(Paris vers 1640-Paris 1680).
Fille de M. Deshayes et épouse d’Antoine Monvoisin, elle était à la fois sage-femme, avorteuse, devineresse et sorcière. Consultée par des personnes de haut rang, elle fut compromise dans l’affaire des Poisons, condamnée par la Chambre ardente et brûlée vive (22 février 1680).
– from Larousse
Catherine Monvoisin (maiden name Catherine Deshayes, and popularly known as “La Voisin”), was a French sorceress, who was one of the chief personages in the infamous “affaire des poisons” which disgraced the reign of Louis XIV.
Her husband, Monvoisin, was an unsuccessful jeweller, and she took to practising divination techniques such as chiromancy and face-reading in order to retrieve her and her husband’s fortunes. She gradually added the practice of witchcraft, in which she had the help of a renegade priest, Etienne Guibourg, whose part was the celebration of the “black mass,” a parody of the Christian mass.
La Voisin was eventually caught up in the Poison Affair (“L’affaire des poisons”), a murder scandal in France during the reign of King Louis XIV which launched a period of hysterical pursuit of murder suspects, during which a number of prominent people and members of the aristocracy were implicated and sentenced for poisoning and witchcraft.
The furor began in 1675 after the trial of Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite d’Aubray, the Marquise de Brinvilliers, who was forced to confess to poisoning her father and siblings. She was sentenced to death and, after torture with the water cure (being forced to drink sixteen pints of water), was beheaded and burned at the stake. This case drew attention to a number of other mysterious deaths, and many fortune-tellers and alchemists suspected of selling not only divinations, séances and aphrodisiacs, but also “inheritance powders” (i.e. poison), were rounded up and tried.
La Voisin’s testimony implicated a number of important individuals in the French court, particularly the king’s mistress, the Marquise de Montespan, who she claimed had bought aphrodisiacs and performed black masses with her in order to gain the king’s favour. La Voisin was convicted of witchcraft and poisoning and was burned in public on the Place de Grève in the centre of Paris in 1680.
– from Witchcraft and Witches
I watched my first Italian horror movie last night. I began with Suspiria. The soundtrack was the highlight of the movie. The music made the simplest of scenes terrifying, and reminded me of Kubrick’s The Shining. It was obvious to me that Kubrick liked this movie, and I discovered that he is not nearly as original as I had thought. The deaths throughout Suspiria were satisfyingly gory, and the plot about a coven of witches was just good enough to keep the gore moving while not bogging the narrative down with explanations. This movie is one of a trilogy about witches by director Dario Argento. I’m looking forward to seeing the other two, Inferno and The Mother of Tears.
I’ve been feeling sentimental lately about being Irish, so I looked up a famous Irish witch. I found a lyrical article about Biddy Early, an 18th-century seer and healer. She was exactly the kind of witch I’d be: resourceful, generous and wise. Her magic came from her relationship with the fairies, which is also quite appropriate for me, being a fairy myself. Wink, wink.
I have to admit that it is easy to forget one’s magic when caught up in a world largely made up of unfeeling narcissists. I’m fortunate to have many close, wise and magical friends, but dealing with the day-to-day corporate drones can wear away at one’s soul. Reading up on Biddy Early reminded me that me being Irish means that my blood is full of magic passed down to me from generations of Celts.
Read up on Irish fairy lore and the story of Biddy Early in the article The Story of Biddy Early: Ireland’s Most Famous Witch and Faery Friend.
Until grade 8, I attended Catholic school. When we studied the saints, I always wanted to choose Joan of Arc (link in French). The images of her burning at the stake were commonplace and they told a story of rebellion, faith, perseverance and a healthy touch of mysticism, or in my more cynical moments, insanity.
As a preteen, I loved nothing more than to read about how she heard voices and saw visions, and how she changed her culture’s history by listening to them. Paintings depicting her death at the stake spoke to her righteousness and strength despite her weakness of being eaten up by the flames at the hands of her enemies. (Narrative tension like that is my favourite kind of storytelling!)
I used to imagine fighting under Joan of Arc’s command, picturing her inspiring armies of soldiers to rally in a war. She was so opposite of a typical 15th-century woman, she reminded me that weird people have always existed, and have been celebrated. As a very weird kid myself, I saw her as a ray of light in my sometimes bleak childhood.
Isobel Goudie is a 17th-century Scottish woman famous for having been recorded as confessing to be a witch—to describing a shape-shifting spell and consorting with the devil. Reading about her confession on the Spooky Isles blog, it’s hard for me to believe in its authenticity. To me, her confession reads more like a propaganda pamphlet, which were wildly popular in the nearby London at that same time. True crime stories were particularly popular, and Isobel’s confession reads like a sensational pamphlet. It would be interesting to learn more about this case to see if the origins of the document have been verified as being legal.
I love discovering dark things in unexpected places. I found a reference to a witch in the Old Testament. Having been raised Catholic, I never considered I would find a witch in the Bible. Her name is the Witch of Endor, and she called up the ghost of the prophet Samuel for King Saul in Samuel 1, 28: 3-25. The Witchcraft and Witches website describes the story and comments:
The Biblical passages have been subject to much discussion and interpretation as, read literally, they appear to affirm that it is (or at least was) possible for humans to summon the spirits of the blessed dead by magic. Dissatisfied with this interpretation, many medieval glosses suggested that what the witch actually summoned was not the ghost of Samuel, but a demon taking his shape, or that, if Samuel did in fact appear before Saul and the witch, then it was by a sovereign act of God himself. Either way, the passages seem to satirize Saul, the once righteous king who upheld God’s law by his sword, reduced to participating in forbidden rituals.