On a Banshee’s Prediction of a Rector’s Death

banshee

Along with Bono and the leprechaun, the wailing banshee is probably one of the best-known creatures to come out of Ireland. While some people consider it a spirit, others classify it as a kind of fairy. Its exact appearance also has a variety of interpretations, from depicting the banshee as being unusually tall or amazingly small, to rendering it as an ugly hag or a beautiful young woman. Despite the diversity of images, it’s generally agreed that hearing a banshee’s cry means that somebody in an Irish family is about to die.

Banshees are especially thought to shriek if the victim has a surname with the Gaelic prefixes Ó or Mac, or has a gift for singing and playing music. (The one indicates native Irish ancestry, and the other reflects the belief that music was a gift from fairies.) An account of a banshee, reported by antiquarian Thomas Crofton Croker in 1825, concerns a man who possessed the latter feature. In life, the 18th century reverend Charles Bunworth was a harpist as renown for his kindness as his talent for plucking. He earned his MA from Trinity College, Dublin in 1730,  and served as the rector of Buttevant, a town in Ireland’s County Cork.

Bunworth was popular with both the rich and poor, but neither group seemed to love the rector as much as the country’s traveling harpists. In return for his support and patronage, Bunworth’s fellow musicians blessed him and praised his daughters in their songs. At the time of his death in 1770, Bunworth had fifteen harps in his collection,  all of them presents from harpists who he’d helped over the years. Although one biographer in 1815 noted that Bunworth’s own harp was still being kept by his descendants, the rest of the collection was accidentally used as firewood by a caretaker in the family’s house.

More extraordinary than the fate of these unfortunate instruments might be the allegation that Bunworth’s death was preceded by a banshee’s cry. In his book Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, the earlier mentioned Croker states that “The circumstances attending the death of Mr. Bunworth may be doubted by some; but there are still living credible witnesses who declare their authenticity, and who can be produced to attest most, if not all of the following particulars.” According to Croker, the first sign that something was wrong happened a week before Bunworth passed away.

That evening, the members of the Bunworth household heard a noise that sounded like a sheep, but nobody paid it any mind. A few hours later, a herdsman named Kavanagh visited the Bunworths’ home with some medicine for the family patriarch, who’d fallen sick. When Kavanagh handed the bottle to one of Bunworth’s daughters, the lady noticed that the herdsman seemed upset. As he was questioned, Kavanagh mumbled something about his master and immediately broke into tears. Ms. Bunworth suspected that her overly emotional servant was drunk, but Kavanagh swore that his tears were sober ones.

Crying “We will lose him! We will lose him!,” Kavanagh revealed that he’d seen and heard a banshee on his way back home. Ms. Bunworth dismissed the monster as a superstition, but the herdsman was persistent. He claimed that as he passed through a glen, a long, white haired-banshee appeared and walked alongside him. The banshee clapped and screeched, chanting Bunworth’s name and keening (a poetical sort of lamenting done at traditional Irish funerals). Once Kavanagh reached an abbey, the banshee sat under a tree and “began keening so bitterly, that it went through one’s heart to hear it.”

It was not a keen, however, that went through Ms. Bunworth’s heart. She told Kavanagh that her father was improving, and asked that he not frighten the other servants with his silly banshee story. Nearly the whole week passed without further incident, but then something strange occurred the night before Bunworth died. That night, the old rector was sleeping in the parlor, under the watch of an elderly female friend. A group of men sat in the room next to them, and even more friends had gathered in the kitchen.

While watching Bunworth, the elderly friend suddenly heard a woman moaning and clapping her hands at a window near the rector’s bed. The aged lady alerted the men in the other room about the noise. They’d heard the commotion too, so a pair of skeptics volunteered to search the house. When they couldn’t find anything, the men went outside and investigated the road, still finding no trace of another human being.

