Friday, October 5, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

As Hallowe'en draws nearer, our thoughts turn to ghoulies and ghosties and witches in pointy hats. My thoughts personally turn to the real "witches" of yesterday and today who were and are tortured, persecuted and either killed or driven to kill themselves. Imagined or real, these "servants of Satan" most typically come with female bodies and the fact that such persecution continues to this day all around the world is a sad commentary on just how far "civilization" hasn't come.

In honor of those who have lost and will lose everything to religious zealots, the next few installments of Chthonian Histories will be dedicated to the true story of a simple German girl who was given up by her unfortunate family, questioned, tortured and murdered in 1600.

Agnes was the daughter of a poor miller and his unfortunately ugly wife. They ran what was known as "the convent mill" in the village of Tettenwing in Lower Bavaria. Their mill did not thrive as it was considered haunted. Stories flew about their village that linked the mill itself, the miller and his family to everything from the sending of nightmares to causing plague. It was only travelers that patronized the mill and a traveler with grain to grind was an unusual occurrence in depressed times. The mill fell into disrepair. Local gossips whispered that the miller's wife was an ogress. And a witch.

The one bright spot around the mill was the miller's only surviving child: Agnes. Unlike her parents, Agnes was beautiful. At somewhere around the age of 16 in 1600, Agnes was the object of many a local farm boy's affection. Much to their mothers' dismay, these local sons brought Agnes gifts and got into brawls over her. Every now and then the sheriff would stop by to tell the miller to keep his daughter "in line." As if her beauty was something she could control. As if she put a spell on all the farm boys.

One summer day the sheriff came again, but this time he came with unfamiliar and well dressed men on horseback. They had come to search the house, they told the miller, for signs of "witchery". He and his family had been accused of practicing the dark arts for "these thirty years and more." That included his ogress wife and his enchantress daughter.

The miller protested, of course, but to no avail. It did not take long for the thugs that came along with the fine gentlemen to find a second hearth, built under the kitchen stairs. It was concealed behind a door and on it was a "pot containing a stiff paste, a congealed liquid, or something of the kind. That was no doubt witches' ointment."

The pot was confiscated, the miller and his family put in chains, and Agnes, along with her aging mother and father, was on her way to the notorious Falcon Tower in Munich.

The local judges went to work right away, subjecting Agnes to long, verbal interrogations but finding her "recalcitrant" and unwilling to confess to any knowledge of witchcraft or the devil. She informed the head judge, Wangereck, that she knew people called her parents ogres. All the same, the accusation was unjust and "would never be shown to be true of her, either."

Wangereck, intuiting what would truly break the young woman's spirit, put her in a dank cell for two months while he worked her parents over. The miller died after several rounds of the torture known as strappado (illustrated above). His wife, Anna, was also subjected to the heinous dislocation of various joints. Like her husband, she endured not only the horrible position of hanging from her wrists with her arms behind her back, but she also suffered the misery of having weights tied to her ankles to pull her knees and hips loose.

Anna confessed in a stream of wild babbling. She was returned to her cell where her swollen joints made it impossible to move from the straw bedding.

Meanwhile, Wangereck returned to lovely, recalcitrant Agnes...

(The tale of Agnes the miller's daughter continues next Friday. The majority of my research is indebted to the book High Road to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft by Michael Kunze, translated from German by William E. Yuill)

Header: Interrogation by Bessonov Nicolay via InquisitionArt (please note that Nicolay's art, while brilliant, is very realistic and very graphic; viewer discretion is advised)


Timmy! said...

Proving once again that truth is stranger and scarier than fiction, Pauline...

Pauline said...

It's pretty brutal. And heartbreaking. Nothing mankind isn't doing to mankind as we speak, however. Another reason to hate the hell out of the "our ancestors were stupid" attitude. How is it that we are any better? Oh, that's right; now we can watch torture on the Internet. Awesome.