Friday, October 12, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

When Agnes the miller's daughter was brought once again before Judge Wagnereck she had been in her drafty cell in Munich's Falcon Tower for more than a month. Her clothes had been taken from her and replaced by a shapeless and doubtless itchy wool robe. She was probably thin; the accounts imply that she had refused food. She was certainly not the defiant young woman she had been only a few short weeks before. And now she stood across the table from a man she would soon imagine as an arch-fiend. A man who was well fed, well rested and unfortunately full of news and questions.

Wagnereck first informed Agnes that he and all his fellows present knew her for a witch. The evidence said as much. She should not trouble herself with denials that would only endanger her immortal soul.

She said, we imagine in a clear voice: "Although you speak to me a great deal about my soul's salvation, I am not a witch."

The judge then pounced: did Agnes know that her father was dead, his neck broken by the Devil in his cell?

Agnes reeled a bit, stunned by the hard blow. But she righted herself: "I am sorry for it."

Seeing that one strike would not do, Wagnereck continued. "If you do not give up your recalcitrance, we are given no choice but to put you to the question."

"If it must be so," Agnes continued, "then so it must be in the name of the Lord. Jesus Christ was also tortured."

Probably in a fit of rage by now, Wagnereck ordered the girl's wrists tied behind her back. She was then hoisted up by those wrists to dangle in exquisite agony just inches above the forgiving floor. She whimpered as her tortures stared at her, none of them in any hurry to relieve her pain. Just when the misery must have seemed unbearable, Wagnereck unleashed his hardest pitch:

Did Agnes know that her mother, Anna, had confessed to being a witch? Did she know that Anna had also revealed that Agnes had been consecrated to the Devil? Did she know that the judges were aware she had been a witch sense she was twelve years old?

This broke the wall of strength that Agnes has manage to build for herself. This and, most probably, the blinding agony of torture. "If my mother says I am a witch, then I might just as well be one."

Agnes was let down and Wagnereck began the questioning. "Who taught you witchcraft?"

"I'd just as well say my mother. I'll just have to put up with being a witch - " by now sobbing uncontrollably " - Oh dear mother! Go on! Make us suffer both of us!"

"Where did you first meet the Devil?"

A loud sigh emanated from Agnes: "I have never seen a devil in my born days."

With that, she was hoisted up again and Agnes screamed out in abject misery: "I have repented and suffered for all my sins! I have seen the Devil at home!":

Wagnereck left the poor innocent dangling above the floor as he pummeled Agnes with a laundry list of questions: What form did the Devil take? What did he give her for her soul? What malefice did she make in the Devil's name?

Agnes answered as best she could, making up a jumbled, hodge-podge tale of flying ointment and witches Sabbaths. Eventually, the shallow breathing forced on the girl by her insanely painful position took its toll; Agnes began to lose consciousness.

At this point, the record says that Agnes "suddenly began to talk in a strange manner." She said "my only work is but in prayer," and "If I am not pleasing, I wish I should become so." Then she raised her head as best she could and addressed her tormentor: "Sir, I give you praise and thanks that you have taken care of me. Spare my mother as little as you spare me. My father and my mother are also witches.... Oh! My soul is all a-tremble... How brightly the sun is shining."

This brought on a brief fit of pity. Agnes was lowered to the floor and given a bit of water. She asked for holy water, "that I might become a child of redemption" but there is no record that her request was granted. Instead the respite was cut short. Agnes was pulled up once more and the questioning continued.

The torture went on, probably for hours. Agnes was subjected to more and more misery, let go and then jerked up again, when she could not fathom what it was that Wagnereck wanted her to say. She must confess to killing babies and eating their flesh, but she probably could not comprehend such an abomination. Of course the judge would not put words in her mouth. Why he would not is easy to imagine.

Finally Agnes succumbed to her misery. She feinted away and was unbound and taken back to her cell. But only for a while. She was returned to the torture chamber in the afternoon but this time no torture was necessary. Like her mother, Agnes said whatever her tormentors wanted to hear. Tales of cannibalism, murder, and sex with demons all spilled out of her mouth; she said things she had probably never imagined before. It didn't matter though. As long as it kept her from the agony in the corner of the room it didn't matter one little bit.

Eventually, as night fell, Agnes was allowed to return to her cell. Her limbs would swell unbearably and turn the most miserable colors of black and blue. She knew more awaited her as she lie in her dark, cold cell. But there wasn't anything at all that she could do. Agnes the miller's daughter, just one of so many who were made to tell lies that they themselves might learn to believe, tipped over into the dark pond of madness...

(The inevitable end of Agnes' story will appear here next Friday. Again, I am indebted to Michael Kunze for his tireless research and the book Highroad to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft.)

Header: Procession of the Guilty by Francisco Goya c 1812 via Wikimedia


Timmy! said...

Such a sad story, Pauline.

It's no wonder people like me believe that man is inherently evil.

Pauline said...

I can fully understand that.

For me, what is evil is that we as human beings don't learn from these twisted episodes in history. Instead, we just forge ahead and do the same damn stupid things over and over ad nauseum. Ridiculous. Sad. But destined to happen again.