After coming back into the house, the men were told that the moaning and clapping had intensified and stopped again during their absence. Right as the men closed the room’s door, the mysterious mourning broke out a third and final time. Bunworth’s health, already in bad shape, rapidly deteriorated. When the morning came, Charles Bunworth promptly went the way of all flesh, just as the banshee predicted.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by buying my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. The book is available on Kindle, and it goes without saying that every purchase is preceded by a loud disembodied scream outside the buyer’s window. 

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The Vrykolakas: a Greek Revenant that Knocks on Doors

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In American pop culture, vampires are frequently charming, sexy, and sophisticated. They’re rarely scary, and since the vampire romance boom, they’ve become lame and boring. If hideous, evil revenants ever become fashionable again, then I can only hope writers and filmmakers might explore the vrykolakas, a Greek cousin of sorts to the Slavic vampire. Like the vampire, the vrykolakas is a pale, undead corpse that terrorizes the living at night. While it doesn’t typically drink blood, the vrykolakas is capable of turning other people into its ilk.

Instead of biting people’s necks, however, the vrykolakas has a more sanitary method of infection. It appears at a victim’s house, knocking on the front door and calling the person’s name. If you’re polite enough to answer the door, you’re unfortunately fated to die and become a vrykolakas yourself. Even if a person dies naturally, they’re at risk of turning into a vrykolakas if they’ve been excommunicated or buried in unconsecrated ground. Interestingly, the word “vrykolakas” originally meant werewolf. This accounts for the blurring between the two in some folk beliefs, and the beautiful idea that a werewolf can become a vrykolakas after it dies.

It’s hard to say when exactly a party of drunken Greeks might have come up with the creature. It doesn’t appear in ancient or Byzantine texts, and only first pops up in the written word around the 15th century. Greek scholars like the Vatican librarian Leo Allatius wrote about the vrykolakas, while foreign travelers and observers also recorded stories. A detailed account of an alleged vrykolakas, along with the hysteria it provoked, comes from the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708). While island-hopping through Greece in search of plants, Tournefort happened to stay in Mykonos during a vrykolakas attack.

According to the skeptical Tournefort, the vrykolakas was a quarrelsome peasant who’d been mysteriously murdered in a field. Two days after his burial, the peasant was seen taking nightly strolls. Over the course of his solitary entertainment, the new vrykolakas “came into houses and turned over furniture, extinguished lamps, embraced people from behind, and played a thousand little roguish tricks.” The townspeople thought this was hilarious, but the vrykolakas was treated more seriously when the town’s elites began to complain. On the tenth day after the vrykolakas’s burial, the town’s religious and secular authorities ordered for an exorcism to take place.

The exorcism was held in a chapel, attended by many of the townspeople. The vrykolakas’s unconscious body was carried there, and a mass was held to expel the demon thought to be possessing the corpse. To the disgust of Tournefort and his party, the town butcher was tasked with cutting out the monster’s heart on the spot. As the corpse was dissected, its body released a stench so horrible that it whipped the onlookers into panic. Incense that was burned to hide the smell only made things worse. Some townspeople shrieked “Vrykolakas!” over and over, while others insisted that the smoke from the incense was actually coming from the corpse’s body. Even the butcher was affected, claiming that the dead man was still warm.

Despite (or because of) this intervention, the vrykolakas only became more troublesome. The townspeople now accused him of “beating people at night, of breaking in doors, and even roofs; of breaking windows, tearing up clothes, and emptying pitchers and bottles.” People were so afraid of night-time that families slept in the town square, while others fled for the countryside. Everyone debated what to do, questioning if something went wrong with the exorcism. Meanwhile, the town’s holy men fasted and dispensed holy water, covering doors with their blessed H2O.

As a man with a scientific bent, Tournefort was not convinced that anything supernatural was going on. At the exorcism, the Frenchman and his companions informed their Greek hosts that the vrykolakas’s body was quite dead. None of Tournefort’s party, in fact, witnessed the vrykolakas in the middle of its shenanigans. The tall tale might nearly have been put to rest when a couple of vagabonds were rounded up and arrested for the mischief. For some reason, the vagabonds were let go after two days, and once again, terrified citizens complained about somebody drinking and emptying their wine jugs.

