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Sorginak (root form: sorgin, absolutive case (singular): sorgina) are the assistants of the goddess Mari in Basque mythology. It is also the Basque name for witches, priests and priestesses, making it difficult to distinguish between the mythological and real ones.

Sometimes sorginak are confused with lamiak (similar to nymphs). Along with them, and specially with Jentilak, sorginak are said often to have built the local megaliths.

Sorginak used to participate in Akelarre. These mysteries happened on Friday nights, when Mari and Sugaar are said to meet in the locally sacred cave to engender storms.

Etymology

The etymology of the name is disputed. The common suffix -gin (actor, from egin: to do) is the only agreement.

Most common references to sorginak

Sorginak are often said to recite the following spell to travel to and back from the akelarre: Under the clouds and over the brambles, or variants of it. In many legends a failed witch (normally a man) says the spell inverted (Under the brambles and over the clouds) and arrives to the akelarre quite bruised.

Sorginak also chant the following:

Other variants of this song are also known.

Sorginak often are said to transform themselves into animals, most commonly cats. These cats are sometimes said to bother pious women that do not wish to go the akelarre. It has also been recorded that they collected monetary fines from the people that did not wish to go to their ecstatic gatherings or those witches that absented themselves from them.

Inquisitorial documents describe horrific practices of witches, like eating children or poisonings. But popular legends do not speak of these practices, instead mentioning kissing "the devil's arse" or an animal's genitals, occasional poisoning of crops, bothering modest women (in the shape of cats or other animals) and anointing their bodies with flying ointment (containing entheogenic, Solanaceous plants) to "fly" to and from the akelarre and perform other supposed feats.

Major persecutions against Basque witches

Main article: Basque witch trials

While in the late Middle Ages there are a handful of references to witchery, they are mostly fines for accusing someone of being one.

This changes in the 16th and 17th centuries with the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition and the pan-European witch panic that afflicted the Early Modern Age. Since being conquered by Castile in 1512–21, Navarre (and to a lesser extent areas of the Basque Country) suffered numerous inquisitorial processes, mainly against Jews and Muslims, but occasionally also against Basque sorginak. Particularly important was the 1610 process of Logroño that focused on the akelarre of Zugarramurdi. The previous year, in 1609, French judge Pierre de Lancre had initiated a massive process in Labourd, focusing mainly on Basque women and priests. He was eventually displaced but not without causing many deaths and much suffering. The witch panic extended beyond the frontier and accusations of witchcraft proliferated among the local population until the Spanish Inquisition intervened. The Logroño process ended with 12 women burnt at the stake (five of them symbolically, as they had died under the tortures inflicted in the process) and shattered Pyrennean Navarre and led also to a serious reconsideration of the Inquisition's attitude towards accusations of witchcraft. The Spanish and Italian Inquisition generally approached accusations of sorcery and witchcraft with skepticism and similar processes were rare in comparison to other European countries where no such centralised institution existed.

Places associated with sorginak

Throughout the Basque Country there are many places associated with sorginak, often also associated with Mari or other mythological characters. This is an incomplete list of the most famous ones:

Álava

Biscay

Gipuzkoa

Labourd

Lapurdi was particularly shaken by the large-scale trials of 1609 led by Pierre de Lancre, who was convinced that most people in the country were witches.

Navarre

Large portions of Navarre were severely affected by an inquisitorial process in 1610, focused in the akelarre of Zurgarramurdi.

Lower Navarre

Soule

References

See also