adriana ruíz de cabrera and
the mexican inquisition in 1655
In 1655, at the midpoint of New Spain’s three-hundred year
colonial period, a woman named Adriana Ruíz de Cabrera was
accused of witchcraft (hechicería) in the eastern port city of Vera Cruz.∞
She was carted o√ to Mexico City, the colony’s capital, where she was
condemned to a dungeon run by the Holy O≈ce of the Inquisition.
The records of her trial identify her as belonging to the black casta
(caste), but while the majority of blacks in colonial Mexico were likely
enslaved during this era, Adriana, as it happens, was not.≤
The trial opened with the inquisitors’ accusation that Adriana had
used herbs, ‘‘superstitions,’’ and ‘‘tricks’’ to uncover thefts and ‘‘take
revenge’’ on people. The immediate complaint indicated that she had
o√ered her services as a witch to ascertain who had robbed a boarder in
the rooming house she owned. To do this, she had allegedly gathered
together for a washtub-water divination a group of women who ‘‘know
about and use the things’’ of witchcraft. In conformance to the caste
classifications conventional in the colony, one of these women was
identified as Spanish, one as mulatto, one as Indian, and one, like
Adriana, as black.
Adriana claimed to be a confirmed and baptized Christian who knew
‘‘nothing of witchcraft.’’ The washtub, she said, held only herbs to make
a scented mixture for the religious sisterhood of which she was an elder.
Moreover, she had grown up in the ‘‘unblemished’’ house of a Spanish
lieutenant and his wife. Had she been raised by a ‘‘suspicious’’ woman, she
added, she would more likely have blasphemed. While she might have
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