From Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, tales of the Devil and wise women, torturers and the tortured.


From Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone. Copyright © 2008 by Eduardo Galeano. Translation copyright © 2009 by Mark Fried. Published by Nation Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, New York. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services, New York, and Lamy, New Mexico.

Origin of Hell

The Catholic Church invented Hell and the Devil.

The Old Testament makes no mention of the perpetual barbecue, neither do its pages feature an appearance by the monster reeking of sulfur who carries a trident and sports horns and a tail, claws and hooves, goat’s legs and dragon’s wings.

But the church asked itself: What will become of reward without punishment? What will become of obedience without fear?

And it wondered: What will become of God without the Devil? What will become of Good without Evil?

And the church concluded that the threat of Hell is more effective than the promise of Heaven, and from then on ministers and holy fathers have terrorized us with sermons about torture in the fiery abyss where the Evil One reigns.

In the year 2007, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed it:

There is a Hell. And it is eternal.

Arguments of the Faith

For six centuries and in several countries, the Holy Inquisition punished rebels, heretics, witches, homosexuals, pagans…

Many ended up at the stake, sentenced to roast over a slow fire fed with green wood. Many more were subjected to torture. Here are some of the instruments utilized to extract confessions, modify beliefs and sow panic:

the barbed collar,

the hanging cage,

the iron gag that stifled unwanted screams,

the saw that cut you slowly in two,

the finger-stretching tourniquet,

the head-flattening tourniquet,

the bone-breaking pendulum,

the seat of pins,

the long needle that perforated the Devil’s moles,

the iron claw that shredded flesh,

the pincers and tongs heated to fiery red,

the sarcophagus lined with sharp nails,

the iron bed that extended until arms and legs got pulled out of their sockets,

the whip with a nail or knife at the tip,

the barrel filled with shit,

the shackles, the stocks, the block, the pillory, the gaff,

the ball that swelled and tore the mouths of heretics, the anuses of homosexuals and the vaginas of Satan’s lovers,

the pincers that ground up the tits of witches and adulterers,

and fire on the feet,

among other weapons of virtue.

Evil Copies Good

In one of his frescoes in a chapel in Padua, Giotto painted the torments that demons inflict on sinners in Hell.

As in other artistic works of the period, the instruments of infernal torture, which provoked shock and fear, were the very tools used by the Holy Inquisition to impose the Catholic faith. God inspired his worst enemy: in Hell Satan imitated the technology of pain that the inquisitors applied on earth.

Punishment confirmed that this world was but a dress rehearsal for Hell. In the here and now and in the great beyond, disobedience merited the same reward.

Women Possessed

Theologian and friar Martín de Castañega confirmed that the Devil preferred women to men, because they are pusillanimous and have less robust hearts and more humid brains.

Satan seduced them by caressing them with his goat’s hoof and his wooden claw, or by disguising himself as a toad dressed as a prince.

Exorcisms of possessed women brought overflow crowds to the churches.

Protecting the breast of the exorcist were scapulars filled with consecrated salt, blessed rue and the hair and nails of saints. Crucifix held high, he did battle with witchcraft. The bedeviled woman swore, howled, bit, shrieked insults in the tongues of Hell, and with loud laughter tore off her clothes and proffered her naughty parts. The climax came when the exorcist rolled on the floor hugging the body where the Devil had made himself at home, until the convulsions and wailing ceased.

Afterward, some searched the floor for the nails and bits of glass vomited by the possessed.

The Devil Is Female

Malleus Maleficarum, also known as the Hammer of Witches, recommends the most ruthless techniques for exorcising titty longhaired demons.

At the request of Pope Innocent VIII, two German inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger, wrote the book that became the juridical and theological basis for the tribunals of the Holy Inquisition.

The authors demonstrate that witches, Satan’s harem, represent women in their natural state, for all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable. And they warn that such beings of pleasant aspect, fetid touch and deadly company enchant men and attract them, serpent’s hiss, scorpion’s tail, only to annihilate them.

That treatise on criminology advises torturing everyone suspected of witchcraft. Those who confess deserve the stake; those who do not also deserve the stake, because only a witch, fortified by her lover the Devil at the witches’ Sabbath, could resist such suffering without spilling all.

Pope Honorius III decreed:

“Women should not speak. Their lips carry the stigma of Eve, who led men to perdition.”

Eight centuries later, the Catholic Church still denies women the pulpit.

The same fear drives fundamentalist Muslims to mutilate women’s genitalia and cover their faces.

And a sense of relief moves Orthodox Jewish men to begin each day by whispering:

“Thanks be to God for not making me a woman.”


Teresa of Ávila entered the convent to save herself from Hell, the conjugal Hell. Better to be a slave to God than servant to a brute.

But St. Paul gave women three rights: to obey, to serve and to remain silent. So the representative of His Holiness the Pope found Teresa guilty of being an apprehensive and unsettled female, disobedient and contumacious, who under the guise of devotion invents evil doctrines against St. Paul, who commanded women not to teach.

