Witchcraft during the Spanish Conquest

Helen Pugh
4 min readSep 24, 2021

Anyone who has read my book ‘Intrepid Dudettes of the Inca Empire’ will be familiar with the witch trial involving the Inca princess Quispe Sisa. For those who haven’t, let me explain before looking more broadly at witchcraft during Peru’s time as a colony…

Quispe Sisa (or Inés Huaylas by the Spanish) was first in a relationship with the famous conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Then she married Francisco de Ampuero, another conquistador. Quispe found herself a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Ampuero. This included beating her and refusing to let her out of the house, thus cutting her off from friends, family and the world at large. Escaping briefly from the house at an opportune moment, she went to some shamans, who were both male and female. The Spanish dubbed the female shamans as witches.

First, Quispe wanted to use Inca rituals to make her husband be nicer to her. The shamans did that by praying, using herbs, burning candles and casting spells. When that didn’t work, her brave plan was to slowly poison her husband to death. I guess she realised that if she ran away, she wouldn’t be granted custody of her children. The only escape from his cruelty was to bump him off without getting prosecuted for it. Smart lady!

Ampuero found out and wasn’t best pleased, so in 1547 the couple went to court in Lima, where they lived. The judges agreed that Quispe had indeed gone to see shamans and a so-called witch. One shaman admitted that he had given Quispe a handful of herbs. But for some reason they didn’t punish her, whilst the shaman was tortured to death and the witch burnt to death. Quispe got away with it scot-free! Spanish priests believed the most dangerous of all witches were the poor native ones. Quispe was protected by her class. Therefore, it helps to be an Inca noblewoman when it comes to wanting to poison your hubby!

The fact that this witchcraft trial happened before the Inquisition began in the Americas could be another factor as to why Quispe wasn’t punished and I reckon the judges went lightly on her, since they didn’t want her getting a shaman to put any curses on them!

The couple didn’t split up after that, yet I imagine Ampuero thought twice about mistreating her in future!

Quispe Sisa wasn’t the only Inca woman accused of witchcraft at the time. In 1548, in Cusco this time, there was a case where an Inca noblewoman was mistress to a Spaniard who then got married to Paula de…



Helen Pugh

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