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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A Haunting on Fuencarral Street

Torres

Diego de Torres Villarroel

It would probably be easier to tell you what the 18th century Spanish writer Diego de Torres Villarroel didn’t do. According to his highly picaresque autobiography, Torres did all sorts of different jobs, including working as a bullfighter, dancer, soldier, lock picker, astrologer, and math professor. He was also said to be a prophet, although his apparent predictions of the death of the Spanish King Louis I and the French Revolution were more vague coincidences than actual prophecies.

In 1723, after moving to Madrid, a poverty-stricken Torres was forced to work as a smuggler to get by. One day, Torres’ fortunes changed when a messenger from Josepha de Figueroa, the Countess of Arcos, paid him a visit. The messenger looked pale and sick, and explained that the Countess wanted Torres to come stay at her house. For the past three nights, the Countess’ home had been knocked by loud, unexplained noises.

The Countess was afraid that her house, which was located on Fuencarral Street, was being haunted by a duende. In Spanish folklore, duendes are creatures similar to goblins, tricksters who come into people’s homes to harass them and drive them crazy with loud noises. (Our demented friends from The House of the Lions, the follets, are technically a Catalan variety of duende.)

Torres was skeptical about the story, but agreed to investigate the haunting. When he arrived at the Countess’ house, he found the servants pale and quiet, and the Countess terrified. That night, they all banded together and slept in the same bedroom, Torres included.

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How Gnomes Drove an Artist to Kill Herself

GhostTower

The Castle of La Boca, named after the neighborhood in Buenos Aires where it stands, is a big and beautiful representation of Catalan modernism. It’s also supposedly haunted, which is why many people call the building’s tower “The Ghost Tower.” The eponymous ghost of the tower is said to haunt the top floor, where people have heard anguished shouts and disembodied footsteps.

According to legend, the ghost is a painter named Clementina, a young art student who lived there a century ago. The story behind Clementina’s demise involves a nostalgic rancher, a noisy reporter, and a bunch of mischievous follets, a creature in Catalan folklore similar to gnomes.

The story begins with the estanciera (rancher) Maria Luisa Auvert Arnaud. Auvert owned a very profitable estancia, a rural estate like a ranch, making her one of the wealthiest people in Buenos Aires. In the early 20th century, Argentina was experiencing a great boom in immigration from Europe. Hoping to make some money off these new Argentinians, Auvert bought a plot of land in La Boca and planned to get into real estate.

Despite her French-sounding name, Auvert’s family had roots in Catalonia. On her new land, Auvert hired the Catalan architect Guillermo Alvarez to build a house that would remind her of her family’s homeland. To maximize the Catalan flavor, Auvert imported furniture and plants from the old country, including some mushrooms she put on the balconies.

When the construction was completed in 1908, Auvert was so happy with the final product that she dropped the idea of renting the building and took the house for herself. The Castle should have been her dream home, but Auvert quietly packed her bags after living there for only a year. Nobody knew why she moved so suddenly, though neighbors said they sometimes heard her and her servants yelling at something at night.

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The Gandillon Werewolf Family

boguet

Painting of Henri Boguet, the French judge who recorded the Gandillons’ story and took part in their trial.

One werewolf is incredulous enough, but a whole family of werewolves? Such a story happened in the Jura region of eastern France in 1598. In the spring of that year, a boy named Benoit Bidel and his sister were picking strawberries near the village of St. Claude. While Benoit was climbing a tree, a wolf with human hands emerged from the forest and lunged at his sister. Benoit hopped down and tried to stab the wolf with a knife. The wolf tossed his knife away though, and it then bit his neck and ran back off into the trees.

Some near-by peasants who heard the scuffle rushed to the scene. They found Benoit badly bleeding, although his sister was unharmed. Before dying on the spot, Benoit gave a description of the strange wolf he saw. The angry peasants immediately set off looking for the wolf in the forest, but instead they stumbled on a local girl named Pernette Gandillon. The furious mob noticed that Pernette’s dress was covered in blood, so they grabbed her and tore her apart.

Regardless of whether Pernette confessed to being the wolf or not, as some accounts claim, Pernette was a pretty unpopular person to begin with. She and her family lived in the forest, isolated from the rest of St. Claude. They were rumored to be Satanists and witches, so it wasn’t that big of a leap to suspect her of being a werewolf either.

Following Pernette’s murder,  her brother Pierre and sister Antoinette were also accused of being werewolves. They were both accused of attending sabbaths, as well as summoning hailstorms and having sex with demons. (In Antoinette’s case, her sexual partner was a goat, who was actually the Devil in disguise.) After being tortured, surely the most reliable method of truth inducement, Pierre cracked and confessed that the accusations were true.