Finally, with the town in such an uproar, the authorities concluded that desperate times called for desperate measures. Since pouring holy water into the vrykolakas’s mouth didn’t work, and sticking swords in its grave wasn’t much help either, somebody came up with a wiser solution. On January 1, 1701, the vrykolakas was moved to St George Island, where it was thrown onto a pyre and set on fire. The monster’s body burned quickly, and that was the last anybody saw of the vrykolakas. It never bothered the people of Mykonos again, with the result that several songs were written in honor of the island’s victory.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by buying my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. The book was just released on Kindle today, so I would recommend getting a copy before a vrykolakas shows up at your front door. 

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On the Horrors of Having Your Children Snatched by Fairies

Changeling

Depiction of a mother and a “changeling,” a fairy-child swapped for a human one.

In today’s world, parents often worry about whether their kids are eating healthy and getting a good education, and in the case of long car trips, whether the children have their phones fully charged. It’s tough being a modern parent, but at the least, you don’t have to worry like Europeans did about your spawn being snatched by fairies. While the concept of the changeling has now been relegated to folklore, it was once a serious threat for many superstitious moms and dads. Well after the Enlightenment,  between 1850 and 1900, courts across Europe were still handling cases of people who abused or killed children accused of being changelings.

According to folktales and historical accounts, a fairy-swapped child could be identified by physical deformities, a sickly or underdeveloped body, and an excessive (or small) appetite. By the 19th century, scholars recognized that stories of changelings likely stemmed from children who were disabled or mentally challenged. The idea of the changeling is thought to have originated with peasants’ recognition that something was “wrong” with their children, and it could have been used to justify abusing and killing the poor kids.

An interesting historical example of a changeling comes from the English poet and topographer George Waldron. While working as an official on the Isle of Man, the London-born Waldron wrote a book about the island’s history and culture, 1726’s “A Description of the Isle of Man.” Criticizing the Manx for being superstitious, Waldron noted that the belief in fairies was still alive and well. “The old story of infants being changed in their cradles,” he observed, “is here in such credit, that mothers are in continual terror at the thoughts of it.”

When Waldron was presented with an alleged changeling, he described the child as having a beautiful face and delicate complexion. The boy was five or six years old, with long and thin limbs. He didn’t talk or cry, hardly ate anything, and was unable to walk and stand. When the kid was left alone, people watching from his window would see him laugh by himself. It was believed that he was in the company of fairies then, and that they would wash the boy and comb his hair.

In another example, Waldron heard a story from a mother who claimed to have been continually harassed by fairies. The trouble began four or five days after she gave birth to her first child. All of a sudden, her family heard somebody shout that there was a fire. They ran out of their house to see where it was, leaving the mother and her baby alone in their room. As she trembled in bed, the woman watched incredulously as her baby was picked up by an invisible hand and stolen away. When the rest of the family came back inside, finding no fire anywhere in their neighborhood, they discovered the baby lying at the entrance of the house. Naturally, fairies were blamed for moving the child.

A year after this incident, following the birth of the mother’s second child, the family heard a loud commotion from their cattle barn. As they rushed to see what the problem was, the mother and her new baby were once again left alone. Inside the barn, nothing was out of the ordinary, and no cows had gotten loose. Reassured, the neglectful family made their way back to the house, where they were greeted by the second baby lying in the entryway. As with the first child, this mysterious displacement was believed to be the work of the little people.

As the saying goes, the fairies figured that the third kidnapping’s the charm. Not long after this same mother delivered her third child, another commotion was heard in the barn. Like clockwork, everybody ran outside, leaving the mother and baby with a nurse who was fast asleep. As the nurse snoozed, the mother watched with horror as an invisible set of hands promptly snatched her baby and carried it away. The woman screamed for her nurse to get up, but it was too late: The fat and beautiful baby was spirited away.

