|Pedro Ruiz Calderon|
On Jan. 30, 1540, in Mexico City, at a time when Spain was carving out an empire in the New World, an epic trial got under way.
An ordained Catholic priest named Pedro Ruiz Calderon was being prosecuted for practicing black magic. The priest actually bragged about the powers he had acquired according to records a researcher is working on publishing.
He claimed to be able to teleport between continents, make himself invisible, make women fall in love with him, predict the future, turn metals into gold, summon and exorcise demons and, most importantly, discover buried treasure.
"He really typifies all of the major types of learned magic, from summoning and conjuring demons, to exorcising demons to the powers of cloaking himself, making himself invisible," said John Chuchiak IV, a professor at Missouri State University who translates and publishes documents recording the opening of the trial in his new book "The Inquisition in New Spain 1536-1820"(John Hopkins University Press, 2012). [See Photos of the Trial Records] "He could hypnotize people, too; it's one of the earliest, I think, descriptions of hypnotism, mesmerizing people."
|Miguel Lopez de Legazpi|
The prosecutor Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the Franciscan archbishop of Mexico and apostolic inquisitor of New Spain, was known for his extreme punishments. "Other people he had their tongue split for very minor blasphemy," said Chuchiak. In the end, for reasons unknown, the bishop gave Calderon only a minor punishment -- exile back to Spain and a prohibition from giving Catholic services for two years; Zumarraga may have wanted to get rid of him without publicly executing a priest. What happens to Calderon after he is exiled is not known.
According to the trial records, Calderon claimed that he went to hell itself to acquire some of his abilities. At one point, the records say he was in Naples, working for a viceroy.
"He actually descended to the depths of hell, he said, and there he learned the secrets of the science of the black arts and alchemy." [Time Travel & Reincarnation: 10 Tales of Superhuman Abilities]
Calderon did not return empty-handed, Chuchiak said.
"He brought back books from hell. He said one of them had the signature of the devil, the prince of darkness."
Why did he do it?
Why a priest like Calderon may have strayed so far off may be due to two rather earthly things -- bragging rights and financial gain.
Chuchiak notes that Calderon loved to brag. After the trial was over, he caught pneumonia, was sent to the infirmary, and while there, "he was bragging about his ability to cloak himself and to win over almost any woman that he could," he said, again summarizing the Spanish account. In other instances, "he talks about all the women that he slept with. He talks about how he's able to get away with having mistresses and sneaking in an out of their bedrooms," his supposed invisibility powers helping with this.
There is also evidence that he profited from his abilities. Records indicate that, superpowers or not, he often found buried treasure.
|Among them was a work by Dr. Arnaldo de Villanueva called the "Treasure of Treasures." As its name suggests it was supposed to help people find buried treasures.|
His superpowers were, of course, false, said Chuchiak; if Calderon could have made himself invisible or teleported between continents, he could have escaped his trial. That, Chuchiak added, is always the problem with people who claim they could perform black magic.
"They [the inquisitors] always challenge them to practice their black art. But they didn't do it, they couldn't do it," said Chuchiak. In the end, Calderon was just a man who had made great claims and was now facing trial. "Obviously he's just boasting," Chuchiak said.