In Spain, Teresa founded several convents where the nuns not only gave classes but were in charge, where virtue was prized and lineage worthless, where no one had to submit proof of clean blood.

In 1576 she was accused before the Inquisition, because her grandfather claimed to be a true Christian but was a converted Jew, and because her mystical trances were the work of the Devil ensconced in her body.

Four centuries later, on his deathbed, Francisco Franco wielded Teresa’s right arm to defend himself from the Devil. By one of those strange turns life takes, Teresa had become a saint and a role model for Iberian women, and except for one foot, which ended up in Rome, her remains were housed in several churches around Spain.


Like Teresa of Ávila, Juana Inés de la Cruz became a nun to remain free of the matrimonial cage.

Like Teresa, in the convent her talent caused offense. Did this head of a woman contain the brain of a man? Why did she have a man’s handwriting? Since she was such a good cook, why would she want to think? Deriding her questioners, she answered:

“What could we women know but kitchen philosophy?”

Like Teresa, Juana wrote, although the priest Gaspar de Astete warned her that Christian maidens need not know how to write, and it might cause them harm.

Like Teresa, Juana not only wrote but, scandal of scandals, she wrote undeniably well.

In different centuries, on different shores of the same sea, Juana the Mexican and Teresa the Spaniard defended, aloud and on paper, the despised half of the world.

Like Teresa, Juana was threatened by the Inquisition. And the church, her church, persecuted her for extolling human concerns as much or more than divine ones, and for seldom obeying, and for questioning far too much.

With blood, not ink, Juana signed her confession. She vowed eternal silence. And mute, she died.

We Were All Executioners

Little or no change has come to Bòria Street in Barcelona, although now it devotes itself to serving other needs.

During a good part of the Middle Ages, it was one of the settings where European justice was turned into public spectacle.

The jester and the musicians headed up the procession. The condemned man or woman left the jail on the back of an ass, naked or nearly so, and while getting the lash he or she was subjected to showers of abuse, blows, saliva, shit, rotten eggs and other homages from the crowd.

The most enthusiastic punishers were also the most enthusiastic sinners.


In 1654, a young and flagrantly pregnant woman named Hendrickje Stoffels was judged and found guilty by the Council of the Reformed Church in Amsterdam.

She confessed to having fornicated with the painter Rembrandt and admitted to sharing his bed without being married, like a whore, or in a more literal translation, committing whoredom.

The council punished her by obliging her to repent and do penance and by permanently excluding her from the table of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rembrandt was not found guilty, perhaps because the jury had in mind the episode of Eve and the apple. But the scandal caused the price of his work to tumble, and he had to declare bankruptcy.

The master of chiaroscuro, who revealed light born of darkness, spent his final years in the shadows. He lost his house and his paintings. He was buried in a rented grave.


She was captured in South America as a child and was sold and sold again, and then once more, passed from owner to owner until she ended up in the town of Salem in North America.

There, in that Puritan sanctuary, the slave Tituba served in the home of the Rev. Samuel Parris.

The daughters of the reverend adored her. They were in heaven when Tituba told them stories of apparitions or read their fortunes in the white of an egg. And in the winter of 1692, when the girls were possessed by Satan and writhed shrieking on the floor, only Tituba could calm them. She caressed them and whispered stories until they fell asleep in her lap.

That sealed her fate: she was the one who had brought Hell into the virtuous kingdom of God’s chosen people.

The storytelling magician was put in the stocks in the public square, and she confessed.

They accused her of baking pies from the Devil’s recipe book, and they whipped her until she said yes.

They accused her of dancing naked at the witches’ Sabbath, and they whipped her until she said yes.

They accused her of sleeping with Satan, and they whipped her until she said yes.

And when they told her that her accomplices were two old ladies who never went to church, the accused became the accuser and she pointed her finger at the possessed pair. And they stopped whipping her.

Then other accused also accused.

And the gallows were never empty.

The Torturer’s Confession

In 2002, Al Qaeda leader Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was tortured until he confessed that Iraq had trained him in the use of chemical and biological weaponry. Immediately, the government of the United States joyfully brandished his words as proof that Iraq deserved to be invaded.

Not long thereafter, the truth came out: as usual, the tortured had said what the torturer wanted to hear.

But any discomfiture from that revelation did not impede the US government from practicing or preaching torture around the world, calling it by its many stage names: alternative means of coercion, intensive interrogation technique, pressure and intimidation tactic, method of convincing…

With less and less dissembling, the biggest of the mass media now exalt the merits of the machinery for grinding human flesh, while more and more people applaud or at least accept it. Don’t we have a right to defend ourselves from the terrorists and criminals threatening us?

But the inquisitors knew only too well, as do the country-snatchers of today: torture is useless for protecting people. It is only good for terrorizing them.

The bureaucracy of pain tortures in order to perpetuate the power of the powers it serves. A confession extracted by torture is worth little or nothing. But in the torture chamber the powerful do drop their masks. By torturing, they confess that fear is their daily bread.

Montevideo, Uruguay, 2007

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