When her family returned, the mother was found crying hysterically. Although the husband pointed out that the baby was still inside the bed, the mother couldn’t be fooled. This was a skinny and deformed impostor, a changeling. The creature, Waldron reported, lived with the family “near the space of nine years.” During its brief existence, the changeling ate “nothing except a few herbs, nor was ever seen to void any other excrement than water: it neither spoke, nor could stand or go,” resembling the child Waldron met on the island. While our English reporter doesn’t detail what ultimately happened to this particular changeling, I think we could sadly conclude that the child suffered from malnutrition and neglect, if not deliberate abuse.

 

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by pre-ordering my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. If you’re up for something strange and morbid, be sure to check the book out when it hits Kindle on September 23.  

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How the Devil Set a Troublesome Teenager Straight

thedevil

From buying guitarists’ souls to impregnating Mia Farrow, the Devil has always kept himself busy. Personally, I cannot speak much for his talents, but one might want to take a note from his parenting skills. Consider, for example, the case of unruly English teenager Joseph Boxford. According to a pamphlet published in London in 1645, Joseph was a fifteen-year-old boy who lived in Bow, a village in the county of Devon. Joseph’s father John sent him to the town of Crediton to become a weaver’s apprentice, but after a month of work, Joseph wanted to do something else.

Without telling his father, Joseph decided to trade the excitements of weaving for the life of a soldier. As this was a decision made during the First English Civil War, when the Parliamentarians were engaged in fighting King Charles I and his Royalist supporters, this was not the best idea. Joseph spent his summer in the king’s army, being such a general ne’er-do-well that he ended up dressed in rags.

When the broken boy went back home for support, his father gave him new clothes and recommended that he return to his apprenticeship. As teenagers are wont to do, Joseph refused to listen to common sense. John, furious, threatened that he’d apprentice the boy to the Devil.

In the morning, John announced to his son that they were going to Crediton. A rebellious Joseph insisted that he’d rather be apprenticed to the Devil. This was not what John actually wanted, so he beat the boy until Joseph agreed to leave the house. As father and son approached Crediton, with the former hitting the latter, and the latter swearing at the former, the Boxfords came across a man in a carriage pulled by four horses. The argument caught the driver’s attention, so he asked John why he felt the need to be so violent. John answered with a rant, complaining about Joseph and his refusal to do anything responsible.

Taking pity on the poor boy, the driver offered to take Joseph along and find him a good employer. John came to an agreement with the carrier; if Joseph didn’t like the work the carrier found him, then he’d be sent back to Bow within eight days. With both Boxfords satisfied, John turned back home and left his son with the stranger and four horses. I suppose, if this were a YA novel, this would be the part when the benevolent stranger would reveal that Joseph was actually a great wizard or hero or something, and that he’d come to start the misfit boy on his destiny. Unfortunately, that’s not how things turned out.

Instead, the stranger immediately morphed into a ugly, dark horse, snatching Joseph up and taking flight into the sky. Riding on the horse’s back, Joseph was so high up that big cities like London looked “no greater than small cottages.” The teenager rode past the moon and Neptune, dropping into a cave in the earth that brought him to Hell. Now in the safety of his home, the Devil rid himself of his disguise. Saying that Joseph could see some of his old Royalist war-buddies, the Devil summoned an army of ghosts who howled, suffered, and vocally regretted taking up the Royalist cause.

Scanning over this collection of ghosts, Joseph noticed a politician named Sir Peter Ball, whose eternal damnation was rather creative. The sinner’s legs and feet were engulfed in flames, while his buttocks were burned on a gridiron, his back and shoulders were cooked in a frying-pan, and his face was boiled in a kettle. Next to Ball were two spots reserved for “Greenvile” and “Goring,” references to the Royalist military-men Bevil Grenville and George Goring. These two gentlemen, once they were ready, would be punished by having hot aconites shoved down their “belching throats.” Goring’s sister “Lady Scot,” on the other hand, received the honor of being hanged by the tongue on scalding tenterhooks.

All this horrible torture was too much to bear for Joseph Boxford. He begged to leave, and since they were there long enough, the Devil whisked the teenager away to a place in Devon called Cannon Lee. A pair of servants later spotted Joseph under a hedge, where his “hands and legs (were) strangely distorted, his haire of his head singed,” and “his Clothes all be smeared with pitch and rosin and other sulfurous matter, which yeelded an odious stench.” Since Joseph was in bad shape, and couldn’t manage to speak, the men took him to their master’s house.

