tales…» (Concerning quack doctors and wolf-masters, I decree they shall be included in the class of vagabonds and treated as such…).
It is well known that, with some practice, wolves answer to howling imitation. Oral memory is full of dangerous situations where a joke drew wolves near and people had to start running. Others howled to know where they were in order to hunt them, or to know in which direction to take their herds. To make it more effective, «they called them using a pierced clog». In Vallespir, the legend of the magic clog, handled by a powerful and effective wolf-master, is very famous.
Having said that, scientists and wolf researchers also imitate the howling to try to locate, identify and register their populations. Ask the guards in the Cadí-Moixeró Nature Park, where some wolves roam again today. Wolves use the howls to communicate and as territory demarcation. It is the typical image of the animal: head back, snout towards the sky and throwing a long cry under the full moon. Those sounds were well known before, but to hear them nowadays proves to be an unforgettable experience.
■ Witchcraft, Wolves and Conflict
Many authors have written thousands of pages on the phenomenon of witchcraft in Europe and Catalonia in the early seventeenth century. Lots of women and a few men were executed on the accusation of having a pact with infernal entities. In general procedural texts, there are incriminating elements similar to the ones confessed by Pere Torrent, except his direct relation to the wolves. Current perspective also considers that a reason for these processes was to find a scapegoat and make someone responsible of general disgraces. The best scapegoat was, in these cases, the devil, known in that time and place as boc de Biterna (goat of Biterna), and they acted persecuting the humans who embodied it. The population and the authorities pressured the Church to act on these shameful events. Such vile things are hard to understand, without taking into account the levels of moral degradation that had been reached in that society at all levels.
In the Alt Empordà, according to Cels Gomis, when anyone saw a woman they considered a witch, they made the sign of the cross with their right hand while they said: «May a wolf pecker fuck you thrice in a cross», leaving no doubt about their intentions. Anyway, this injurious story of the man of La Garrotxa takes us to one of the darkest ages of our past, when the notion of harmony between the elements of nature had long before been lost. Humans stopped admiring and learning from the wolf as they had when they were semi-nomads.
The Neolithic arrived, sedentary lifestyle appeared along with the domestication of animals, and the wolf became an efficient competitor we had to fight. The growth of monotheist religions, from Judaism through Islam to Christianity, made us liken wolves and evil forces, while the magnificent canid witnessed how its prey gradually disappeared, as men took them. If we add to this the destruction of forests, we can agree that the attack on domestic cattle was the only alternative left for the continuation of the species. The conflicts kept on growing and the extinction of the wolf, classified as Canis lupus in 1758, became a reality in most of our territory.
«A wolf killed Lleonard Hilari, a shoemaker who Pere Torrent had threatened with being killed by a wolf. That actually came to happen, so we can understand the commotion»
«Wolf-masters were peculiar, dark characters who got paid for making wolves leave cattle alone. The folk paid them in a way similar to physicians, veterinarians or even barbers and smiths»
«Now that the wolf has discreetly made its comeback to Catalonia, a deeper, more pragmatic and contemporary analysis is needed for a lot of the events concerning this beast in the past»
Amades, J., 1953. Costumari català. Salvat Editores/Edicions 62. Barcelona.
Del Molar, N., 1968. Procés d’un bruixot. Taller tipogràfic de Mestre Joan Aubert. Olot.