Friday, October 19, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Today's post is the third and final installment of the unfortunate story of Agnes the Miller's Daughter. Read the first here and the second here.

From October through the winter, Agnes the miller's daughter knew nothing but torment. Only three spaces were allowed to her: her cell in the Falcon Tower in Munich, the torture chamber on the main floor, and the stairways in between. Her head and body were shaved, her limbs were bent and crippled from the horrors of strappado and her mind was all but gone with fear and confusion. She reported seeing the Devil and feeling him in all her limbs.

She was visited by a priest who sang hymns over her as she sat like a rag doll in the corner of her cell. He brought altar boys and incense; the sound and smell must have been almost more than she could bear. But this brief visit did not stop Judge Wangereck from putting Agnes to the question. Even after she was baptized with a new name - Ursula - the terror and pain did not stop.

One morning, which must have seemed like any other if time had any meaning at all, Agnes now Ursula was brought into the chamber. She had to lean on her goaler, an ironworker by trade name Sebastian Georg. There is no evidence that Georg took his job voluntarily but he did it without complaint. He saw to the prisoner's in the torture chamber while his wife took care of their food, bedding and chamber pots.

As Agnes entered the room, Wagnereck caught sight of a bandage around her neck. There was a noticeable bloody spot and he took a moment to ask the girl what had happened. If he sounded concerned, which he may very well have, Agnes probably did not notice.

Georg told Wagnereck that he had "found the prisoner in a pool of blood" that morning, a stab wound in her neck. Agnes finally spoke up and her words very much reveal the horrible state of mind through which she perceived her world:

I did it myself. Today at seven o'clock, a little time before you worshipful gentlemen came to the Falcon Tower. That was when the Devil came to my window dressed like a farmhand and said the rogues - he meant you worshipful gentlemen - the rogues will come back to you now and have you put to the torture again. Look, make away with yourself! That way you'll escape their torture. Otherwise they'll chop off your head and do fearful things to you. You can do it in a flash. In my cell there is a hole in the wall and I had a knife hidden there. And when the Devil coaxed me like that, all at once it was lying in my lap, and in a flash I stuck it in my throat, and cut myself. But our Lord surely did not want me to kill myself, because when I went to stab myself with my left hand, seeing as how I use my left hand for all my work, I simply pushed the left hand away with my right. After that, I fell to the floor.

It was revealed that Agnes had the knife secreted in her cell for two weeks. Master Georg's wife confirmed that a knife had gone missing around that time. Though the girl's cell was searched, the knife was never found. The spin would later be that the Devil himself had taken it away.

But there was no pity for an injured Agnes now Ursula. She would be put to the question on seven more occasions and dangled by her wrists behind her back if she could not answer correctly or refused to name other witches. Insanity stalked poor Agnes. At night in her freezing cell, if she did not see the Devil she saw the ghost of her father, mercifully killed by the torment she currently suffered. He would sit by her quietly, saying nothing but sighing now and then.

In March of 1601 Agnes the miller's daughter, now known by her "Christian" name Ursula, was taken to a field outside the gates of Munich. Here a pyre had been erected and she, along with her mother and other conspirators named by mutual acquaintances, would lose her life to the awful misery of fire. The flames were supposed to burn the Devil out of the witch; the final agony was supposed to lift up the soul to God. Saints are made in such ways.

The family who called Agnes, her father and her mother witches suffered even more than the miller and his kin. The now famous Pappenheimers would know a grisly death march rarely rivaled in the annals of the witchcraft trials. Their story is one of governments finding the least of their people and using them as an "example." The sad story of Agnes the miller's daughter may be but a footnote to theirs, but it should be well remembered. There but for the grace of some great spirit go we...

Header: Burning of Witches at Baden c November, 1585 via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

Such a sad story, Pauline...

It's no wonder I despise religious fundamentalism and fanaticism so much.

Pauline said...

Yes it is.

You can't help but agree with Danzig sometimes: organized religion has ruined civilization... Once again, a mad man has shown us the way.

Undine said...

Not to mention political fanaticism. One of the most depressing of the many depressing aspects of human nature is that way too many people have an inbred need to dominate and persecute others, and they'll seize upon any excuse with which to do it. Sometimes it's religion, sometimes political ideology, sometimes, it seems, just for the bloody hell of it.

That's why zealots of any brand--even if I agree with their basic ideas--always give me the shivers. You never know where they might end up.

Poor Agnes. She deserves this memorial.

Pauline said...

I agree, Undine. Stalin, Pol-Pot and the list goes on killed not for any religious purpose but purely for a political ideal. It may have started out good, but it certainly got twisted in their heads and hands.

I need to write more about Agnes I think; her story deserves a wider audience. Maybe I can help her out with that...

Undine said...

It all reminds me of a quote from Poe: "Your reformist demigods are merely devils turned inside out."