Once he recovered, Joseph bared his misadventure with the Devil, a tale the owner of the house found creditable. His father was called, and John picked the boy up and forgave him for their disagreement. According to Jonathan Gainwell, a minister who heard Joseph tell his story, the former juvenile delinquent became reformed. To make for an even happier ending, the Devil was also seen that day, back in his carrier-with-horses disguise. A group of Royalist soldiers passing by took a fancy in the horses, and as they were in the middle of stealing them, the Devil and his entourage disappeared in an inferno. Three of the Royalists caught fire and died, and the rest took off running for their lives.

Despite the pamphlet’s over-the-top claims, despite the fact that I can’t trace a place called Cannon Lee, and that Sir Peter Ball died many years after the end of the English Civil War, I believe there are some valuable lessons here. Children should obey their parents, parents should love their children, and nobody who pledges allegiance to the King of England should be allowed into heaven.

 

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by pre-ordering my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. If you’re up for something strange and morbid, be sure to check the book out when it hits Kindle on September 23.  

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Murdered by the Devil

Griffin

In 1662, one Englishman had the misfortune of being attacked by both griffins and the Devil.

For all the evil attributed to the Devil, his personal kill count is remarkably low. According to a count on the skeptical blog Dwindling In Unbelief, Old Nick is estimated to have killed only 60 or so people in the Bible. It’s a pretty embarrassing number for the Prince of Darkness, but based on a story from an old English pamphlet, we could bump this number to 61.

In 1662, a pamphlet was published in London entitled “A Strange and True Relation of One Mr. John Leech.” One morning, Leech- a farmer from the village of Raveley-set off to go drinking at a fair in the town of Whittlesey. Walking two miles away from his house, Leech bumped into one of his neighbors, and demanded the man take part in his merrymaking. Since you should never decline a morning drink with your neighbor, Leech and his friend stopped at a near-by house for some fermented refreshments.

After Leech began to get “very merry,” his neighbor asked the members of the household what time it was. They answered that it was almost 11, but Leech wasn’t apparently done yet. He replied, “Let the Devil take him who goeth out of this house today.” More drinking and sitting followed until Leech suddenly remembered the fair, and decided to stick to his original plan. Though his friend reminded Leech of his earlier words, Leech scoffed that he was too heavy for the Devil to carry. He then called for his horse and left.

On his way to the fair, Leech began to have second doubts. His mind was plagued with anxiety, and he rode back and forth in a daze until dark, never reaching his destination. At one or two morning, Leech encountered a pair of monsters that looked like griffins. The sight scared the bejesus out of him, and then he heard a voice repeat”Remember thy sins and the Oath thou hast broken this day” three times. At the sound of these words, Leech fell from his horse and was seized by the griffins, who carried him twelve miles into the air. The monsters tore off his clothes and dumped him, bloody and gory, in a farmyard.

In the morning, some servants starting their day found Leech laying incoherent on a set of harrows. They asked him a bunch of questions, but Leech could only sigh and groan. The servants’ master took pity on Leech, and ordered him to be moved to a bed in the house. When Leech recovered his strength, he explained what happened, and the master allowed him to rest there for another day or two.

Meanwhile, a few of the servants doing their chores found torn-up clothes two miles away from the farm. They showed the rags to Leech, who quickly “grew into a Frenzy so desperate, that they were afraid to stay in his Chamber.”  The master offered to call Leech a minister, but Leech refused, saying it was too late to save him. The master called for a minister anyway, and when the man went into Leech’s room, Leech jumped out of bed and threw the minister so violently that he nearly killed him.

The master and his servants heard the commotion and rushed to the bedroom. Inside, Leech was trying to beat the minister to death, so they grabbed and bounded Leech onto the bed. Leech immediately broke loose, and everybody was so terrified at this point that they opted to just lock Leech inside the room. (Because why waste money on an exorcism when you can just lock the door?) For the rest of the day, nobody dared to enter Leech’s room.