He admitted that the Devil gave his family magical wolf-skins, which had the power to turn the Gandillons into werewolves. Wearing the skins, they couldn’t help but run across the land on all fours, devouring animals and humans alike. Pierre’s son, Georges, also confessed to having an ointment that had the same magical power. With the help of his aunts, he said that he killed two goats while in the form of a wolf.

Unluckily for the Gandillons, the infamous judge Henri Boguet was put in charge of their case. Belief in werewolves might have been widespread during the time, but educated people were generally more skeptical. They thought werewolves were mentally ill, or suffering from delusions caused by the Devil. (Hey, they were close.)

Boguet, on the other hand, took werewolves seriously. He was the author of a best-selling book about witchcraft, and claimed to have sentenced over 600 werewolves to death during his long and, shall we say, distinguished career. While visiting the Gandillons in jail, he noted that Antoinette, Georges, and Pierre walked on all fours and howled. Their faces, hands, and legs were marked with scratches. Pierre was so badly disfigured, in fact, “that he bore hardly any resemblance to a man and struck all those who looked at him with horror.” 

The Gandillons never transformed into wolves during their captivity, but Boguet attributed this to a lack of magical ointment. The Gandillons’ behavior in their cells was proof enough for Boguet, and he sentenced all three family members to be burnt at the stake.

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The Legend of Count Estruch, Europe’s First Vampire Story

llers

Ruins of Castle Llers, the castle where Count Estruch was said to live.

The legend of Count Estruch is thought to be one of the first European vampire stories, if not the earliest that we know of. The story takes place in the 12th century, during the time of Muslim rule in southern Spain. King Alfonso II,  the king of Aragon in northeast Spain, was worried that pagans in the region of Emporda might ally themselves with his Muslim enemies. The King decided to send a war hero, a count named Guifredo Estruch, to christianize the region.

After being placed in local Llers Castle, Count Estruch set to work christianizing the pagans. Unfortunately, the Count was a very vicious man, and his method of “converting” consisted of murder, torture, and witch-hunts. The Count went on his blood-spree for quite some time, until he was assassinated by one of his own soldiers in 1173. The man, a captain named Benach, poisoned the Count and his daughter Nuria. Benach had wanted to marry Nuria, so his motivation presumably came from rejection, not any disgust with the Count’s hobby of killing pagans.

Still, others say that the Count died after being cursed by one of the many witches he ordered burnt to death. The day after the witch’s execution, Count Estruch found himself so sick that he couldn’t even get out of bed. He died a short time later, and his body went missing from the castle before it could be buried.

estruch

A picture of “Estruch,” a 1991 novel about the legend of Count Estruch. That note card over the book says, “The first vampire was Spanish, and he “lived” in a castle in the Pyrenees. Before Dracula, the Count Estruch terrorized the Iberians of the 12th century.”

After the Count’s death, dead cows started turning up around the castle, mutilated and drained of all their blood. The castle’s servants reported seeing their old master walking through the halls and rooms again, looking just as he was when he was a young man. Count Estruch had come back from the dead, and he haunted the people of Emporda, drinking their blood and stealing their women.

Whenever these abducted women would return, they’d come back pregnant. Nine months would pass, just like in a normal pregnancy, but their children would always come out as hideous monsters. These babies would never survive long, and most of them were born stillborn. Eventually, depending on who you ask, either an old nun or a Jewish hermit put an end to the Count’s terror by finding his hidden coffin and driving a stake into the vampire’s heart.

While Count Estruch might have died there, his story was passed down for hundreds of years among the people. Peasants warned their children of the Count, and women who delivered stillborn babies were said to have been seduced by him. Count Estruch terrified generations, but we can’t be sure how exactly true the story is. Nobody knows whether the Count was a real person, or whether he was just a legend. Unfortunately, Llers Castle was reduced to ruins during the Spanish Civil War, and all the historical documents about Count Estruch were destroyed or lost.

Some suggest that the story of Count Estruch might have originated with the persecution of the Cathars, a group of Gnostic Christians that were popular in southern France during medieval times. The Cathars were considered heretics, and were even burnt at the stake and massacred. Some of the Cathars fled for Spain, and “Estruch” might have come from the Occitan surname “Astruc.” I suppose we’ll never know for certain, but you’ve got to wonder how this story came from Spain of all places, a country not particularly known for its vampire lore.