When morning came, the members of the household went to check on their demented guest by listening at his door. They didn’t hear a single screech or bit of glossolalia, and when they unlocked the room, discovered why. Leech was found dead on the bed, with “his neck broke, his tongue out of his mouth, and his body as black as a shoe, all swelled, and every bone in his body out of joint.” Most of the people of the town saw Leech’s body, and his corpse was eventually buried after the smell got too unbearable.

For anybody who thinks the poor farmer simply had too much to drink, the author of the pamphlet takes care to note that the account had been verified by six “Persons of unquestionable Credit.” At any rate, I hope you’ll all think twice the next time you invoke the Devil during a morning drink with your neighbor.

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The Girl Who Ate Fairy Food

Fairies

Drawing of Ann Jefferies and her fairies, from Robert Hunt’s “Popular Romances of the West of England.”

In 1696, the English printer Moses Pitt wrote a peculiar letter to Edward Fowler, Bishop of Gloucester, detailing the old case of a woman named Ann Jefferies. Some five decades earlier, when Moses was a boy, Ann worked as a servant girl for the Pitt family. At the age of 19, Ann allegedly came into contact with fairies and developed healing powers. While she had her supporters, Ann’s claims caused a scandal, and ultimately led to trouble with the law.

According to Moses, the story began on a day in 1645, when Ann sat knitting in the Pitts’ garden in the little village of St. Teath. As Ann sat there, minding her own business, six little fairies dressed in green suddenly flew over the garden hedge. I’d imagine most people would be delighted to spot fairies, but Ann was so frightened by the sight that she fell into convulsions.

These convulsive fits lasted for months. While the Pitt family nursed her back to health, Ann kept the fairy sighting a secret. She was so weak that she couldn’t stand on her feet, and the Pitts had to be careful not to upset her, because the slightest annoyance would send Ann into another fit.

By harvest-time, Ann had recovered a little strength. One afternoon, she was alone in the house with Mrs.Pitt. Mrs. Pitt had an errand to run, but didn’t want to leave Ann unattended, in case she might accidentally set the house on fire. (How or why Ann might have accomplished such a feat in her illness isn’t explained in Moses’ letter.) For the safety of all, Mrs. Pitt moved Ann into the garden, where she waited for Mrs. Pitt to come back.

While coming home from her errand, Mrs.Pitt accidentally slipped and hurt her leg. The pain was very bad, so a neighbor on horseback had to take her home. Once Mrs. Pitt was back, a servant was called to fetch a horse and ride eight miles away to get a doctor. Just then, Ann came in and insisted on seeing Mrs. Pitt’s leg.

Cautious that refusing would send the girl into a fit, Mrs. Pitt showed Ann the injured limb. With her eyes on the leg, Ann rested it on her lap and stroked it with her hand. Amazingly, Mrs. Pitt’s pain began to go away. The mere touch of Ann’s hand, in fact, worked so well that Mrs. Pitt called the doctor off.

After demonstrating these new healing powers, Ann confessed the cause of her fits: the fairies. Ever since that day in the garden, Ann was constantly attended by fairies who always showed themselves in even numbers. Since Ann was forced out of the house against her will, six of the fairies decided to teach Mrs. Pitt a lesson, deliberately causing her to trip.( Evidently, Mrs. Pitt was too satisfied with Ann’s new powers to be angry that her servant’s fairies had conspired to break her leg.)

The fame of Ann and her magic touch spread across Cornwall, and soon all sorts of sick people came to her to be healed, some of them coming from as far away as London. Ann never asked for money for these services. It was said that she could also predict who was coming to visit her, before the actual guest arrived.

At the same time, Ann stopped eating human food. For six months, Ann persisted on fairy food, gifted to her by her friends. Moses Pitt had the good fortune to try this food. While visiting Ann in her room, Moses was given a piece of fairy bread. In his letter, he remarked that “I think it was the most delicious Bread that ever I did eat either before or since.”

Naturally, all this hullabaloo about healing and fairy food attracted the attention of the authorities. Some magistrates and ministers visited Ann at the Pitts’ house and questioned her about her little friends. The ministers were convinced that the fairies were evil spirits sent by the Devil. They advised Ann to ignore them and have nothing to do with them.

Later that night, Ann was sitting with the Pitts at a fire when she said the fairies began to call her. The family pled with her not to go, but on the third calling, Ann retired into her room. When she came back out, she held a Bible in her hand. The fairies, Ann said, recommended that the magistrates and ministers read the following Bible passage: “Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God. Because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Even though the good fairy folk were clearly virtuous Christians, quoting scripture wasn’t enough for the powers that be. One of the cruelest magistrates of the day, Jan Tregeagle, got wind of Ann’s stories. Tregeagle was a notoriously vicious man; some claimed he sold his soul to the devil, and after his death, his spirit was said to haunt Cornwall.

Tregeagle issued a warrant for Ann’s arrest, and she was jailed eight miles away in Bodmin. During her imprisonment, Tregeagle starved Ann. Mrs. Pitt and Moses were called in to testify, and Moses was questioned to make sure that he didn’t bring Ann any food. Eventually, Ann was moved to Tregeagle’s house and then let go after a time. She was forbidden, however, to live with the Pitts.

From here, Ann went to live with Mr. Pitt’s sister, a widow named Francis Tom. Ann apparently demonstrated healing powers here too. Later, she went to live with her brother, and then she married a man named William Warden. The historical record isn’t very clear about her fate, but Ann was still alive when Moses wrote his letter in 1696. By that time, it seems the elderly Ann had come to regret the whole affair. When Pitt’s brother-in-law reached out to her in 1693, Ann refused to talk about the fairies. She said that even if her own father were alive, she wouldn’t say a word about them to him.

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Hieronyma and Her Incubus

Incubus

An 1879 painting of an incubus.

The 17th century priest Ludovico Maria Sinistrari was a thinker who tackled some of the most pressing questions of his time. Could demons and humans, for example, have sex? Could they have children? Theologically-speaking, which is the greater evil: carnal knowledge of the family dog, or screwing a succubus? If you’re one of the half-dozen people who lay in bed at night pondering such enigmas, then boy does Father Sinistrari have a book for you!

Sinistrari, an Inquisition-associated writer, concerned himself with what the Catholic Church regarded as sinful sexuality. His work touches on homosexuality, sodomy, and demoniality, the act of sexual intercourse between a person and a demon. Sinistrari’s treatise on that last subject, Demoniality, is a bit mysterious. It was probably written in the late 1690s, but its manuscript wasn’t discovered until 1872, when the French publisher Isidore Liseux bought it from an English bookseller. (Some scholars have argued the treatise is a forgery, but the academic Alexandra Nagel makes a good case for its authenticity in a research paper available here.)

Essentially, Demoniality claims that demons like incubuses and succubuses are real, and similar to humans. It’s entirely possible, and considerably sinful, to have sex with one. It’s also possible to have children with such demons; Alexander the Great, Martin Luther, and Plato were all the result of demon-human elopements. While there’s a lot of theological theorizing- including the contemplation of demon semen- Sinistrari also discusses some case studies. In one particular story about a woman and an incubus, Sinistrari claim that he was an eye-witness, and that he interviewed “numerous persons” to corroborate the account.

Some twenty-five years before he wrote Demoniality, Sinistrari says that he worked as a lecturer in the city of Pavia. During that same time, there was a “married woman of unimpeachable morality” named Hieronyma who also lived in the city. One day, Hieronyma kneaded some bread and gave it to a baker to finish off. After baking it in the oven, the man dropped the bread off at Hieronyma’s house, along with a “large cake of peculiar shape” she didn’t remember giving him. Since the baker didn’t bake any other customers’ bread that day, he insisted the cake must have been Hieronyma’s. Hieronyma was easily convinced to take the cake, and she later ate it with her daughter, husband, and servant.

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